Seat Weaving for Fun and Profit

I finished the last step of that quirky C.F.A. Voysey chair this week: fiber rush weaving. Even if you never build a chair from scratch, mastering seat weaving opens up a whole world of thrift store furniture rescue. I remember seeing a nice ladderback chair in a San Diego thrift store last year in great shape but in need of a new seat. Learn to weave your own seat and you could easily encircle your dining room table with a nice set of inexpensive, second-hand chairs. Seat weaving ain’t rocket science and it’s a whole lot more useful than sending idiots to mars.

Traditionally, this type of woven seat was made with cordage harvested from water plants. Beginning in the early 20th century, in the U.S., most rush seats were made from a rush substitute called fiber rush which is made out of spun paper, the same paper used for grocery bags. This is what I used since it’s cheaper, lasts longer and is easier to work with. Fiber rush comes in a light and dark color. I used the light color. It also comes in thicknesses between 1/8″ and 3/8″. I used the 3/16″ thickness to match the type on the original chair. I ordered it from Frank’s Cane and Rush Supply for $9.75 for a two pound coil, which is just about enough for one chair. I ordered two, 2-pound rolls since I correctly anticipated making some mistakes the first time and I’m planning on making more of these chairs.

I found a helpful seat weaving tutorial on YouTube by Ed Hammond a.k.a. Peerless Rattan. Hammond has sixteen videos on how to weave and cane a variety of chairs. Please note that in addition to ladderback chairs there’s a lot of mid-century Scandinavian chairs that have a slightly different kind of woven seat. Learning to weave Scando chairs will lead you to the “profit” promise in this blog headline as you help supply all the Silver Lake Shamans with refurbished mid-century thrones from which to enjoy a $15 juice while Instagraming their house plants.

Most chairs narrow at the back and you have to account for that when weaving the seat. Hammond shows this first step at the beginning of the video. My chair is square which allowed me to skip this first step. It’s also woven on a frame that fits into the seat. This is convenient in that I was able to weave the seat from the comfort of the vise of my work bench. But I don’t think a ladderback chair would be much more difficult–you just have to straddle it as you weave and remember to peek at the back periodically to make sure you’re not making any mistakes.

Sloppy first attempt on left and improved second try on right.

I’ll send you to Hammond’s oddly soothing video for the details of how to weave the chair. It’s easier to show than to describe in words but I’ll add a few lessons learned. Most importantly, take your time and make sure that each strand is tight and straight as you weave the chair. It’s not a race. Stop frequently to tap the cords straight with a hammer and wooden wedge. If you make a mistake, go back and fix it before proceeding. You can clamp off the cord with a spring clamp in order to take a break or straighten out the lines.

There’s apparently some disagreement over the need to pre-moisten the fiber rush in the chair weaving community but I found wetting the cord with a spray bottle made it easier to bend over the frame. Towards the end of the weaving process you fill the voids under the fiber rush with pieces of corrugated cardboard, being careful to put the writing side down.

When complete, I gave the fiber two coats of shellac in case someone spills a beverage. I’m also hoping that I didn’t spend many hours making an elaborate cat scratcher but so far there’s been no feline interest.

Let me also note that this skill is basketry adjacent. Learn seat weaving or basketry and you’ve got a witty, skill boasting riposte to those who suggest you “learn to code.”

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6 Comments

  1. You’ve done a very nice job. I used to do this in the late 70’s, early 80’s, along with caning and woven oak splint chair seats. Small profit and the fun soon wore off.

  2. While watching some videos on using a table loom this video came up. I watched it out of curiosity and it was really relaxing. It made me want to fix my chairs. So glad you actually used the information.

  3. I took a chair seat weaving class and finished a chair in one evening. We used white pine strips, whatever you call it, we threw our rolls of strips into a bucket of water, then dragged it out and worked with the wet strips which then shrunk to make tight chair seat.

    That night in the middle of the night, I got up to go to the bathroom. I could not move hands or fingers to pull down or up my panties. I swore off caning before I could get back to bed. Some of those people in the class with me have developed crippling arthritis.

    You are doing a good job. We were all instructed to bring an old butter knife that we could never used again. He bent the butter knives and we used them to pull the chair weaving straight.

    I have never used rush. I did cane another chair, the kind of weaving that is thin, flat and goes into each hole eight times. I have forgotten names and terms.

  4. Seriously, I will never, ever do this, but this is why I happily chip in a few pennies each month toward the blog. I will always look at woven seat chairs differently.

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