Tutorial ~ Naturally Dyed Raffia for Basket Making & a sneaky way to keep it tidy

Naturally Dyed Raffia Tutorial & how to keep raffia tidy for basket weaving

Since I first got my hands on some raffia and delved deep into basket making, and then shared it with you guys through The Creative Year – there’s been a whole lot of talk in my Insta and in my home about how the bleep to keep raffia out of the children’s toys, the bed, the floor, the …. well… everywhere. It sure has a way of getting deeply tangled around life and things, and family members. Because we live in a small home and I do my crafting in our lounge-room or in bed, and take it from room to room I had to work out how to keep it under control. So, here’s my

How to Wrangle Raffia tutorial…..

by tutorial I mean a simply little how-to of written instructions. Sorry I didn’t manage to get step by step photo instructions, if you need that just let me know and I’ll talk some photos. This is what you do ::

When I get a big bundle of raffia fresh from Cass at String Harvest*, it’s always tied up on itself, and has a knot at one end keeping it all together. I undo the tied up strings and keep them neatly to one side, then I tie one of those spare threads around the middle of the whole giant bundle, not too tightly but not too loosely – enough so it random threads can be pulled out. I untie the knot keeping it all together (or cut it as a last resort if it won’t untie).

I now have one giant bundle ready to be broken down into smaller bundles. I grab a section that’s about 50 or so raffia strands, or fits in a handful (like holding a bunch of flowers). Pull this whole bundle out as one section, keeping it all neat and together. Then wrap one strand around the middle. Continue doing this with the whole big bundle, until you have lots of smaller bunches of raffia. These are now ready to tie up and use as natural raffia for your basket weaving or perfect to put into the dye pot so you can have all the pretty colours.

You can then fold this mini bundle in half then quarters and use a spare strand to tie it all up. It keeps neat and looking sweet and lovely while it waits for you to use it. If you make the mini bundles just the right size, then you can have a few in your ‘on the go project bag’ for the one basket you’re working on, and keep the rest stored away until you need them. That way you only have a few smaller bundles in use at a time – maybe 3 or 4 depending on what colours you’re weaving with.

When you need a strand of raffia to add to your basket, you simply pull one strand out of the mini bundle, and it keeps the rest contained and not flying all over the place. If you are careful when you pull each strand out, it really does work by keeping your mini bundle tidy.

Naturally Dyed Raffia Tutorial and how to keep raffia tidy, perfect for basket weaving.

I decided I’d share a little tutorial on how to Naturally Dye raffia as well, because it’s such a fun way to create your own colours and make your work different to everyone else’s. If you want an in-depth look at Natural & Botanical Dye then please do check out my online Creative course which shows Raffia Basket Weaving as well as Natural Dye & Indigo vat.

Naturally Dyeing Raffia for Basket Weaving using things from your Kitchen – a tutorial!

You’ll need:
+ Natural raffia that has been undyed or unbleached. Read this to find out about what to look for when buying raffia.
+ A large saucepan – stainless steel is best if possible
+ Turmeric powder or fresh root grated
+ Tea or coffee remains, ie save your tea bags or espresso coffee grounds. Try black, hibiscus or even rooibus tea.
+ Onion skins – both brown and red onions create different colours.

Fill your saucepan with enough water so that your raffia can float freely. Fully wet your raffia (in the kitchen sink is fine); this helps it take the dye better.

In your saucepan, one dye colour at a time, gently heat the water with dye stuffs (that’s the true technical term of what you’re using to dye – ie the turmeric or onion skins). Immerse your wet (but squeezed out) raffia into the pot. Bring it to a very gentle simmer until you’re happy with the depth of colour, could take an hour or so. Turn the heat off, with the lid on and leave overnight. Depending on depth of colour and quality of your raffia you may need to re-heat again the next day. Raffia can take many days to develop a strong colour, or it can take the colour after only a few hours. It depends on what you’re dyeing with, the quantity of your dye stuff and the quality of your raffia.

Quantity of dye stuffs to raffia can vary depending on each dye, it’s particular strength and what depth of colour you want. But basically the more dye you have the brighter, deeper, clearer the colour will be. Onion skins you’d want same weight of skins to raffia, turmeric will need a good couple of tablespoons of fresh powder to 100g of raffia, tea & coffee might need a lot more to create deep colours.

If you want to dye lots of different colours at a time,  once you’ve done the initial hour heating in the saucepan transfer the raffia and dye water into a large glass jar, while still warm, and with the lid on you can leave it in the sun for a few days to further develop colour. I love solar dyeing – it’s a great way to experiment with colour and dye stuffs, and you have pretty jars of coloured water on your verandah / windowsill / garden.

Wash the raffia well when you’re happy with the colour and allow to dry – which can take a couple of days even in warm weather.

I like my raffia to be dyed in a varigated manner, ie not all one block solid colour. So you can tie some other strands of raffia around the bundle to create simple Shibori marks, which means when you weave your basket you’ll get patterns of colour, rather than blocks of colour.

Naturally dyed raffia tutorial for basket weaving by Petalplum

hand woven raffia basket using naturally dyed raffia, dyed from kitchen scraps & pantry supplies and a tutorial for naturally dyeing raffia

If you want to know more about raffia, the sustainability of where it comes from and more, then you can read this mini-interview I did with Cass from String Harvest.

*this post is not sponsored or anything, I just really do like to support and promote Indie business whenever I can. Cass can post raffia worldwide, but if you happen to know someone outside of Australia selling ethical raffia I’d love to hear so I can promote them as well.

Raffia for Basket Making & the Sustainability of crafting with ‘String Harvest’

An important part of my crafting life is to focus on the sustainability and ethics of where my supplies come from, and where they go after. I use only natural fibres, and aim as best as possible, to support smaller businesses whose ethos matches mine. I’ll be honest and say sometimes this is harder in this industry of new fabrics, mass produced materials and cheap labour. But taking a thoughtful approach to our materials is an honest way to reconcile the overflowing craft cupboard. Often finding a business who goes out of their way to stock, promote and sell only ethical, sustainable, and environmentally thoughtful craft supplies can be hard; so when I do I’m keen to support them in any way possible to make sure this type of business keeps on becoming more of the norm.

Which is why I was exceedingly excited when I first heard about String Harvest a few years ago, and I’ve been so pleased to watch grow and continue staying true to the original ethos (something that is not easy at all in the reality of business). String Harvest is owned, run and managed solely by Cass from her home studio in South East Queensland. In Cass’ own words, String Harvest is:

“…..an online store, owned by me (Cass) that I now realise reflects my personal style and taste – a combination of staple, classic craft supplies and quirky, interesting vintage yarns. You can find all manner of natural and ethically sourced fibres alongside yarns and materials not easily found anywhere else. I love weird vintage and hard to find! I believe that our craft habits should be done with the conscious effort to reduce our environmental impact, and as ethically as possible. So that’s why I encourage creativity and crafting with the use of low impact and fairly traded fibres – hemp, raffia, linen, jute, paper and so on – they’ll eventually biodegrade and that’s very important. The yarns I supply are both vintage in the sense that they are from estates, retired fashion and textile designers, and other surplus yarns from the fashion industry that make their way into wholesale markets. They are post ‘mass production’ in that sense, so you will not find them in 500 other stores. There are plenty of brands already driving ‘new’ and seasonal production in the global economy and I’m not interested in feeding that demand – I am way more interested in re-discovering and sharing the delights of textiles that already exist”. 

While Cass sells many beautiful rare and vintage fibres, she also sells new strings, yarns and threads all with a sustainable and ethical underpinning. One such product that I use a lot, and many of you have been asking me more about, is raffia. Basket weaving is a beautiful craft that I’m a little bit addicted with at the moment, and based on my current Instagram feed I think I’m not the only one! I’ve had lots of people asking how I store and wrangle my raffia so I thought I’d share some tips and while I was at it, I thought you might be curious about what raffia actually is and what to look out for when you’re buying it. So – who better to ask than Cass. Hence this blog post that is a mini-semi-interview with my favourite yarn/thread/string supplier, who also happens to be a friend in real life as well as online, and a mini how-to for storing your craft supplies.

I love to know the background on my craft supplies, rather than just randomly pulling things off the shelves of shops, and raffia is one of those “what is that” things.

{Ellie} Cass, can you tell us what raffia actually is & where it comes from? 
{Cass} Raffia for craft is made from the mature leaves of the Palmyra palm, Raphia farinifera which is native to Madagascar. Like all palms, the new leaves grow up on the inside and make their way to the outside – they eventually drop off, or can be harvested by climbing the tree and trimming – you would not want theses leaves to accidentally fall on you! As far as fibre crops go, raffia harvesting is quite sustainable because no trees are cut down and it’s a very resourceful use of leaf. (Imagine if we used a fraction of the palm leaf waste from urban environments in this way!) Unlike most crops, it requires no chemical or extra water in processing and you don’t need to water palm trees. (I’m talking here about the natural, undyed stuff only). One of my suppliers sends me photos of the ‘factory’ sheds where they bring in harvested raffia for drying sorting and packaging/binding and I really love that level of transparency. 

It’s not a huge stretch to see what you get, from where it comes from. It’s a giant bushy palm tree – I don’t think we have any species like it here in Australia. The leaves are quite long, up to 10m and over 2m wide! Raffia we use is simply these leaves, dried and shredded. The raffia I currently stock only comes from Madagascar because when we talk about natural raffia I think we should be talking about it coming from this particular palmyra palm. There are other palm species grown in Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Indonesia which are sold as raffia but they have quite different qualities and we shouldn’t conflate them. 

{Ellie} Are there different sorts or qualities of raffia – and what do we have to look out for when buying it?
{Cass} Yes absolutely! So aside from different species of palm tree giving different kinds of raffia – there are also many grades of Madagascan raffia. Here in Australia our market is relatively isolated so we don’t have the luxury of choice when it comes to grades, although I am always looking for premium quality (even though this also varies from year to year). However, I’m working on something secret to do with that… you’ll have to wait a few months to hear more about it!
You will find different sources for raffia, ranging from floristry supplies, to $2 shops and the mainstream craft supply supermarkets. You get what you pay for, and supply chain transparency varies accordingly. I like raffia that has good structure – where you can see the strong hardened end close to the spine of the palm, not too yellow, good length (at least 1.2m), and reasonable width. The less stringy and stray bits, the better.
{Ellie} What’s your best storage tip? Care to share photos? 
{Cass} My best storage tip is to give your raffia a little space… something it likes to do whether you have the space or not! I have zero advice on how to keep it out of your pets legs… or fellow family members lives. Raffia usually comes bundled at one end, and I try to keep it held together at that end for as long as possible. Rubber bands are also good for this. I also let it sit in a big tub. When you’re using raffia for weaving, it’s best to let it relax a bit so it’s not coming straight out of a compressed and folded up state, the fibres straighten out and it tangles less on itself. The drier, less humid the storage space, the less I find it tangles. 

{Ellie} What do you love using it for? What’s your best project you’ve ever made?
{Cass} I love using it for coiled baskets. I love it as a core because you can shape it nicely and it contrasts beautifully with other fibres. I miss experimenting! The best project I made has a raffia core and I coiled around this with a very fine silk wrapped linen paper. 

And because I’m pretty sure all our families are a little bit over having raffia everywhere they walk (or in bed, or stuck on the couch or the toy box), I’ve written a little how to wrangle raffia’ especially for you. It’s a simple technique that might just change your relationship to this wonderful, but messy, material. This post got pretty long, so you can read the mini tutorial here, including a simple how to naturally dye your raffia using kitchen scraps & pantry supplies.
If you’d love to know more about raffia and basket weaving (like how to make beautiful vessels like these ones that Cass made), make sure you check out my online Basket Weaving Course where I show a different techniques to create a beautiful hand woven piece – all my students are addicted to it!
Make sure you visit String Harvest to check out ALL the delicious fibres & threads she, which include vintage, rare & sustainable. Website Here || Instagram Here.
*all images by Cass from String Harvest.

slow & simple Christmas traditions : hand stitched Christmas stockings

 

Part of my slow & simple seasonal Christmas was to make some new traditions. Or more like – redefine and place more ritual around them. Something like that. With my little one now big enough to understand all the Christmas magic, the big kids have been talking to him about a lot of how it all works. And we’re bringing it into our everyday for these weeks leading up to Christmas. I decided to do away with the pillowcases and make some hand stitched stockings for the kids – hopefully next year we’ll be able to find them to keep the traditions going!

I must admit I did take a little longer to come around to the Christmas magic this year, but then with a few twinkle lights in our life, and going out together to collect a tree (really it’s a fallen branch, with no leaves filled with our special decorations). The kids made treats to gift their friends – which I much prefer than just buying a packet of candy canes, I must admit. It makes me happy seeing them in the kitchen baking for other people, and then packaging it all up and writing notes to everyone.

 

So, this week I pulled out some felt fabric scraps and some strands of embroidery thread, and sat down to stitch the stockings for my three babies. I thought it would take a whole lot longer, but I kept it simple and these only took a few hours – with many get-up to see what Little One wants to read, eat, play, do, show me….. My girl is on holidays already, so she sat beside me and stitched her own; which made me immensely happy. Because really Christmas isn’t about stockings, or things, it’s about the creating of those things, the time spent together, talking while you’re making, thinking about the joy of reaching your hand inside on Christmas morning. Hanging them up along a beach-found branch. And nibbling on chocolates while you’re doing it.
That’s why I love using felt. These are actually made with some organic cotton quilt batting I had little scraps of. It’s soft like lambs wool, but perfectly easy to sew and won’t fray. Felt, old blankets, anything like that is great for kids to do their own stitching with, because you don’t need to worry about the edges fraying, so you can simply sew the sides together. And is it’s a little bit wonky, and some stitches go astray it doesn’t matter. One day in 3, or 5 or 10 years you’ll look at those stitches with the biggest smile and a pang in your heart.


Here’s how to make your own HandStitched Christmas Stockings:
+ Felt or an old blanket
+ A needle not too small, not too big
+ Embroidery thread in assorted colours
+ Ribbon or string or wool to make a hanging loop
+ A scrap of other fabric – we had some bird fabric, you could use flowers, Christmas trees, or even hand embroider whatever shapes you want. Stars, snowflakes…
+Draw the shape you want on scrap paper – make it bigger than you think, because a) the edges take up seam allowance, & b) more space for Santa’s gifts!

Trace the pattern piece onto your felt and cut out two pieces. It doesn’t matter with felt which side is the outside/right side and which side is the inside/wrong side, but if you’re using somewhat with an obvious outside/inside then make sure that you place the two layers together when cutting, with the wrong side facing each other.
With a light pencil draw the child’s initial on the front side of the stocking – if you have time / space their whole name can be lovely too. I’m working with simple and finished before Christmas!
Using whatever stitch you like – mine is a simple running stitch – hand stitch the name letter. Fancy lettering is pretty. Have you seen this amazing stitched alphabet? Again, I’m working on a time-frame + toddler-time… so simple letters still looks beautiful and works well.
Cut out and stitch on the design. I used running stitch that you can see, but you could also stitch it on with a hidden stitch.
Once you’ve added all the decorations you want to the outside pieces, lay the front and back pieces together and pin. Then blanket stitch around the whole edge. Make sure you stitch in the loop as you’re going. Maybe a few extra stitches on that part to make sure it doesn’t come out when the kids are enthusiastically pulling at their stockings!


Now – put on some twinkle lights, light some candles and hang those pretty stockings up ready for Santa. We leave home baked biscuits, some milk and possibly a chocolate for Santa, and of course Australian grown reindeer carrots for those hard-working reindeers who need as much energy as we can all give them!

 

*This post was sponsored by Woolworths Australia. Tutorial and all words are mine.