CANE & WICKER FURNITURE
Cane and wicker, two pliable yet durable materials that can be woven rather than joined, have long been used to make practical, lightweight furniture.
Canework first came to Britain in the middle of the 1 7th century, when the East India Company began importing rattan from Malaya.
Rattan, a vine of the buckthorn family, produced long, whippy, woody stems. The outer bark, which was covered with
barbs, was removed, and the hard, shiny inner bark was shaved off and interwoven to make attractive, fine mesh panels that wet set into seat furniture.
The new material's popularity was boosted in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London in 1666. So
much furniture was destroyed in the conflagration that cane manufacturers could barely cope with the soaring demand.
In the 18th century, cane increased in popularity. Sheraton advised its use anywhere where a combination of lightness, elasticity and durability was required.
In the 19th century, its uses were expanded to take in such items as bed ends and cribs. It was boosted further with the introduction by Thonet of new methods for making bentwood furniture. His chairs often had backs and seats of cane on a bentwood frame. Caned bergere armchairs were popular through to the 1930s, and cane was much used in reproduction furniture.
The core of the rattan canes left behind by the shaving was not wasted. Along with quantities of British grown willow and reed, it was used to make a considerable amount of lightweight wicker or basket-weave furniture.
Wicket furniture had been made since at least the Middle Ages; the technology had been known since pre-Roman times. It was essentially country furniture, and would not have been found in wealthy households.
Beds, cots and chairs made of plaited straw and osiers - stiff but flexible shoots harvested from pollarded willows - were the mainstay of the British peasantry.
In Victorian Britain, wickerwork moved up the social
scale. Because of its lightness, it could be easily moved, and this, combined with its tolerance of damp, meant it was ideal for use in the gardens, conservatories and porches of the growing middle class. Sets of cane and wicker chairs and tables in these sunlit rooms made it possible to take meals there in some comfort.
Exotic new furniture shapes were developed, which included oriental motifs that were borrowed from popular items of colonial furniture, and wicker began to move inside the house, to the parlour, bedroom and nursery.
In the Edwardian period, there was a reaction away from the elaborate styling of the Victorians.
Fine weaving and simple, elegant forms became the order of the day, and cane and wicker both enjoyed a wide popularity throughout the house.
The introduction of furniture made by the Lloyd Loom process after World War 1 affected sales of traditional wicker furniture, but both are still made.
WICKER COLLECTOR'S NOTES
Wicker was always made to be practical and hard-wearing, and many fine pieces have survived remarkably well from the Victorian and Edwardian period.
They tend not to be found in antique furniture shops, but can often be picked up at small auctions or house sales.
Furniture in poor condition, but needing only simple renovation, can often be bought at reasonable prices.
Most wicker furniture was meant to be painted. Sometimes this was done at the factory, while other pieces were supplied n their natural colours so they could be painted to match the decor of the buyer's house.
The usual colour was white a fashion that took its cue from the hotter parts of the British Empire, where such items had to be painted white to prevent damage by strong sunlight.
Leicester was the centre of the British cane and wicker industry. The Dryad works, set up in1907, was the classic factory.
Other pieces were imported from the Empire, from Europe - particularly Germany and Austria - and from the USA.
The best American makers included Gustav
Stickley, whose Craftsman range was well-made and reasonably priced, Heywood Brothers and the Wakefield Rattan Company. The last two merged in 1897.
Pieces by these factories will be well-made.
Check caned chair seats for fraying before
buying. If the cane seems to be pulling away from he frame, it will need to be replaced.
Re-caning is a job for professionals: look for advertisements in local newspapers.
Keep cane and wicker furniture clean by vacuuming it occasionally. Use a brush to get into difficult corners. You can wipe it clean with a damp rag, but do not over-soak it.
in Rattan and Wicker Furniture