Making something my own is a constant source of inspiration. Perhaps this is an odd frame of mind but abiding by the status quo with how objects are utilized does not inspire myself or others. Pretentious diatribes aside, we were given a Victorian hip chair and wanted to make it our own. I think this has been achieved by thinking differently about the materials. The caning within the black walnut frame had been compromised and was in need of replacing.
Cane was not the answer. The frame itself has wonderful character through the detailing and sturdy construction. The cane, which once provided the webbing, has a lifespan of approximately 20 years and had surpassed that number some time ago. To improve not only the look but functionality of this portion, I went in search of replacement materials. Options ranged from re-caning with natural materials, to heavy duty fishing line, to seat belts, and many option in between.
Paracord offered the best solution. A lightweight nylon rope originally used in the suspension lines of parachutes. With 95lb paracord I was able to use the existing holes in the chair to thread the material without having to re-drill holes, exposing fresh wood. This was important as the chair has achieved a patina through wear and tear which I wanted to maintain. More importantly though, the paracord provided a reimagining of the cane and a modern touch to this Victorian style.
Thousands of colors are available. 250 feet of yellow paracord was ordered after deliberating about hues and patterns which would compliment the well-aged wood. After removing the abused cane and cleaning the chair with soap and water, the tedious work began.
The caning within the black walnut frame had been compromised and was in need of replacing.
After studying the pattern with rubber bands, it was time to dive into weaving the cord. Four layers are woven together in the pattern which was chosen. One both horizontally and vertically and then two diagonal layers, which actually weave together. The first two were very straight forward and the only concerns were when to skip holes near the sides due to the odd shape of the hole in the chair (slight oval).
The weaving of the diagonals proved difficult. Initially this was done by hand, pulling the rope through near the end of the section. But the way in which the paracord is constructed, it twisted. The twisting was accentuated when being pulled through two or three other layers of cord. Eventually my seamstress of a mother offered two crotchet hooks which worked to perfection. The steel tools cut out the twisting my fingers were inherently adding.
Golf tees were used to maintain tension after running strands through the holes in the chair. Through research of chair caning, it was advised not to add too much tension in the first two portions as it would make weaving later difficult. With each added layer and weave, the pattern becomes more dense and tightens itself. With the last diagonal layer I added more tension, which cinched the pattern forming a sturdy platform. The goal was to use as few separate pieces of rope as possible. Having never caned a chair before, I found it difficult to know the length of material needed to reach the sides of the chair or the end of the pattern. It is necessary to start in the middle for each layer to ensure matching with the corresponding holes.
Seven lengths of cord ended up being used for the four separate directions. This meant that each end needed to be fastened underneath the chair by way of a knot. The most worrisome part of the whole process was whether there would be enough room in the existing holes to accept several passes of the cord. The cane that was initially used is much thinner than the paracord. As I reached six passes of cord, I wondered if I would have room later to create a border pattern. When the layering was complete I determined that I would not know until I reached that point so I started a looping pattern around the exterior to provide a border. Several spots needed coercing, in general the border worked well. It ended up providing an easier way to secure the ends of rope, which dangled loosely below the frame.
The final product is a freshening of a family piece, handed down to us that I am proud of. The yellow paracord stands out nicely without being ostentatious and is tough enough to last for many years to come. The twenty or so hours of weaving and pulling paracord were a bit monotonous, but provide the comfortable and visual update to the Victorian hip chair that we wanted.
Workshop hours. Crochet hooks. Bottom knots. Final Product.