Within the last few years raffia has not only been used for basketry, lamp shades, candle shades, and mats, but it has been used as thread in needlework in place of silk or linen. Raffia is a tough fibre, native to Madagascar. It comes in a pale straw-colour, and takes the colour of any dye, especially those of vegetable origin. As it is as pliable as silk and as tough as linen twine, it is particularly adaptable to needlework.
Delicate strands of raffia fibre should be secured for this purpose, and a fine long darning-needle must be used for working in the strands. Darning is one of the most attractive forms to which this sort of needlework can be applied, and a simple stitch running horizontally across the material without any recrossing is best suited to this style of work. The designs for such needlework must essentially be bold. Raffia darning would be singularly out of place on fine fabrics, but on Russian hand-made crash, with its soft silver grey background, it is an ideal decoration well adapted for porch pillows and summer portieres. In going through the kitchen linen department in a large store, many coarsely woven linens may be found from time to time that are suitable for such needlework. Rough oatmeal cloth, coarse towelling, and huckaback can any of them be used. Not to be despised also is undyed burlap - it makes a charming summer portiere when decorated with raffia darning.
Raffia may be used to ornament the grass pillows that are sold for porch use. Some strong bit of colour introduced in some quaint design adds greatly to these simple piazza furnishings. Any floral design would be attractive when worked on grass-cloth, and could also be used for grass-cloth lamp shades with good effect. As it would not be so effective made in the fluted shades, it would be better to confine the shape to panels; dragon-flies, or flower motifs, etc., could be worked across the bottom of each panel. The grass-cloth suitable for making lamp shades is not the same as that used for porch pillows. It is sold by paperhangers for walls, and remnants can sometimes be purchased for very little. Grass - cloth lamp shades are usually finished off with dull gold braid, but gold braid and raffia are not akin, and suitability must always be the first consideration when making anything for the decoration of the home, so that some other binding must be substituted.
Covers for music portfolios or magazines are particularly attractive when covered with grey Russian crash and ornamented with raffia darning. Photograph frames can be bought for ten cents all ready for painting on. When these are covered with linen which has been decorated with a design in darning, they make unique and interesting photograph frames, and are appropriate for gifts.
Another useful novelty could be made from a horse-girth, in the natural colour, or it could be dyed to match a gown, and when ornamented with raffia darning and worn with a buckle of Arts and Crafts jewellery it makes an interesting addition to a pretty gown.
Another idea for raffia darning is to have a stole of grey Russian crash ornamented with a strong design in raffia. This could be used as a trimming for an evening coat, and, with cuffs to match, would give it an individual touch that would be very charming. It should be finished off with a black cord. The grey crash would go with almost any colour, the darning accenting the colour of the cloth.
Grass boxes are also well adapted for ornamenting with darning. As a knotted thread could not be pulled through the mounted box, it would be well to begin the darning with two or three stitches in the wrong direction, and then cover them in returning, or hold it in place with a little gum. The same method could be employed for finishing the raffia off.
Appliqued pillows and portieres are effective when ornamented with raffia, using it for outlining coarse linens, especially when they are laid on to the burlap or canvas. Two or three strands of raffia are laid round each leaf and petal. Couching is a blanket stitch pure and simple, and when made very coarsely looks well.
Large heavy frames covered with burlap are invaluable in screening a door, and are always decorative wherever they are placed.
Bold designs outlined in raffia make very beautiful screens. Select a dark colour, and embroider it almost the width of the lead lines in stained glass windows. The effect is extremely decorative, and quite a novelty.
Bold irises growing up from the bottom of the screen would be a suitable motif, while the upper part of the screen could be ornamented by a branch of a tree - maple or horse-chestnut, or some other leaf that has a characteristic outline. Instead of running this all the way across the screen, allow it to come in at one side almost to the top of one of the panels, and branch on to the second. This would be a much more artistic way of ornamenting the screen than if it were run across the three panels.
Raffia can be put to innumerable uses, the pliable nature of the grass, and the beautiful colours in which it is dyed, and the quickness with which it can be worked make it a valuable addition to the ever-increasing list of good things that craftsmen use to-day for decorating a simple and artistic home.