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Making a Chair Seat

October 10, 2011

One nice sort of seat for rustic furniture is Fiber rush. Originally, rush seats were woven of cat tails. This must have been immensely difficult, though I’ve never tried it. With cat tails measuring only five or so feet in length, it must have taken a great many and required constant skillful tying of rushes in such a manner as to keep the knots hidden underneath the seat. However, fiber rush is a synthetic cord made of brown paper bag and wound into rope of various diameters. It is available in many lengths (it is often sold by the pound). I get mine from H.H. Perkins online. I find weaving fiber rush satisfying, though your first time you will find it is a real workout for your hands. To show the basics, I will start with a foot stool. The advantage of this is that it is rectangular. Chair seats are often narrower in the back and wider in the front. This requires an extra step, which I will discuss later. For tools you will need a tack hammer, shears or knife, a wooden block (any little scrap approximately 1″x3″x4″ will do), a spring clamp is useful. and a rush shuttle, a fid can also be useful (a fid is just a pointy stick used to pry some space between the rush). Picture 1 shows the foot stool, the rush on the shuttle, and a nice little tack hammer.

Wind some rush onto the rush shuttle (especially at the start it is much easier to work with rush on a shuttle. Some instructions tell you to wet the fiber rush (just put it in a bucket for a ten or so seconds.) Don’t get it too wet or it will get mushy like a wet paper bag. I don’t wet it at all, but it is easier to grip if it is damp. Begin by tacking one end of the rush to the inside of the stools top rail. One of the mistakes that is easy to make is reversing direction, so I always work counterclockwise. There is no reason I go that way except that it is the way I always go. So, tack the rush to the inside of the right rail and draw it away from you and up and over the far rail. Now draw it under the front rail and back toward you. Next pull it up and over the right hand rail (see picture 3). Now pull it under the left rail and parallel to the front rail and again up and over the left rail (see picture 4). This is the pattern you will follow for most of the seat. Straight, up and over, turn, up and over, straight, up and over, turn, etc. Pictures 4-9 show the first few times around the stool. Pictures 10-12 show the pattern beginning to develop. As you work your way around use the block of wood and hammer to tap the coils tightly as in pictures 11 and 12 in this picture I am using my rubber mallet and a block of wood to tap the rush tight. When I am not attempting to make it clear for the camera, I might tip the stool on end to do this. I would also use the spring clamp to clamp the rush to the rail whenever I had to release the rush.

When you reach the end of a length of rush you will need to tie a new one on. Wind more rush onto the shuttle and tie a square knot (also known as a reef knot) to join the two lengths (see pictures 13 and 14) . Make sure to join the rush so that the knot will be under the seat and out of view. As the seat begins to fill in it may grow more difficult to pull the shuttle through (see picture 15) and the will come a time when you will have to forgo the shuttle and pull the rush through alone. Unless the seat is square, you will reach a pint when you are no longer working around and around, but simply going front to back or side to side (see picture 16-17). At this point you go over and around the top rail the under and up through the middle of the seat. Then pull the rush tight and come back and over and under and up through the middle again. Keep this up until the gap is filled. At this stage, there is twice the rush in the center that there is one the sides, so it is very important to use the block to pack the center line tight or the sides will be very loosely woven (see pictures 18-20).

Next week I’ll be down again to finish this up. Hope it was helpful. Please write if you have questions. Bear in mind, I will continue this stool next week, along with a description of what to use for a protective coating. I will also explain what to do with non-square seats.

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