I made a new seat for an old chair this week.
In a sweltering cobwebbed corner of my mom and dad’s attic, I found what I’d abandoned there years before: a small chair too big for a tiny apartment. It had never been terribly comfortable, this chair, but I’d bought it with my very first paycheck in North Carolina and toted it with me to Rhode Island, where it served as a perch for late-night essay writing in graduate school. I couldn’t bear to part with it when we first moved to Brooklyn and so under the eaves it went. (My penchant for minimalism does not cancel out my fondness for stuff with stories.) When I spotted it last week, I remembered that the cane seat had started to snap in places, and it didn’t take long to catch wind of the fact that it had absorbed the mustiness particular to this 18th-century attic by the sea. Nothing a good scrub and a new seat couldn’t fix.
Like many of my most-loved DIY projects, I failed to document the majority of this project. I was too wrapped up (a weaving pun if ever there was one) in seeing it come together; too delighted by watching something take shape to stop to take photos. Isn’t that the case with all the best things?
I’ll lay out a few simple instructions below, but be warned that this was my first time attempting such a project, let alone giving instructions for it, so forgive any bits that might be unclear. If you need a visual, I watched this video tutorial for binding a cane chair in a herringbone pattern and took what was applicable to weaving a seat from clothesline. My attempt at simple instructions are below.
+ ~150 – 200 feet of cotton clothesline (how much will depend on the size of the seat)
+ An old chair frame, woven cane seat removed
+ Use scissors to remove any remaining cane seat. (If the cane was held in place with tacks, remove those too!)
+ Begin by securing one end of your clothesline to the underside of the back rung. (I started off with a clamp as shown, but ultimately decided it was easier and more convenient to simply secure the rope with a furniture tack.)
+ In most cases, the back rung of your chair will be less wide than the front, so be sure to draw your rope in a straight line from the back of the chair to the front, and around again. (See above). Continue wrapping the rope until the entire seat is covered in a vertical warp.
+ When you’ve finished wrapping the warp, tack the end of the rope into place, leaving about 6-inches of extra length just for good measure.
+ Begin to weave in the pattern of your choosing. (Instructions for herringbone below).
+ When you’ve reached the end of your first row, gently push the rope toward the back rung so you have an even and taut line.
+ Flip the chair upside down, wrapping the weft around the side of the chair rung as you do, and continue your pattern. Note: Because the bottom of the chair isn’t visible, you can opt for a simpler weave on the underside. I chose to do a simple basket weave on the underside of the chair, weaving the weft under 4, over 4, under 4, over 4…for 4 rows, and then switched to over 4, under 4…for 4 more. (See below.)
+ Flip the chair back to the topside and continue weaving your pattern. Because I had limited rope for my weft, I chose to leave 1-inch gaps between each row of weaving. (See below.) If you have more rope, or prefer a tighter weave, simply push your rope to be flush with the row above.
To weave a herringbone pattern:
Weave under 1, over 3, under 3, over 3, etc. (Flip to underside and complete a row of simple basket weave: over 4, under 4, over 4, under 4, etc.)
Weave under 2, over 3, under 3, over 3, etc. (Flip to underside and complete a row of simple basket weave)
Weave under 3, over 3, under 3, over 3, etc. (Flip to underside and complete a row of simple basket weave)
Weave over 1, under 3, over 3, under 3, etc. (Flip to underside and complete a row of simple basket weave)
Weave over 2, under 3, over 3, under 3, etc. (Flip to underside and complete a row of simple basket weave)
Weave over 3, under 3, over 3, under 3, etc. (Flip to underside and complete a row of simple basket weave)
Once you’ve completed the sixth row, start the pattern again from the beginning, weaving under 1.
+ Once you’ve reach the bottom of the chair, tack the end of your rope to the underside of your rung, leaving a 6-inch tail.
+ Weave the tails of your rope into the underside of the chair, and you’re finished!
Above all, experiment! There are tons of different ways to weave a seat—herringbone, like you see here, or basket weave, or a plain woven seat, over-under-over-under style. You can weave loosely as I’ve done, or tightly, filling in all the gaps.
You can alternate colors, or materials. You can make t-shirt yarn from a pile of shirts you won’t wear, a multi-colored rag-style chair, a yarn or hemp chair. In the end, I used a combination of 100% cotton clothesline I already had on hand and cotton-wrapped synthetic line that I could find locally. I used the clothesline with the synthetic core for the warp—the vertical rope—and what I had left of 100% cotton line for the weft.
In the finished chair, bits of the shiny polypropylene core peek through the cotton in places, which is a thing that might annoy me if I weren’t so busy being chuffed by having made my own seat. It’s a delight to make something for yourself and a thrill to turn something that’s been neglected into something fresh and new.
For the curious:
+ I finally put all of my furniture projects in one spot.
+ Speaking of new from old, my dress is part of a limited-edition run of Christy Dawn’s signature dresses made with deadstock vintage fabric. It was a gift to me from Christy Dawn x Madewell.
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