The furniture we feature on this page all uses a cord like material woven onto an open frame, on either a seat or a back, in a diagonal cross pattern. The diagonal cross pattern can be clearly seen on the chair seat to the right. The rocking chair pictured below is an example of a chair with an open frame on both the seat and the back. To help see the frames clearly we have provided a picture of the seat taken from above and the back taken from the front. On each we have applied a colored box over the frame that will be used for the weaving.
The diagonal cross pattern has been woven onto chairs for millennia with the material known as "rush." We will provide more information about this below, but because of the use of this material on chairs for such a long time, whether the actual material of rush is used, as long as the diagonal cross pattern is used, the chairs are commonly referred to as "rush" chairs and the process as "rushing."
There is evidence that the diagonal cross pattern illustrated here, commonly referred to as the "rush weave," originated in ancient Egypt. The term "bulrush" (from which comes the name "rush") is a British usage for a plant of the genus Trypha. North Americans call the same plants "cattail." Cattail is the material used in genuine rush weaving and is the common marshland plant found almost everywhere in northern latitudes. The leaves of the cattail are harvested, dried, pressed flat, twisted together two to five strands at a time to make various widths, and woven in some variation of the diagonal cross pattern you see. Depending on the dimensions and shape of the frame the cattail is woven onto, the cross form is sometimes not as clearly formed as it is in this illustration.
Cattail is unique in its beautifully variegated coloring, featuring hues of pale greens and ambers. With time cattail mellows into an equally attractive golden brown. The photos below show the actual strands of cattail leaves before they are twisted and woven, chairs in various stages of weaving and a closer view of a completed seat. Be forewarned, cattail is genuine and beautiful and very durable, but is the most time consuming of all materials to weave. For this premium hand woven material, expect to pay quite a bit per seat. Click the following link to view a brief video about cattail reweaving.
The high cost of creating cattail seating and the geographic limitation of the plants to northern latitudes has led to material innovations in forming these seats. The best widely distributed alternative to cattail is pre-twisted seagrass, also called Indonesian rush. This grass comes in varying strand sizes and can also vary in the tightness and uniformity of the twist. The color is more uniform in the strand than cattail but the color can vary from coil to coil. Seagrass begins a pale green color and will become a light brown with age. Because it comes pre-twisted it is less time consuming to weave. The bar stool seat below left is an example of seagrass. It is woven with a large strand which gives a more rustic appearance. It is an attractive look but even in a smaller strand does not have the fineness and visual appeal of cattail. Cattail and seagrass can also be wrapped with wheat leaves which gives a glossy, golden, highly-refined look as seen on the chair seat below right. In our judgment there is little to be gained by using the more expensive cattail underneath the wheat. This beautiful material looks wonderful on more formal pieces and deep, rich colored woods.
A further way to reduce the cost of both labor and materials is by using fiber rush. This material is made from heavy kraft paper twisted to form uniform strands and formed into large coils. Strands of fiber rush are uniform in color and size, the color remains consistent over time, and the material is durable. On the other hand, fiber rush will weaken if allowed to get wet and can become somewhat brittle after many years and break at the sharp edges of the seat rails. When economy, durability or uniformity are the primary interests, fiber rush is an excellent choice
The photo below left shows a seat being woven with fiber rush and a shuttle loaded with the rush. Below right is another seat in progress. The color of the fiber rush is an alternate golden brown color not as widely used as the kraft brown shown in the other pictures. You can see the cardboard packing that has been laid down under the fiber rush. The packing helps prevent wear at the point the strands are pulled over the edge of the frame and adds fullness and loft to the seat. One form of packing or another is used in all authentic rush weaving. Cattail is used to pack cattail seats, for other seats a combination of cardboard and newspaper are most commonly used. However, one of the first things to go when weavers are trying to accomplish lower cost rush weaving is to eliminate the packing.
The picture below right also illustrates one of the many challenges often faced reweaving these seats. For this windsor style chair, the back had to be opened to access the weaving slot. This and several other issues that sometimes arise make the weaving more difficult, and more expensive.
The seat to the right is an arm chair, the arm posts of which are inserted through the holes in the weave. A detail of the lower left corner is shown.
Because moisture will cause fiber rush to weaken and lose its tightly twisted form, items made with this material are usually coated with some type of wood finishing material. To the left is a stool with a fiber rush seat we rewove. We have coated the fiber rush with orange shellac. The shellac adds water resistance, a nice color and some shine.
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Other materials occasionally used in the diagonal cross pattern are danish cord and rope twisted seagrass. The above sample is roped seagrass. Danish cord is a finer, polished version of fiber rush usually with a rope-like appearance. These materials give a different look, need to be woven more loosely, and are not stuffed. Because of the looser weave, the strands can migrate and need periodic repositioning.
If you are not sure whether you have a chair that is "genuine rush," that is, woven from hand twisted cattail, look at the underside of the seat. You should see untwisted cattail and a ragged cross.
This rocker is woven with fiber rush. You can see that the pronounced rectangular form of the back distorts the diagonal cross pattern. Rockers like this are sold relatively inexpensively. You could virtually buy a replacement rocker for the cost of reweaving the seat or the back. But, if you rocked your babies in this chair and now your babies want to rock theirs in this chair, no other chair will do!
This is a windsor style chair. You can see the line of the separation at the back where the chair back can pull away to open the weaving slot. This is a finely twisted seagrass material.
This is a cattail seat just getting under way. The cattail must be soaked before twisting and weaving. After an inch or so is completed, the cattail needs to be allowed to dry. Th material swells slightly when wet. If the entire seat was woven wet, after drying and shrinking, the weave would be very loose. Therefore after each days minimal progress, the strands are forced together and another inch can be woven. This is a time consuming process!
This little stool provides a nice seat for tasks done down low. The fiber rush will add a measure of comfort when the task requires sustained attention!
In contrast to the photo above, the photo below is also seagrass, but a very large strand. The larger strand creates a more rustic look and feel.
Once again, this is a very finely twisted seagrass used in this weave. Another little stool, but the weave really makes the stool look like something special.