Identify Woven Chair Seat Patterns
Copyright ©2006 Cathryn Peters
With all the different types of woven chair seats around, it’s really hard to tell what’s what.
Through this article and photos you will be able to identify at least seven of the most popular and common types of chair seat weaving.
You’ve probably run across several examples of woven chair seats before, but didn’t recognize the differences in patterns.
You might have seen woven chair seats at your parents or grandparents houses, antique shops, flea markets, home furniture stores or online.
But did you know each of the different patterns and materials all have special names and they are not all called, “caning”?
Seven Popular Woven “Caning” or Seatweaving Patterns
- Traditional Hole-to-Hole, Hand or Lace Chair Caning
- Pressed Cane, Machine Woven or Cane Webbing
- Wide Binding Cane or Porch Cane
- Natural Hand-twisted Bulrush & Cattail Leaf Rush
- Man-made Paper Fibre Rush
- Ash, Oak, Hickory or Rattan Reed Splints
- Danish Modern Cord or Cane
Most people lump all chair seat patterns and weaving techniques together and call them either ”wicker” or “caning,” but neither word is really accurate.
The words wicker and caning don’t really identify the chair seat pattern and material at all, those terms simply refer to a woven piece of furniture or a specific type of woven seat.
Technically speaking, each woven chair seat has a particular name to identify it. Most names are derived from the actual weaving process itself or the materials used in creating the woven chair seat.
All woven seats are done completely by hand, there’s not been a machine invented to do all the weaving or application of the materials entirely. In this article we will highlight the seven most well-known types of chair seat weaving.
Hole-to-Hole Chair Caning–
This traditional and well-known seatweaving technique is woven by hand one strand at a time, using a material called “cane.”
The cane comes from the rattan palm and is imported from places like Malaysia, China and the Philippines to the USA.
Chair cane is the skin or the bark of the rattan palm and has a natural glossy side that is the right-side-up or visible side. There are holes drilled through the frame of the chair on the outer perimeter that the strands of cane are woven or “laced” through.
Traditional hole-to-hole or strand hand caning is woven with a variety of gauges of cane, all determined by the size of the holes and the distance between holes.
The traditional hand caning weave used, is a very distinctive and common series of octagon holes in the pattern when completed.
This seven-step method has proved to be the most durable and long-lasting of the various hole or lace caning patterns. An average life span of this chair seat pattern is 25 years, with good care and maintenance.
Spline Cane, Machine Woven Cane, or Pressed Cane–
This particular method of weaving cane on a mechanized loom creates a sort of ”fabric” of cane and the chair has a routed out groove on the top side of the seat frame to accommodate the cane.
This “sheet” of ”machine woven cane” is “pressed” into the groove and held in place with glue and spline, hence the several different terminologies for the same chair seat name.
Loom woven, sheet cane or machine woven cane webbing was invented in the 1870s, so has been around for a very long time and is very popular even now. It’s quick and easy to apply (especially for the manufacturing companies) and doesn’t take the long man-hours to complete weaving as does that traditional hand caning.
There is a wide variety of pre-woven patterns to choose from now too. But in the Victorian times of the 1800s and early 1900s, the preferred design was the close-woven cane sheeting.
The cane was so closely woven without any holes, so the caning did not detract from the fancy curlicues and embellishments on the backs and arms of the woven wicker furniture from the Victorian era.
Porch Cane or Wide Binding Cane–
Porch caning or wide binding cane seats are woven around the rungs of the seat or backs of chairs and rockers. And the pattern may be the same on the bottom as on the top, but not always.
The material used is wide binding cane, usually in the 6MM cane gauge, which is then woven in a variety of patterns.
The twill or herringbone pattern is simple and easy for most chair caners to master. Then there’s also a basketweave, Carolina weave, diamond weave and other variations.
Natural Hand-twisted Cattail Leaf Rush–
This type of seatweaving process with rushes and cattails has been around since the earliest of recorded times, documentation exists that it was used during the times of the Pharaohs in Egypt. Rush weaving was also extremely popular in Europe during the early 1400s and later here in the United States.
Natural cattail leaf rush or bulrush (which is similar but slightly different material than the cattail leaves), is typically woven around the four seat rails (dowels), of a post and rail chair frame.
Here’s what the natural rush weaving process looks like, using wet or mellowed hand-twisted bulrush stems. The twisted stems are woven from the outside of the frame to the center and create four envelope flap shaped triangles that meet in the center. Although the seat is a variegated green-tan color, that will change to a totally tan or honey color over the years as it dries.
Completed natural hand-twisted bulrush chair seat. See those triangular shaped or envelope flap shaped sections that meet in the center? Each strand varies a bit in diameter since each strand is a hand-twisted product, made with several cattail leaves of different widths.
Man-Made Paper Fibre Rush–
Paper fibre rush can be identified by its barber-pole or peppermint stick twist and each strand is exactly the same size in diameter.
The material used in this seatweaving process was invented in 1904 and was made to resemble the rattan reed that was used in Victorian wicker furniture. It’s made of twisted thin sheets of paper that resemble a rope, or the strands of the natural cattail leaf rush.
This paper twist, rope, or paper wicker is very strong and durable. It comes in a continuous pre-twisted strand coil, either by the pound or 35 pound reel.
Little or no water is needed when weaving with paper rush to soften or mellow the strands. In fact, water is the enemy of paper rush and too much or soaking the paper can destroy it.
Knots are made to join one strand end to another and are covered in the gussets or pockets in the triangles and/or on the bottom of the chair seat.
Oak, Ash, Reed, Cane or Hickory Bark Splints or Splits–
These types of chair seats and backs are woven in two main designs, either herringbone twill or basketweave. Splints are frequently seen woven on both the seats and backs of Southern porch rockers.
The splints used in this method need to be soaked in water until they are pliable enough to weave with, otherwise they will break and are brittle when dry.
Using flat splints or strips of rattan reed, oak, ash, or hickory bark which are woven around the rungs of post and rail chair frames, there is a design both on the top-side and underneath side of the seats and backs.
Danish Modern Cord or Cane–
The craze of popularity of the Danish Modern furniture really took off here in the United States between the 1940s, 50s and 60s, but really began in Denmark in the early 1920s.
Chairmakers such as Hans Wegner, Neils Møller, Borge Mogensen, Arne Jacobsen and others were designing smooth, sleek, organic and comfortable chairs, using quality woods and craftsmanship.
The craft brown, 3-ply cord, which is made in Denmark, but does now come in an American version, is either in “laced” or “unlaced” form.
The laced version has a slightly bumpy or nubby look to it and the unlaced has a more smooth texture.
Chairmakers incorporated a 3-ply cord on their woven chair seats and would weave it around a series of L-shaped nails on the underside of the seat.
The seats were woven in a distinct and identifiable pattern, quickly becoming associated with the Danish Modern movement.
There are also several versions of the Danish Modern chairs, woven with wide binding cane, such as the one here in the picture.
Well, there you have it! Now you will be able to identify at least seven different woven chair seat patterns used on woven chair seats! Congratulations!
This is only an introduction to the myriad of woven chair seat patterns and techniques used in producing chairs though, so stay tuned for more!
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