My grandmother's knitting bag was made of straw with flowers embroidered on one side in Raffia. She always brought it with her when she came to visit and it was always beside "her" armchair in her living room when we went to visit her. Recently my mother has been cleaning out her sewing room and she decided that grandma's old knitting bag should be thrown away as it is somewhat chewed up on one side and the centre of the embroidered flower has become undone.
The bag is hand-sewn and lined with a canvas-type fabric. The flowers are quite raised, while the leaves are flat:
I couldn't let it go without taking some pictures, my grandma was a great needlewoman and did many forms of needlework though I don't know for sure if she made this bag.
The May 2010 issue of Ricamo Italiano, an Italian needlework magazine has an article on the tradition of Raffia embroidery in the Mugello region of Tuscany. In particular they talk of the embroidery of Maria Margheri Manetti of the Embroidery School of Borgo S. Lorenzo, a town about 30kms away from Florence. The article says that this embroidery dates back to the 1950s when the works of local women were exported through the town of Signa to the rest of the world.
In Signa is the Museum of Straw and Plaiting [Museo della Paglia e dell'Intreccio] "Domenico Michelacci" where they also teach courses (click on the far right hand part of the photo to get a close up of a woman embroidering in Raffia). The Museum has published several books, a couple of which I will endeavor to get my hands on!
I found reference to Raffia embroidery in the Dizionario Enciclopedico di Lavori Femminili by Lucia Petrali Castaldi which is dated 1941.
Raffia embroidery is traditionally stitched on straw or hemp cloth. Today many different colours of Raffia are available, I found some here. Stitches used are those of classic embroidery like Straight Stitch, Feather Stitch, Running Stitch, Chain Stitch and Buttonhole Stitch.
I poked around a bit in the Italian high fashion world and found that many famous designers used Raffia embroidery in their fashion lines of clothing and accessories. Check out this Fendi purse embroidered with Raffia and silk ribbon from their Spring 2010 line:
On this Italian woman's blog she did some Raffia embroidery on a bag and shows you her great-grandmother's embroidered Raffia bag as well.