by Ashley Stewart
It doesn’t matter where you’re from, I can guarantee your grandmother had a caned or woven chair of some kind. You may even have one of your own that has been passed down through the generations. These chairs are often considered rustic and old fashioned, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The art of chair caning isn’t dying. It’s thriving.
Caning is an umbrella term that is used to describe several different styles of woven chairs. A true cane chair is made from the outer bark of the rattan palm, which is native to Southeast Asia. The rattan is woven into panels using vertical, horizontal and diagonal strands to create the familiar octagonal pattern. The mats are cut and pressed into frames or woven by hand into holes drilled into the seat frame.
There are many other types of woven chairs, one of the most common of which is the rush weave. Materials such as corn shucks, bulrush and cattails are twisted together into long cords that are then woven together to create a chair seat. Other types include Danish Cord, Hickory and Oak Splint Weaving, Shaker Tape, and Rawhide.
The history of caned and woven chairs is as long as it is universal. Evidence of woven seats have been found as far back as the Neolithic Era. They have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs and were used by travelling Chinese Buddhists. Despite its long history, caning is far from outdated. Caning patterns have been used by fashion designers such as Michael Kors and Dior. Far from being old fashioned, chairmakers such as Scott Woody and Brian Boggs use woven seats in their contemporary designs, elevating the craft from rustic heirloom to luxury furniture.
Here in North Carolina, the chair caning tradition is alive and well thanks to Brandy Clements and Dave Klingler at the Silver River Center for Chair Caning in Asheville. As the only chair school and museum in the nation, Brandy and Dave are preserving the tradition through classes, workshops, and restoration work. You can find them upstairs at Curve Studios and Garden in the River Arts District in Asheville. For more information on all things chairs, visit SilverRiverChairs.com or call (828) 707-4553.