What is Wicker? Weave Got the Answer

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By Diane Small

It’s one of the earliest materials ever used to make furniture: the ancient Egyptians used it to make tables, chairs, chests  and baskets; later, they passed their knowledge of how to use it to the Persians. The Romans popularised the material, and then the Europeans became infatuated with it–wicker had gone global.

Elaborate Victorian wicker chair Image: media.liveauctiongroup.net/
Image: Indian Wicker Furniture

By the 1500s and 1600s, wicker, which was comprised mainly of swamp reeds, grasses and willow switches, was  ubiquitous in Europe, and particularly in Vienna, where a type of woven seated chair was so well made and aesthetically pleasing, it’s still considered a classic design today.

During the Age of Exploration, when international traders returned from  southeast Asia  with a species of  palm  called  rattan, which proved to be much stronger than previously used wicker.  In fact, it was soon realised that the material could be used both  outdoors as well as indoors, and its popularity got a further boost when the prudish Victorians decided it was more sanitary than upholstered furniture (which is probably true!)

Arts and Crafts wicker chair
Image: modern rattan chair

In recent times, its aesthetic was influenced heavily by the  Arts and Crafts movement  at the turn of the 20th century, and despite their different composition, rattan and wicker furniture were merged into one singular description (today, few can tell the difference).

These durable, pliable materials were a welcome addition to furniture makers looking for something novel, and served as the perfect foundations for larger pieces of furniture, such as beds and wardrobes. Today, it could be argued that their best feature is the fact that unlike hardwoods like oak, rosewood and mahogany that were  previously used as staple materials for furniture, rattan and wicker grow extremely quickly and are much more eco-friendly.

Image: Rattan table and chairs by Kenneth Cobonpue

Today, the more things change, the  more they stay the same–wicker and rattan’s  eco-friendliness is increasing its demand once again with designers, who are creating fabulous furniture from the same stuff used 5000 years ago by the Pharaohs.

Diane Small
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