Raffia Commentary

Pine Needle Coiled Baskets by Peg's Basketry Arnoldussen
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Peg's Work

I first began coiling pine needles in late Sept. 1999. Where I live is not a part of the country where this is commonly done; I had to learn it without a human instructor. As the result, much of my knowledge has come through trial and error. My knowledge of raffia certainly did!

I'm going to start by sharing my experiences with the stuff. For a long time, I used raffia exclusively. Why? Because I like how it looks better than anything else I've seen. I chose it because of that, and having started there, decided to keep on suffering.

I ordered my first batch from a basketry supplier. It came all bundled up. I took it out and began stitching with it. Was disappointed with how short the strands were and how much it frayed. Having had no other experience, I concluded that this is how it is and I'd better get used to it. I used up my entire first batch.

I bought my second batch locally, same brand, same bundling, and it was cheaper than anything else at the local store. When I unwrapped it, I found that it was damp, darker than my first batch, and had a peculiar odor. When I started using it, I found that it behaved like something that was somewhat decomposed. It didn't just fray--it broke apart after a few stitches. I thought that maybe if I let it dry out, it would behave better. Time proved that that was not to be the case. It remained horrible. I decided to retire it and buy one of the loosely packaged bundles at the local store. I could touch and smell that stuff; it appeared to be very sturdy, and it certainly cost a lot more.

Moral of story: You get what you pay for! That third batch is proving to be wonderful--much better even than the first batch. The strands are very long and the stuff is very tough. I'm finally happy with raffia. It is Schuster raffia, imported from Madagascar.

I've since learned that all raffia comes from Madagascar. The thing to look for in good raffia is the loose, open bundle. That is usually the untreated stuff. It should feel very dry and sturdy, and have no significant odor. Sealed packages usually contain raffia treated with fire retardant--that's the stuff that damages it. Never buy a sealed package of raffia.

I've used raffia both split and unsplit. Read an effective way to split it here. There's no reason for it to be wet when you're stitching with it.


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