Cane Furniture Construction
WHAT IS MY CANE FURNITURE MADE FROM?
Cane furniture is usually labelled as being manufactured from cane; however it looks more like bamboo. Actually, itís most likely made from a material called rattan. This is what we associate with cane furniture.
This material is very strong and is sometimes used as scaffolding in south East Asia. Like bamboo it can be easily split to form flexible sections, which can be woven to make items like cane furniture.
Rattan - presently the largest source used in the fabrication of wicker furniture. Rattan is a climbing vine, native to the tropical rain forests of South-East Asia. It commonly grows to lengths of 600 feet and diameters between 1/8 of an inch to more than 2 inches. The harvesting of rattan occurs between 7 to 15 years from the start of the new growth. Within the family of rattan, there are several hundred varieties. Rattan, unlike bamboo is a solid core vine, which makes it ideal for use in making cane furniture.
Wicker is derived from the name wickerwork, given to the type of weaving used in the manufacture of some cane furniture furniture. A good example of wickerwork can be seen in the film the Wicker Man. Nice happy ending there!
Cane - the stem of large rattans. It has a distinct joint where the palm leaf connects to the stem, and assumes a yellow colour during the drying process. Fine cane can be used to make natural wicker or for stained pieces.
Bamboo - these are large tropical grasses that commonly grow to over 100 feet. Bamboo can also grow at a tremendous rate, sometimes over 36 inches a day. Most plants grow naturally in the warm regions of temperate climates. There are approximately 500 to 1000 varieties of bamboo. It is easiest to identify due to its nodular growth and hollow stem.
Reed - this is the name given to items made by weaving swamp grasses similar to straw. Sometimes the term is also used for the core of the rattan vine. Reed is the material used on the early American wicker chairs / cane furniture.
Willow - this grows in the northern countries of Europe and regions of North America. It has value due to its rapid growth and for the production of light durable wood. Willow retains its natural moisture which makes it long lasting and easily woven. It can be easily identified because the diameter of each strand becomes smaller near one end.
The oldest surviving pieces of wicker furniture date from the Egyptian Empire. These pieces include chests made of reed and rush, wig boxes of reed and papyrus, and wicker hassocks and chairs. The popularity of wicker in America began around 1850 and is today beginning to find itself in a rebirth of popularity. So your cane furniture should last a very long time providing you look after it.
THE USE OF CANE IN FURNITURE MANUFACTURE
Woven cane as a method of chair seating was first introduced into England during the second half of the 17th century. To begin with the holes in the chair framework were very widely spaced apart giving a coarse and unattractive weave. As time passed, the canework became finer and more closely woven eventually giving us the six way pattern that we are familiar with today. The popularity of cane as a seating material has remained virtually constant in Europe where even today a good percentage of modern furniture has some canework either for its decorative qualities or for its practicality.
In England however, its popularity has largely been dictated by fashion. During the Regency period many "faux" bamboo chairs were made, some with finely crafted cane seats. The Brighton Pavilion was a trend setter, and as its style was based around Far Eastern influences, rattan and bamboo became popular. English furniture manufacturers wanted to reflect this style and so cane seating became more widely recognised. Since then a revival of Regency style at the turn of the 20th century saw an increase in the number of pieces of furniture using cane, Bergere salon suites became popular with their cane back and side panels and almost everyone had a dainty little cane seated bedroom chair. Many of these Edwardian pieces are highly prized now and therefore the caneworker's art is making a comeback.
There are many more woven cane seat patterns, they are less common and often more complicated - like the snowflake design and the many "close woven" willow style patterns. As the labour cost of creating these seats has always been high, furniture manufacturers reserved this method of seating for only the finest quality chairs. Needless to say such rare specimens now command the best prices but are commensurately more costly and difficult to restore. Below is an example of a diamond patterned "close woven" seat.
1st diagonal crossing