Weaving Rush Chairs

How To Make Rush Chair Seats

Rush chairsCredit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chaka/

A fiber-rush seat is pretty easy to make, once you learn to weave your way around. Basically, it is a matter of taking the rush cord from rail to rail, putting down each strand close to the preceding one, till all the rails are filled. The rush cord is looped at every corner, under and over one rail and then under and over the rail at right angles to it. Every trip the cord makes around all four corners of the seat is known as a bout.

The cord utilized for this project is fiber rush, which isn't the same as real rush. Fiber rush is made of strong kraft paper, twisted into continuous strands. Actual rush is created by twisting the leaves of the cattail plant as you weave.  It is recommended to use real rush when restoring a rare antique chair.

Fiber rush is sold by the pound or by the reel. Two pounds will cover an average small seat, 3 pounds for a large one. Fiber rush comes in various diameters: 3/32, 4/32, 5/32, and 6/32 inch. The two largest sizes are widely used since they fill in more seat area with less work. Some people think the 6/32-inch size appears more like real rush. Fiber rush doesn't have to be soaked before it is woven.

The first step is to set up the chair for its new seat. Cut off the old seat and remove all the tacks or nails you find. Fill any dents and cracks, mend anything that is broken, and refinish as needed.


Squaring up the seat

Now you're ready to begin weaving the rush cord. When the seat is rectangular or square, you could start right in weaving full bouts. But when the seat is wider at the front than at the back, as most seats are, you have to fill in the front corners to square up the seat. It is really important that all cords cross the rails at right angles; otherwise, there would be a large gap in the center. This entails that if it takes 60 cords to fill the back rail, it would take more than 60 to fill the front rail. So you need to add extra filler cords up front. To check how much filling you need to do, just measure the front and back rails. Using half the difference between their lengths, measure in from each end of the front rail. Put pencil marks at these spots. Everything outside these marks should be filled.

Here, the directions are given as if you were facing the chair. Begin by tacking one end of a short piece of rush cord inside the left side rail. Bring it below the front rail and then over. Now bring it below the left side rail and over. Then bring the cord across, under the right side rail and over it. Bring it under the front rail next, then over it. Tack the cord to the right side rail immediately across from where you tacked it to the left side rail. Cut off any extra cord.

Keep on laying these short filler cords until the front rail is covered from the ends to the pencil marks. Keep in mind that each time the rush cord comes over a rail, it crosses all the standing cords before going under the rail at right angles to it.

Now you're ready to weave the first full bout. Cut approximately 50 feet of rush cord. Some rush weavers use longer strands, but the more you cut off, the more you have to keep pulling through. You'll attach the next strand using a square knot. Tack one end of the cord to the left side rail, just behind the last filler cord, and weave it just like how you did the fillers. But, rather than tacking it to the right side rail, resume through to the back rail and around, looping each corner.

Keep on weaving around like this for 12 to 15 bouts. While you weave, push each cord tightly against its neighbor where it turns around the rails. Use a block of wood and a small hammer to pack them snugly against one another.

The next step is to stuff the seat. The four triangular pockets should be stuffed individually. You will see the pockets beginning to form between top and bottom layers. Just stuff newspaper into the corners of each pocket, and continue stuffing as you weave. Or cut four triangles of corrugated cardboard, stick them in the pockets, and weave around them.

Continue weaving until the side rails are totally covered. If the seat is wider than it is deep, the front rails won't be covered yet. Wherever you are at this point, simply continue weaving from front to back rail (or vice versa), going between the cross cords in the center. Weave figure eights across from one side to the other until the front and back rails are filled up. Use a block of wood and a hammer to mash cords flat where they cross to fill in better. Take the cord underneath, and untwist about 4 inches at the end. Use glue and retwist the cord end into an adjoining cord. To finish the seat, stain it however you want, and then give it a few coats of thin shellac.