Wicker is a woven 'fabric' of varying fiber dating back at least to ancient Egypt. Except for size of the materials used, it is identical to the methods used to make baskets and mats going back to the Stone Age. The most common use for wicker today is furniture.
Woven wood and reed furniture was found in Pompeii, depicted on Egyptian murals, used by roman emperors to create their own royal style of furniture. Wicker came across the sea on the Mayflower.
Outdoor wicker chairs can be made of rattan (a type of palm); bamboo or other cane; willow switches; some varieties of reed; or now, even plastic resin. They are comfortable, homey and lightweight. They can be spray painted, but most prefer the natural color of the materials used. Well-made wicker furniture is low maintenance and long lasting.
Outdoor wicker chairs have changed over the generations. Currently, they have a clean, contemporary, utilitarian look. Curves are small, and the framework is often stackable. The Victorian era was more extravagant in terms of wicker furniture and gave us the flamboyant fan backed 'throne' made famous by the Addams Family. This era also gave us the heavy, thick, extremely curved, 'overstuffed chair' look that caused wicker to suffer a massive decrease in popularity.
The mid-1800's is considered the start of American wicker furniture and is generally credited to Cyrus Wakefield. He began by using discarded rattan that had been used to secure cargo aboard transoceanic voyages. He found great amounts of it on the docks, and once that was used up, began importing it by the ship load.
The next great wave in wicker was automation. Machines that did the weaving were faster and reduced the cost for both the manufacturer and the customer. As mentioned earlier, plastic resins can now imitate most natural fibers and are often less expensive and just as strong. Then in the early 1900's came the Lloyd Loom Process which used paper wrapped high tensile wire to imitate the natural fibers. They can also be used in a finer weave to make a more comfortable seating for outdoor wicker chairs.
The south had their own take on wicker, using local canes to form the seats and backs of chairs that were not only strong and comfortable, but had the added benefit of airflow in those sultry climates. Nearly all families, richest to poorest had their own 'cane-back' chairs gracing porches and non-formal dining areas.
Whether you prefer natural or man made fibers, outdoor wicker chairs are a good investment for long-lasting comfort and style. Look for strong, tight weave; if looking at natural fibers, make sure there are not a lot of split or broken fibers. Styles of wicker chairs include upright, Adirondack, deep seating, rockers, even chaise lounges. For additional comfort and longevity, many people use waterproof cushions and decorative covers for their wicker furniture.
Wicker chairs and sets can be used indoors as well to give an exotic, tropical look to your decor.
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