Gardener's Grapevine 2012.06.13

Written by David Green.

This week I’m going to stray a bit from the garden and talk about nature.

Have you ever given much thought to where things come from? I love old things such as furniture, clothing, jewelry, etc. 

When I was a small child I spent a lot of time with my great-grandmother. She was a wonderful woman and being a farm woman was very resourceful. I owe her a great deal of gratitude for the things she taught me like sewing, cooking and even some very minor gardening.

She had an old Lincoln rocker that sat in her living room and the back was towards town. When I would really get that chair rocking she’d say “you’re really going to town now.” When she passed, that chair came to me and I cherish it. I look at it and think of her. I keep it in our spare room as it’s extremely old.

Two years ago, Doris Allen who is a very nice lady in our church, asked my husband to fix her rocking chair as it had a broken side. He brought this chair home and it was an exact replica of my grandmother’s rocker, and boy was it broken.

Now the thing about these chairs that is so special is they are very comfortable for a tall person to sit in and they are caned back and bottom. It is a lot of caning, and very costly to pay someone to replace. The chair my husband fixed looked as though someone fell through the bottom. Well he fixed the splintered wood and left the caning part to me. Oh joy of joys! 

Cane is a natural product made from bamboo and used throughout the world. It began being used in chairs and settees in 17th century England. People would actually apprentice to become a caner a as a career.

Gradually over the years fewer and fewer pieces of furniture were caned. Now it is a lost art done by a select few. I always thought I wanted to learn to do this. But I have to admit I had no idea how hard it is. My friend Mary said she’d help me, but I didn’t want to impose. Well, after three tries all I had was a mess. Yes, bamboo is natural, and yes, it breaks, splinters and generally irritates you to the point of no return. Not to mention a book that tells you all wrong how to do this little project.

Cane is made by stripping the stalks of bamboo into whatever width is needed. The strips are very thin with the outer side slightly rounded. The only way to use this product is to keep it in warm water and very wet. This includes keeping  the area already worked wet, as it will snap if it dries out while you are working with it. Caning is a very natural way to cover a chair seat. It is also a very intricate process that, done right and treated with respect, will last for years.

Thank goodness Mary took pity on me and assisted me with caning the chair. All she asked for in payment was a few sugar snap peas. Since I can grow sugar snaps easily it seemed a fair exchange.

When the chair was done and returned to its owner, I felt as though it was not enough payment for the knowledge I’d gleaned. Natural is always better in most all ways and I plan to keep quite a few people stripping bamboo in the years to come. Nature gives us so much, not only in our own yards and communities, but all over the world.

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