Talking about needleworks, my friend Lola told me that her grandmother, apart from embroidering, used to knit with raffia. And she showed me a delicate and precious basket that she gave her as a present. As I was watching it, I thought that it is a pity that plaiting of esparto and raffia, with long tradition in Spain, is dissapearing.
Viví varios años en Aguadulce, Almería, y allí conocí algunos esparteros, ancianos todos ellos. El sureste español era conocido por los romanos como Spartarium Pedion (tierra de esparto) porque en una zona tan árida el esparto era lo que crecía en abundancia. Así que se dedicaban a trabajarlo, sobre todo para hacer cuerdas que exportaban a otros países. En el siglo XIX empezó a decaer esta actividad porque el esparto pasó a usarse como combustible en los hornos de fundición de plomo y como materia prima en las fábricas de papel inglesas.
I lived several years in Aguadulce, Almeria, and there I knew some esparto sellers, old peopleall of them. The south-east of Spain was known by the Romans as “Spartarium Pedion” (land of esparto) because it growed abundantly in such an arid area. So they used to work with it, especially to make ropes that they exported to other countries. In the 19th century this activity declined because esparto started to be used as fuel in lead smelting and as raw material inEnglish paper mills.
“pai pai” to get fire going (from Torrevieja, Alicante) and basket (from Valderrobles, Teruel).
Nonetheless, esparto plaiting was mantained as a craftwork in Almeria houses (and in Murcia, Alicante and La Mancha) until approximately forty years ago. To pick esparto was a very hard work because the thorns of the plant scratched and got hands callused. I have found a few marvellous pictures from Asociación El Chorrillo (Turón, Granada) that show the picking and the crushed of esparto. It was used for making espadrilles, baskets, scourers, ropes…
Esparto and raffia have similar characteristics, both are very strong and flexible fibers. Esparto comes from diverse graminea wild plants and raffia from a palm of Raphia kind that the artisan has to divide in fibers that later he interweaves. That is how Dolores, Lola’s grandmother, made it. Patiently and carefuly she extracted thin raffia fibers and created her precious baskets.
Hoy en día se puede adquirir rafia de distintos colores en tiendas de manualidades. Con ella se pueden hacer flores, bolsos, cestos, forrar muebles,… Es un material muy resistente y económico.
Nowadays it is possible to buy raffia of different colours in craft shops. Flowers, purses or baskets can be made with it, or even covering furniture… It is a very resistant and inexpensive material.