My Winter of Hibernation: Restoring Antique Chairs

Sunset in the Windows
Our landlady had a whole bunch of antique chairs in sad shape.  I agreed to bring them back to life in exchange for part of the rent!  I knew how to refinish the wood since my dad forced me to help him refinish chairs when I was younger (hated it then, love it now. typical).   But during the winter I also learned some sweet new seat-weaving skills.  

I'll just go ahead and admit that this makes me a whole new brand of geek.  

Whatever I don't care.  Because seat-weaving is really, really satisfying!  Here's the basic process for each caned chair that needed a complete makeover: 



I did a few of them, most of which were in a sad state at the beginning.  (Marc did all the paint-stripping for me, because he is the nicest man.)  You can see on the bottom left that I ran out of caning pegs and started using chopsticks.  Making do.

The cool thing was that most people who saw these chairs in their original state (myself included), thought, wow, these need to go to the dump.  there is no saving these chairs.  They were so sickly.  And so wobbly they seemed about to fall apart.  But they are beautiful now, ready for another solid two hundred years.
Two Cane Chairs - Right, finished; Left, in Progress
Other chairs, that have a groove around the seat instead of holes, require sheet cane, which you buy pre-woven and then install.  It's way faster than hand-caning, but really annoying!

Sheet Cane Installation in Progress

With some other chairs the wood was fine and I just wove new seats.  This one was an old shaker rocker that had the wrong kind of seat:

Blue Rocker Before - With Dilapidated Old Cane Seat

Blue Rocker After - With Shaker Tape
And here's two antique fiber rush rockers... the one on the right is really old:

Fiber Rush Rockers Before

Fiber Rush Weaving
Fiber rush makes a really sturdy, pretty seat, but my hands were always covered in blisters after a few hours of weaving!

After weaving, you can stain the rush to match the chair.
Fiber Rush Rockers After
After a winter of this, I am completely converted.  Learn new hobbies and pay the rent?  I'll take it!

I plan to scour second-hand shops from now until I die, in search of dilapidated old chairs to bring back to life.  So if you ever see any, grab 'em for me!

5 comments:

TheBenandKaties said...

Obviously you know how impressed I am with your doctorate. Obviously you know how cool I think that is, right? I'm having a hard time deciding whether I think this is cooler though...

At this point, I'm already planning on our collaborative work. I'll make the spindles for a chair and you can weave the seat.

Katie said...

YES!! I have fallen in love with the blue rocker especially. It's SO comfortable, and I really love weaving shaker tape. You could make almost all the parts of that chair, couldn't you?

I'm envisioning sets of the rockers all in different colors.

jamatukk said...

You are amazing Katie. For all who read this as wonderful as Katie's pictures are the chairs are even more amazing in person! I promise. I am set on searching for an old chair that I want you to teach me how to re-do as fabulous as these. Missing you guys and Boston! Britt

jessica.adams said...

Um, what? You. ROCK.
Seriously.

Helen Grainger said...

Skilled restoration here, I commend you for keeping it simple. There are a lot of restorations of antique chairs that try to make them look like some multicolored modern art piece. They would make a great addition to a dining room or patio.