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DIY Cane Chairs

Like many people, I love using Pinterest for discovering DIY projects, and getting ideas for upcycling or reusing old pieces of furniture, remnants of cloth and yarn. As a caner, I’m interested in how others may address the problem of a broken cane seat. I’ve seen many types of these fixes; some fascinate me, and some literally make me wince. One such winceable moment was when someone took a gorgeous, mid-19th century tiger maple side chair with an urn back, curved side rails and turned stretchers and painted it with a plaster of Paris paint mixture, then “wove” the seat in jute twine with 1 step of warp and 1 step of weft, and called it good. The chair was to be used as a desk chair. I wonder how many times it was used before the jute broke? Once? Twice? To be sure, I don’t fault any of the DIYers who take on a decent chair whose only issue is having a busted out cane or rush seat and turn it into a safe and beautiful showpiece that highlights their artistic and creative talents. But I’ve seen “cheap alternatives to cane repairs” that I know are going to break soon, cause undue stress on the chair, or the worse-case scenario: someone is hurt because the “alternative to cane” was too weak for the chair to be properly used.

If you’re a DIYer and you’re faced with what to do with a cane chair that needs to have the material replaced, and I know there are lots of them out there – please keep these things in mind:

Firstly, I’d recommend replacing the cane with cane. Find and hire a professional caner. We are indeed out there, and we love what we do! Fellow caner Cathryn Jungroth Peters, A/K/A The Wicker Woman, has a national directory of caners, wicker experts, and upholsterers on her fabulously informative website. Caned chairs were designed to be used and repaired with cane. There is a reason we charge what we do when we reweave a seat. Honestly, for what we do, it is money well-spent, and it’s not as expensive as you might imagine. Our aim is to have a safe end result, and a strong, beautiful weave that will last many years. A suitable weave for a chair seat will have at least 5 steps of interlocking strands in the weave to properly support an average adult comfortably and safely. Any weave that has less than 5 steps of interlocking strands is suitable only for chair backs and sides.

If you insist on doing the repair yourself, think about who, where, and how the chair will be used. Will children be using it regularly? Will it be used infrequently, such as at a vanity? Will larger-bodied folks be using the chair? The choice of what material to use is important.

Jute is not a suitable replacement for the 7-Step, classic pattern we see in most caned chairs, and would not adequately support a child, let alone a full-grown adult. Embroidery floss, yarn, and raffia should not be used in a 7-Step weave.

Many DIYers opt to use a thin piece of plywood and upholster that to go over middle of the seat. Whilst my inner “chair nerd” winces at this repair as well, it is much safer than using jute or embroidery floss. Please use a fun fabric, even a cane pattern would be a nice, albeit ironic, nod to what’s hidden below.

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