Raffia is a natural fiber (similar to jute or hemp twine) that is made from leaves of a particular variety of palm tree called Raphia farinifera that is endemic to Madagascar. This tree has very large leaves which are harvested, cut and torn apart into long parallel lines, then dried to produce long raffia strands. The strands have a lovely light brown color—similar to very creamy coffee. Raffia is quite versatile and can be woven, tied into ribbons, or used as packing material.
Raffia is often used by crafters, florists or milliners to create beautiful products. They like raffia’s versatility. It is quite easy to mold (being soft and malleable), can be dyed into different shades, and is actually quite durable. Crafters can use it in place of paper or ribbon; milliners use it like a fabric or as a stuffing; florists can use it in place of floral string. Experienced crafters can also weave it into hats, mats, bags and baskets. Raffia also has the property of retaining its shape even when exposed to moisture, which makes it an ideal material for items that will be used outdoors.
Even “non-artists” can use raffia for very simple decorating projects. For example, it can be used as a ribbon to embellish gifts; larger pieces can even be used as gift wrapping. Some braid strips of raffia with garlic and onions to create homey kitchen décor; others use it to embellish holiday wreaths, or to make simple table centerpieces (simply arrange it on top of a potted plant).