Raffia Fibre: The Heart of High Fashion

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The raffia fibre is a natural fibre. It has similar properties like jute, bamboo and hemp fibres.

The raffia fibre is obtained by peeling of raffia palm leaves. The raffia fibre is soft, pliable, strong, durable, easy to dye and biodegradable making it an excellent material for weaving baskets, hats, mats and rugs. It is also widely used for agricultural purposes to tie vegetables, plants in vineyards, flowers and floral arrangements. It is normally dyed with natural pigments.

There are certain textile fibres that are rare in nature, following the growth in a particular geographical region. While the scarcity of such fibres makes them distinctive, there’s also a few shortcomings allied with this rarity. Factors such as international trade, popularity of fibre in fashion world, miscellaneous uses associated with the fibre, economic viability, etc. decide the sale and global use of such fibres. In certain regions like Africa, bark, raffia, cotton, wool, and silk fibres are some of the raw materials for textiles fabrics. Among these, raffia, bark and silk are not produced in abundance, as the production area is restrictive. Also, production of raffia is mostly confined to Africa, which in turn results in less circulation of the fibre around the world.

The main source of this palm is-island Madagascar. This palm is cultivated in East Africa also for export purpose. The qualities of good raffia are soft, durable and easy to dye any colour. They look similar to many other palm trees yet a bit funny too – the trunk is quite short and the leaves are huge in comparison – in fact, the raffia palm tree holds the largest leaves of all plants on planet earth: 25 meters long and 3 meters. Its fruit has a shiny brown colour. Each one of the palm branches is made of nearly one hundred leaflets, which yield the magic ingredient.

The light and resistant spines are used for the construction of huts, or furniture and light chairs since the time of colonization around 1897. In the present era, raw fibers dried and pressed into bales are the main object of a large export trade.

In raffia fabrics, the fibres of leaf of raffia palms are woven by archaic technique of vertical loom or oblique loom.

The growth is mostly confined to tropical rainforests, banks of the river Savannah and some other marshes or wetlands. Today the production of raffia can be outlined to Madagascar, Congo, Gabon of Central Africa, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Liberia alongside of the Gulf of Guinea. The dominance of raffia belt can easily be noticed in alongside these areas. The textile industry employs fibre extracted from six different varieties of raffia plants like raffia vinifera, raffia ruffia, etc.

Rayon Raffia Fibre Thread

Paper Raffia is also known as: Paper Wraffia or Rayon Raffia, is an eco-friendly product that is biodegradable and recyclable. Without a doubt, Paper raffia is perfect for the environmentally conscious companies to fulfil their social responsibility needs. This is perfect for your green-friendly gift packaging to wrap your gift boxes and bags. In addition, Paper wraffia is perfect for arts and crafts industry, whether it may be for stationery, card-making, and scrapbooking.

Fibre Extraction :

The Raffia process is one that is time-consuming, though the local expertise and knowledge ensure only the finest Raffia fibre.

The creamy-brown coloured lengths come from a specific palm tree that originally grew only on the island of Madagascar. Raphia farinifera actually has the largest leaves of any palm tree, so it is a logical source for fibres. The fibrous leaves are cut off and torn apart in parallel lines to yield very long strips of material. The tree is now cultivated specifically for harvest and export in East Africa, as well.

The fibres that are used in woven fabrics are gathered from the back of the new leaves that have just emerged from the stems and are still closed in a spear shape. The raffia fibres that are to be used for the purpose of woven fabrics are not twisted. The raffia leaves can grow up to 65 feet long and comprise at least 80 leaflets. The leaves’ fibres are torn into small strips and dried in the sun; its soft, pliable, strong nature is perfect for all kinds of uses.

Dying :

The natural colour of the fibre is yellow-tan hue, which is eye-catching. However, today the fibres are often dyed in other colours, thus making the material perfect for a variety of crafts.

The dried strips of the raffia fibre will be sorted and the uneven fibers will be removed (based on length, color, etc.) to obtain raffia of greater quality. This is the moment when you can dye the raffia in large pots with pigments. This very delicate method is an art, made for colorists. This is the reason why we can never guarantee a shade according to the Pantone.

Then, it’s finally the time to crochet. Dexterity and fiber tension, tempo, attention and suppleness are crucial for a more of less beautiful, more or less regular crocheted work. There are hundreds of different points: flowery, graphic, simple or complex. Raffia can also be hand woven, woven on looms or lace.

Biological classification of Raffia Palm :

Kingdom         :           Plantae

Order               :           Arecales

Family             :           Arecaceae

Sub-family      :           Calamoideae

Tribe               :           Calameae

Genus              :           Raphia

Spicies            :           R. taedigera

Chemical Composition of Raffia :

Substance Name%
Ash Content9.5
Fat & oil Content2.64
Protein2.5
Carbohydrates85.36

 

Chemical Composition Chart of Raffia :

 

Properties of Raffia Fibre :

The clothes made from raffia fibre are unique in appeal. Also, raffia is often preferred over other fabrics by the craftsmen as it have following properties:

Natural fibre

Easy to dye

Skin friendly

Non-allergic and

Soft yet durable

Flexible enough to woven easily into a fabric or other accessories

Shrink resistance

Uses of Raffia Fibre :

 The entire raffia plant is used for various purposes ranging from use in textile to basket weaving to building materials.

Raffia fibres have many uses, such type of uses are given below:

Textiles industry:  hats, shoes clothes, rugs.

Building construction: The leaf stems and axis of a compound leaf or compound inflorescence are utilised in construction materials for houses and furniture, Ropes, sticks and supporting beam, roof covering, decorative mats, garden ties,

Agricultural uses: Tie vegetables, plantain vineyards, flowers and floral arrangements.

Crafting: doll hair, ribbons, Hawaiian skirts (hula skirts), table skirts.

Basket weaving: the leaf stems’ skin is used for making baskets after being torn into thin pieces or after collecting the fibres, the skins are dried and used as the core materials of basket weaving.

Packaging: Filler, trying oil, jam, vinegar, wine bottles, soaps, candles and boxes.

The unprocessed or unrefined raffia used for tying raffia shanks or sticks and is processed as strings. The twisted fibres are used exclusively as strings by twisting them into a two-fold yarn with the palms and thighs.

Finally, raffia grass is used to substitute natural or artificial grass in the movie industry and widely used by hunters to make blinds for camouflage.

Raffia Fibre in Fashion World

Raffia fibre is a very popular material in crafts and in high fashion.

There is certain kind of exclusivity associated with raffia fabric, as it has long been linked with elitism and royalty. In some cases, special ceremonial costumes are made from raffia fabric and this practice is popular among some ethnic groups of Central Africa from the coast of the Gulf of Guinea. There have also been some recent developments in use of raffia fabric.

The areas where predominantly cotton fabrics are produced, some ethnic groups weave raffia for their adulthood ceremony and raffia fabrics exist as the ‘authentic’ fabric of these tribes prior to cotton fabrics as well as bark fabrics. The raffia fibres are still widely used and are sold in various places from the savannah region at the South end of the Sahara, in which raffia does not grow, to the coastal region of Guinea.

The decline in use of raffia fabric can be attributed to the rise in use of imported synthetic fabrics. However, the fashion world continuously relies upon using raffia fabric in modern day designs of garments, footwear, bags, hats and also in home furnishings. The flawless straw-like natural raffia material is a perfect choice for the designers who want to experiment with ethnical and tribal prints. While the raffia fabric is a natural selection for floppy hats and beach bags, there are also unexpected ways to wear this trend. Structured dresses made out from raffia fabric for beachside cocktail parties to casual tribal-print dresses and shirts are something to look forward to this season.

Such innovations involving the natural raffia fabric have been an instant success in past also. Countries like Canada, European Union, the U.S.A., some parts of Asia import raffia yarn to be used for multiple purposes.

Raffia fabrics are among the few other rich fabrics that bestow upon the garment an unparallel appeal without being cruel on the nature. The production of the fibre is simple and its end users are many. These factors have ensured that today raffia fibres are used in various parts of the world and used in products ranging from hats to rich evening dresses. It is a fabric that can make any moment special and thus it is reserved exclusively for special occasions.

Among the natural fabrics that spring brings, raffia was one of the most prominent on the S/S2020 runways. From Oscar de la Renta to Stella McCartney, most fashion houses have raffia in their collections, whether on accessories like Celine or dresses like Chanel.

Raffia is a fibre made from palm trees that can be woven and used in almost anything. The natural fabric has become the darling of designers who prioritize sustainable materials for their creations. And for Spring and summer 2020, raffia has lost its hippie vibe. In fact, you will find the eco-friendly fabric in highly luxurious garments.

 

Clothing:

You will find raffia woven into luxurious dresses and skirts or only as an embellishment like the trimming of jackets and tops.

 

Handbags :

Although, all love the summery wicker basket bags, there are more options besides the paniers. This year, straw handbags come more sophisticated, with long fringes that are one of the AW 20/21trends that emerged from MFW. Also, we’ll see plenty of structured purses and boxy bags to be worn with everything, from office outfits to party looks.

 

  

 Shoes :

The first raffia shoes that come to mind are, of course, espadrilles. As you already read here, we love them. But now, you will see all kinds of shoes embellished with straw; pumps, sandals and even sneakers. In fact, designers combined straw with the several shoe trends that we’re going to wear this spring.

Jewellery And Accessories :

In 2020, even raffia jewellery pieces look chic, and you can wear them with your most elegant party outfits. Hair accessories like the bourgeois headbands also look beautiful in raffia.

Hats:

Raffia fibre is versatile. It can be fabricated in a number of ways to make headwear. The Hampton is an example of a hand crochet technique. This hat is very durable, breathable and with a filament in the edge, a robust option. The Lennox style below is made of a raffia cloth which is cut and sewn into a hat form. This allows the hat to be folded and come back into shape, making it a good travel option.

 

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Article by Ms. Hetal Mistry

B.Sc. Textile and Apparel Designing Department from Sir Vithaldas Thackersey College of Home Science (Autonomous), SNDT Women’s University – Juhu

Trainee Intern : Textile Value Chain

 

References :

RAFFIA FIBRE, USES OF RAFFIA, RAFFIA FIBRE EXTRACTION

https://www.fibre2fashion.com/industry-article/7261/raffia-fibre-the-quintessence-of-high-fashion

https://www.raffiaonline.com/about_raffia.html

https://www.thelifeimpact.com/r-fabrics-materials-textiles/raffia

https://www.fibre2fashion.com/industry-article/4328/raffia-favourite-natural-fibre-of-craftsmen

https://www.notorious-mag.com/article/why-raffia-is-the-natural-fibre-you-need-rn

https://www.notorious-mag.com/article/why-raffia-is-the-natural-fibre-you-need-rn

https://abury.net/blogs/abury-blog/natural-raffia-fair-fashion

http://www.export-forum.com/africa/madagascar-raffia/raffia-fibres-taking-out.htm