What is raffia? We discuss the material that basket makers love
Updated: Sep 17, 2020
Raffia is a natural fiber that is perfect for basket weaving; it is strong, holds dye superbly, and is easily malleable. Basketmakers have used raffia since the beginning of time, for its ease of use and aesthetic qualities. It isn’t too hard on your hands, and once woven together (you can use a range of basket making techniques) it has a real 'wowee' quality about it. It's the bee's knees in my opinion.
Raw raffia material (fiber) comes from the Raffia Palm, a species native to tropical Africa, and one that flourishes mostly in Madagascar. Different species of raffia palm are also found in South East Asia, and South, and Central America. The tree itself has a short trunk and long slender leaves that have many long, singular strands.
Once harvested, raffia palm leaves are stripped, and their strands are dried in the sun. As the strands dry out, they shrink in size and change in colour from green to earthy sand - it's a lovely natural tone. Raffia strands absorb colour well, and can exude both subtle and vibrant hues in all the colours of the rainbow.
Raffia harvesting is generally considered a sustainable practice. The material is 100% biodegradable and recyclable. It’s my choice for basket making materials when I’m not using old fabric, or sourcing my own plant material, which I might add, is a lot easier to do than you might think.
How do you make a raffia basket?
Firstly, you need your material. My go-to craft stockists for quality, florist grade raffia are String Harvest or The Raffia Connection, both offer local and international shipping at reasonable rates. You will also need a needle with a big eye, like a darning needle. I use a size 13 chenille needle, but any large needle you can thread raffia through is fine.
Secondly, you will need a starter circle.
This video shows you how to make a starter circle (also called a magic circle). This is the beginning of it all, and the epicenter of your basket. I do this using the coiling technique.
Then, choose your stitch. You can use a range of stitches, to create your raffia basket: blanket stitch, twining, coiling, over stitch, to name a few. I teach 5 techniques in my first raffia basket making how to class (links to all raffia basket making classes are below).
How to Make a Raffia Basket No.1 and No. 2 are super fun online creative classes I have created for anybody who wants to learn the wonderful art of basket making using raffia. You don't need to be a seasoned crafter. In fact, you don't need to be anything at all, just YOU.
Raffia No 1 workshop teaches you foundation basket weaving skills. You will learn to make your own basket using the coiling technique. You will need these foundation skills to begin No 2.
Raffia No 2 workshop will teach you advanced basket weaving techniques such as weaving around a form, creating ovals, and working with colour patterns. You'll also learn how to make your very own raffia mini tote.
This Raffia Course bundle option allows you to purchase both of these popular courses in one go.
Tips for beginners: If you get frustrated, keep going! It doesn’t take long to find your rhythm and remember, basket weaving is such a forgiving craft. Some of my worst work still looks lovely! And your first go will too. It's all a process.
And again, for raffia stockists we love, head to: