Lost Arts studio

A lot of the fiber arts I enjoy are things like tatting, netmaking, chair caning, and even weaving, where people will come up to me when I demonstrate and solemnly tell me, "That's a lost art."

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Location: SW Outer Nowhere, Michigan, United States

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03 May 2010

Random Chair Caning Odds and Ends

Recaning a chair is both easy and hard.

The individual steps are each pretty easy. The Caner's Handbook has you run in one layer of verticals, then one of horizontals, then verticals again, and then it has you weave in the fourth strand of horizontals, so you don't actually start to weave until the fourth pass.

I was re-reading those directions before I started in on this chair, and I thought, "Wait, this seems familiar . . ." because that's how the Weave-It or Weavette loom directions go! And I just read them in Piecework's March/April 2010 issue.

The hard part about caning is mainly that you have to do so much weaving, all of it by hand, first that layer of horizontals, then a layer of Z (/) diagonals and one of S (\) diagonals.

Once you start to weave the cane, things slow down. I usually only weave over and under three or four times before I pull the whole remaining length of cane through, and I keep the whole seat moist (not soaked) with a dollar store mister/atomizer of water and a couple of wet rags to either side of where I'm weaving. If the cane squeaks while I'm pulling it, I mist it more.

It's easiest to start the strand straight and keep it straight, than to try and undo it if it gets twisted.

You don't need to pull the cane tight while you weave. It will tighten up a bit as it dries, and if it's woven too tight wet, it will crack the frame, handily pre-weakened by all the holes drilled in it.

Cracks in the frame are the bane of chair caning. I caned one chair that had been repaired with L-brackets screwed into each corner underneath, and some of the screws went right through a caning hole.

The holes already end up with as many as six strands of cane going through each one, plus the strand that holds down the binder cane. Getting them past a screw with sharp threads was tough. I had a lot to say about that repair under my breath!

I haven't found caning that hard on my wrists, myself. But I did a lot of data entry at jobs over the years, so I'm used to going easy on my wrists.

My main trick for saving my wrists is, don't do the same thing in the exact same way for too long. Take breaks. Do something else.

If you don't have strong fingernails (I have thumbnails I can use to tighten screws), find something like a guitar pick or a plastic seam turner that you can substitute to straighten woven cane while it's still wet.

For caning, one thing you can hardly get enough of is moisture. Try and keep the weaving strand as damp as the part that's already woven, otherwise it ends up ripply. Damp cane can be tied in knots and bent all around. Dry cane cracks!

Another trick is to straighten the woven strands straight away, while they are still damp. I have a long plastic ruler, and I'll brace it across the chair with a couple of caning pegs at each end, then push the strand straight along the edge of the ruler.

A digital camera is a great tool - for some reason, it's easier for me to spot wiggly strands in the photo than on the chair. Maybe the photo gives me some emotional distance, I don't know.

And then there is perfectionism. Often I have to remind myself that you can still sit on an imperfectly caned seat, even if I didn't run the diagonals perfectly. And that a chair you can sit on is better than a bottomed-out chair that you can't sit on.


Blogger Mt. Mom said...

Beautiful work, Alwen!

11:06 PM  
Blogger Donna Lee said...

Wow. I don't have strong nails. I have weaker than average nails that break if you look at them in the wrong way.

The chair seat looks beautiful. I never thought of it as such a project but I guess it's one of those things that if you want it done right, it takes time and care. You do beautiful work.

8:55 AM  
Blogger Knitting Linguist said...

Gorgeous. That's absolutely beautiful. I'll never look at a caned seat the same way again.

1:48 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Exquisite! I think I would like to learn how to do this. Interesting that I can't really wrap my mind around knitting but this sounds like fun. It seems like a positive way to express one's ocd :-).

2:41 PM  

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