Woven Crafts: Cattail and Raffia Sandals

For lovers of woven crafts, raffia sandals are one summer wear project that will leave you with a "footnote" to human history!


| May/June 1985



woven crafts raffia sandals - weaving

Fig. 1-A: Bend the core 8" from one end, and wrap the bend with a weaver. Fig. 1-B: With the 8" length alongside the longer piece, wrap tightly around the folded end several times with the weaver. Fig. 1-C: Bind the 8" piece to the other one using a figure-8 wrap.


MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

Raffia sandals may be as close to a timeless, universal form of footwear as we're ever likely to encounter. And though inexpensive ones can be easily purchased in most areas of the country, you may find it rewarding to try your hand at woven crafts by making a pair with raffia or bulrushes (or a combination of both fibers).

Raffia fiber, from a Madagascar palm tree (Raphia ruffia), is sold in bundles, ready for use, at most craft supply stores. Pliable, soft, and surprisingly strong, the long beige strips are used to wrap, lash, knot, or sew together the elements in many natural fiber projects from hats and slippers to household furnishings.

Bulrushes are cattails—those tall, graceful reedy plants with brown flower heads that look like fuzzy hot dogs. Only the leaves are used for fiber crafts. Look for cattails near the edges of ponds, in roadside drainage ditches, and in marshes. Once you've located a good stand, cut the long, flexible leaves close to the ground, leaving the flower stalks and any shoots under 2 feet tall.

Fresh, green bulrushes can be made into handcrafted items if they are used right away — they mold when left in bunches. However, drying the leaves will prevent this from happening and will also turn them an attractive pale tan. Before dried bulrushes are used for weaving, they must be soaked in warm water for 5-10 minutes to make them pliable again. Both the fresh leaves and the dried and soaked ones should be tightly wrapped or woven, since they shrink as they dry, which could result in too loose a weave.

To make the split-toe sandals described below, you'll need one package of raffia (12 ounces or so), a large, blunt-tipped yarn needle — preferably made of steel — scissors, and several strong spring-clip clothespins. If you want to make one of the variations using bulrushes as well as raffia, you'll also need a bundle of fresh or dried cattail leaves. (Fiber sandals can be made entirely of bulrushes, but unless otherwise indicated, the following directions specify raffia.)

Crafting the Sole

Different styles of footwear can be fashioned using a basic sole. You start with a bundle, or core, of fiber strips, and wrap them tightly together with another strip to form a rod. A series of rods connected end to end is coiled around a central double rod to form the shape of the sole. The rods are wrapped, coiled, and lashed together with a single strand called a weaver. Because the size and quality of the materials may differ significantly from one brand of raffia to another, it may take from ten to fifteen strands of fiber to make a rod 3/8" in diameter — sufficient for a comfortably thick sole. Sometimes two or three strips must be combined to make a weaver.





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