CHAIRS that are graceful in design and have holes bored in the seat frame may be caned. For chairs of sturdy or rustic design, rustic materials, such as rush, Hong Kong grass, and splint, are suitable.

All woven seats need a protective finish. Caned surfaces may be left natural and waxed, or they may be clear- varnished or shellacked. Shellac or varnish produces a hard glossy surface. A wax finish has a softer appearance, is easy to clean, and does not dry the cane. Also a wax finish permits tightening the seat if it stretches.

Rush seats should be treated before they are thoroughly dry, a coat of shellac or varnish being applied to both top and bottom. Reed is light in color and is usually left natural. Because it is porous, it soils easily. Reed seats can be protected by a coat of wax, clear shellac, or varnish.

Splint seats can be preserved indefinitely by giving them several coats of equal parts of crude oil and turpentine. Linseed oil may be used instead of crude oil. It is best to apply oil or other finish before the seat has a chance to dry out.


Cane for weaving is available in the sizes shown below. Fine and medium are used most commonly for chairs. The size to buy depends on the size of the holes in which the cane is to be inserted and the space between these holes.

Cane Size
Size of hole
Space between holes
Common 5/16" 7/8"
Medium 1/4" 3/4"
Fine 3/16" 5/8"
Fine-fine 3/16" 1/2"
Superfine 3/16" 3/8"

When ordering cane, it is a good idea to send a sample from the old seat. Weaving cane usually comes in hanks of 1000 feet, and one hank is usually enough for three or four average-sized chair seats.

Cane for binding is coarser than weaving cane. It comes in hanks of 500 feet. Unless there is waste in cutting, one strand is enough for the average chair seat.

A finished chair

Other equipment needed for weaving is a razor blade or scissors, an ice pick or an awl, a cloth or sponge, a container in which to soak the cane, and four or five wooden pegs 2 or 3 inches long and small enough to fit into the holes of the frame.

Getting Ready to Weave

Study a section of old caning to see how the strands have been interwoven. Then remove the old cane, using the ice pick or awl to loosen any parts that are lodged in the holes. Brush the frame to remove dust and pieces of cane. Repair all broken holes. If the hole is merely cracked, glue the cracked edges together. If it is badly broken, insert a patch of wood and glue it to the frame. Then bore a new hole in the patch.

A chair which has never been caned may be prepared for caning by boring holes in the seat.

Remember that cane must be pliable for weaving. Soak two or three strands in a pan of water for 5 to 10 minutes before you start to weave. (The soaked cane stretches while it is being woven, then contracts as the water evaporates, making the woven surface tight.) When you take soaked strands out of the water, put others in so that you will always have some ready for use. If a strand dries out while you are working on it, dampen it with a wet cloth or sponge.

Weaving a Square Chair Seat

If the chair to be recaned is not square, it will be necessary to adapt these directions to the shape of the chair. The most important thing to keep in mind is that all strands of cane woven in the same direction must be kept parallel -lengthwise strands with lengthwise strands, crosswise strands with crosswise strands, and diagonals with diagonals.

The glossy side of the cane is the right side. Be sure to keep the cane flat and the right side up. When weaving, pull the weaving strand completely thru every time after you have woven 2 or 3 inches. Do not draw it too tight for the first four steps, because the surface tightens as the weaving progresses. Be sure cane lies flat.

Step 1. To start, push a strand of cane down thru the middle hole at the back of the chair seat, letting it extend 3 or 4 inches below the frame. Push one of the wooden pegs into the hole to keep the cane from slipping while you are taking it to the next hole. (Do this every time you take the cane thru a hole. Leave the first peg in till all the first strand has been used up and the end tied. Remove other pegs as you need them after they have served their purpose.) Take cane across the frame to the middle front and down thru the middle hole. Pull it fairly taut and put a peg in the hole. Draw cane thru thumb and forefinger, pull it under the frame to the right and up thru the hole next to the middle one. Cross the chair seat and go down and up as before until all holes on the right side except the corner ones are filled. (If you are weaving any shape other than a square or a rectangle, fill the corner holes, too.)

When you reach the end of a strand, fasten it to an adjoining loop on the underside of the frame, drawing the cane thru the loop several times. Fill holes on the left side of the middle strand in the same way that you did those on the right. When adding a new strand, start as you did in the beginning, leaving a loose end several inches long, which you will tie later underneath the frame to another strand already woven.

Step 1

Step 2. Run the second layer of cane thru the holes from side to side on top of the first layer and at right angles to it. It is best for the amateur to start this layer in the middle hole on the side of the seat frame.

Step 2

Step 3. Start the third layer at the upper left-hand corner. Run it in the same direction and thru the same holes as the first layer. Weave over and under the strands woven in Step 2. Keep the strands to the right of those woven in Step 1.

Do not pull the first three layers too taut. If you do, you will find it hard to weave the diagonals.

Step 3

Step 4. The actual weaving begins with this step. Start at the top of the frame and run the cane from side to side in the same holes as the second layer, weaving the cane over the third layer and under the first layer. This fourth layer should be above the second layer. Work with one hand below the seat frame and the other above in order to keep from twisting the cane as you weave.

Step 4

Step 5. Weave the cane in diagonally. Start the strand at the right-hand corner hole at back of seat frame and weave diagonally across to left front corner hole. Weave over and under two strands at each time; for example, over the vertical pairs and under the horizontal pairs. Pass cane down thru the left front hole and up thru either of the holes that lie next to it. Continue in this manner until the entire seat is filled with these diagonal rows.

Step 5

Step 6. This step is the reverse of Step 5. Weave this layer at right angles to the fifth layer, taking the strand under the vertical pairs and over the horizontal pairs.

Step 6

Step 7. Binding. See lower edge in drawing of Step 6. If the chair corners are rounded, use one continuous strand of binding cane. If corners are square, use a separate piece of binder for each side. To attach binder, start at comer, lay the binder flat at the edge of the caned area; take a strand of weaving cane and pull it up thru the hole over the binder and down thru the same hole. Continue around the chair, pulling the strand of weaving cane tight over the binder at each hole in the frame. Lap the end of the binder over the starting end. Pull the strand of weaving cane up around the lapped binder and back down thru the hole and tie it under the frame. With a razor blade, trim the edge of the binder that extends beyond the hole.

Although binding cane is heavier and wider than weaving cane and will make a neater and stronger finish, a strip of common or medium weaving cane may be used for binder if desired, particularly if the seat has been caned with superfine or fine-fine weaving cane. When weaving cane is used for binder, the ends are lapped in the same way as when binding cane is used.

To make seats wear longer. When caned seats break along the outer edge, breakage is usually caused by the sharpness or roughness of the inner edge of the seat frame. For this reason these edges should be rounded and smoothed when the chair is being prepared for weaving. This may be done with a plane, or with a knife and steel wool or sandpaper. If the holes are rough, they too should be smoothed.

Rush is a leaf of the flag or cattail family. Before rush is used, it must be soaked about 2 hours, or until soft enough to twist without cracking, and then must be placed in wet burlap to hold the moisture while the weaving is being done.

Another plant frequently used is Hong Kong grass, a Chinese sea grass, which can be bought in rope form twisted to resemble rush. It comes in hanks ready for use and can be woven in the same way as rush.

Weaving a Square Seat

Refer to diagram below. Start at corner 1. Lay a strand of the rush or grass over rail A, leaving a loose

end about 4 inches long. Draw the strand across the top, around the outside edge, and under rail A; then up at the comer, over self and rail B. Then pull the strand under rail B and straight across the frame opening to the top of rail C at corner 2; draw it around the outer edge and under rail C, then up at the comer over self and over and under rail A. Pull directly across the frame opening to the top of rail D at corner 3. The operations at comers 3 and 4 are the same as those at corners 1 and 2. Repeat till the seat is completed.

When it is necessary to add a new strand, join it to the old by tying the two ends together with a square knot at an inconspicuous place, or by twisting the new strand into the old.

As the work progresses, the space between the upper and lower strands may be stuffed with the same material that is used in weaving or with crushed paper to give fullness, but this is not essential.

Weaving an Oblong Seat

The directions for weaving a square seat apply to weaving any rectangular seat. In oblong seats, however, the spaces on the short rails will fill up before those on the long rails. After the openings are filled, weave over and under a long rail into the center and over and under the opposite rail until the seat is finished.

When seat is covered, fasten ends of last strand around another strand on underside of seat or tack it under the rail. Trim off all rough ends.

Reed, ash splint, or wide cane may be used on sturdy chairs, the choice depending largely on personal taste. There are two kinds of reed, flat and round, and either may be bought in hanks, coils, or bundles. Reed has a softer, duller surface than cane and is more porous. Ash splints are usually less than 1/8 inch thick and are smooth on one side. They can be obtained in varying widths and are usually 8 feet long.

All these materials must be soaked before they are used. Leave strands in water 1/2 to 3/4 hour (no longer). As you use the first strands, put others in the water so that some strands will always be ready but none will soak too long.

When weaving with splint, keep the smooth side on top and pull straight with the grain.

Weaving a Square or Rectangular Seat

Placing the warp strands. Tack or tie the first strand to the underside of the right-handrail near the back post. Carry the long strand from this point under the back cross rail, over and across to top of front rail, under to back, and continue in this manner till seat is filled. Keep strands parallel and very close together. Always end the strand on the bottom of the seat. If one strand does not wrap the entire seat, tack it to the underside of the rail wherever it runs out, and start a new strand by slipping it under the old strand about 6 inches. Any loose ends will be held securely when the filling strands are woven into the seat. In seats that are wider at the front than at the back, the comers can be filled in with short pieces.

Placing the filling or pattern strands. Tack or tie the first strand of weaving to the underside of the righthand corner (B) and weave it from right to left (B to A). Then turn the chair over and continue weaving across the bottom of the frame. Repeat until the chair frame is filled in from back to front. These filling strands develop the pattern.

Diagonal pattern. Directions are given below for weaving the first four strands. These strands form a unit that is repeated until the entire seat is woven. Ends may be fastened either by tying or by folding the splint or reed over and bringing it back underneath to form a locked end.

Strand 1 -Weave over first 2 warp strands, under next 2, over 2, under 2 until opposite side rail is reached. Carry the strand down over the side rail and continue same weaving on the underside. Strand 2 - Over 1, under 2, over 2, under 2, over 2, etc. Strand 3 - Under 2, over 2, under 2, over 2, etc. Strand 4 - Under 1, over 2, under 2, over 2, etc.

Diamond pattern. Attach first strand in same way as for the diagonal pattern. Strands may be joined and ends fastened in the same way, too. Following are directions for the first eight strands that form the weaving unit. Repeat until entire seat is woven.

Strand 1 - Over 1, under 1, over 2, under 1, over 2, etc. Strand 2 - Under 3, over 3, under 3, etc. Strand 3 - Under 1, over 1, under 2, over 1, etc. Strand 4 - Over 3, under 3, over 3, etc. Strand 5 -Over 1, under 1, over 2, under 1, over 2, etc. Strand 6 - Over 3, under 3, over 3, etc. Strand 7 - Under 1, over 1, under 2, over 1, etc. Strand 8 - Under 3, over 3, under 3, etc.

UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS * COLLEGE OF AGRICULTURE * Extension Service in Agriculture and Home Economics (HE-P47)

Prepared by DOROTHY J. IWIG, Associate Professor Emerita of Home Furnishings

Urbana, Illinois December 1957

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension Work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914 in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture.

WILLIAM R. OSCHWALD, Director, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Illinois at Urbana-Chompaign. The Illinois Cooperative Extension Service provides equal opportunities in programs and employment.