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Natural wicker furniture:
TRADITION WITHOUT RULES
‘WICKER’ furniture is much loved, even though there’s no natural plant or material called wicker (a generic term for woven willow, reed, rush and rattan and several other varieties of plants and grasses).
Natural wicker can remain natural or it may be
dyed, stained, painted, shellacked, varnished or lacquered.
Hundreds of species of pliant woody plants as willow, reed, rush and rattan are prepared in different thicknesses of varying flexibility in order to weave diverse patterns strong enough for all styles of wicker furniture.
These natural materials must not be too dry or brittle in order to be to be woven; and large diameter rattan and bamboo must not feel rough. The natural color of the frames and the wickerwork should be uniform. Many manufacturers bleach natural materials to achieve uniformity.
Colorful all weather wicker furniture —woven of resin,
vinyl, high density polyethylene, or other—on aluminum
frames which do not rust, has become very popular.
‘Man-made wicker’ has no ‘protruding fibers’—because
these synthetic materials provide continuous fiber; just
as a large ball of yarn provides for a sweater.
Weaving must be meticulous. Where lengths of pliant fibers are joined, endings are tucked-in and clipped—to appear ‘invisible’.
Woven natural wicker is firmly attached to, or built upon strong structural components of hardwood, bamboo, rattan, wrought iron or other material chosen for strength and style.
Structural frames for smaller pieces of wicker furniture as chairs,
are usually bamboo or rattan. Large sized wicker furniture usually
has frames of hardwood— capable of mortise and tenon joinery.
Wicker dining tables and chairs are often combined with wrought
iron or tubular steel components as arms and legs.
Bamboo or rattan structural frames are nailed together.
Mortise and tenon joinery is not possible.
Nail heads are covered with wood-fill and wrapped with fine willow.
Finished wicker furniture is singed to eliminate protruding fibers—and then,
‘wetted-down’ to tighten as it dries —before staining, painting or lacquering.
JUDGING THE QUALITY
of NEW and VINTAGE
NATURAL WICKER FURNITURE:
Examine corners where woven material is attached to the frame to make sure joined components are wrapped in willow. If nails are visible, pass.
If all joining is secure, good.
If any joined components ‘wiggle’, it’s seen better days, pass.
If woven wicker is ‘clogged with paint’, think twice.
Stripping paint on wicker is difficult.
If you see screws or staples in wicker furniture—pass.
Never accept protruding fibers. Endings of joined fibers should have been ‘singed’ at the factory—and wetted-down before staining, painting or lacquering.
Desks, bookcase, table and chairs, dressers or any large furniture made of wicker must have strong structural components as hard wood or metal. If rickety, pass.
If wicker chairs or sofas have springs, suspension standards (see upholstered furniture) apply. If suspension standards are inadequate: pass.
Use the brush attachment of a vacuum cleaner to keep wicker clean.
Keep wicker away from heaters, radiators and fireplaces.
Avoid direct sunlight (natural wicker can dry out).
The beauty of hand work is lack of perfect uniformity,
not lack of standards.
Woven wicker has natural variations:
but INSIST ON EXCELLENCE.
Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY
My next post: PERSONAL REFLECTIONS