Today 17 April I am turning my attention to raffia. I do not use raffia a great deal and I suspect that is because I have not taken the time to research, experiment and play with it. The couple of times I daily wrapped with it, I quite liked the look but I didn’t absolutely love it because I don’t feel I used the raffia to its best advantage. So I set myself a little raffia homework. No surprise that I had grossly underestimated how many different types of raffia there are and just how many different looks I could achieve with it.
Raffia palms (Raphia) are a genus of about twenty species of palms native to tropical regions of Africa most notably Madagascar, though one species can be found in Central and South America. The palms are the source of raffia fibers, which are the veins of the leaves.
Fun raffia facts: The palms can grow up to 16 m tall. WOW. The raffia palm (raphia farinifera) is made of long leaves that can attain 18m, making it the palm tree with the largest branches. GO RAFFIA. Each palm branch is made of nearly 100 leaflets, which are cut and torn off in parallel lines to yield long continuous fiber of a pale green color. The palms can be monocarpic (flowering once and then dying ) or hapaxanthic. What great Scrabble words.
Collectors harvest the raffia palm by stripping the freshly cut pale green strands and drying them in the sun. The fibers then turn beige creating the familiar natural coloured raffia. Natural raffia can also be also dyed to obtain colored natural raffia.
Raffia fiber has many admirable qualities. It’s soft, pliable, strong, durable, easy to dye and biodegradable. That makes it ideal for weaving baskets (how stunning are the baskets below?) , hats, mats and rugs and – this is where I start to get really interested – it’s perfect with flowers and floral arrangements but most importantly it can really work with packaging (where would artisan olive oil be without it?) and gift wrapping.
Gift Wrappers admire raffia for its ability to be pulled apart to create volume (and by extension it is a fabulous filler), for its messy chic appeal, and the fact it lasts well outdoors, particularly in wreaths.
To the humble gift wrapper there are many options – natural, natural dyed, matte and pearlised. I’m not overly fond of the pearlised because it makes a natural product look blingy, but never say never – maybe I will see pearlised used beautifully and turn on a sixpence. Which I guess makes me a bit of hypocrite for saying I love coloured matte raffia – dark classy blues,fluoros and particularly the pastels and particularly the pinks. O dear…don’t suppose much pale pink raffia is harvested in Madagascar.
I am going to set myself some raffia quotas – some for natural raffia and some for the not so natural pink version that speaks to me with is colour and texture. And in the meantime I am going to practise raffia bows, so they sit well naturally.