Illustrated FURNITURE Glossary
From time immemorial countless generations of chair-seat weavers have made use of the female leaf of the common cattail plant. This is rush, also known as cooper's flag -Typha latifolia -and when properly rolled and joined by dexterous manipulation, it provides a durable seating material.
The reed grows best in swampy terrain - in muddy areas where turtles and snakes as well as fish and ducks abound - and it is harvested in the late summertime whent he towering leaves begin to turn from green to gold and their tips wither and wave in the breeze, hence the ancient name flag (or flagg).
Not all cattail plants grow alike; only here and there, scattered in patches among like species but differing slightly in color and texture, is quality chair rush to be found; the rest is hardly worth the effort of cutting. Also, because of excessive brittleness, saltwater cattails are not used.
It is sometimes stated that the rush used long ago was finer than that woven today, but this is not so. Whatever difference from the old that may appear in a recently made seat is due entirely to the ability of a particular weaver and the time he or she allows. Some can select, snap out, roll, and join with special dexterity, while others cannot. It was always so. But the material, flag, is the very same as that of yesteryear.
Each and every strand is and always has been:
(1) selected from many others while the chair frame awaits on its revolving stand, and
(2) entwined and joined onto overlapping ends of previously inserted strands until the entire seat is accomplished by way of figure-eight movements.
Pliable thin strips of ash inserted beneath the top rolls help level out the surface.
Unless the rush has been prebleached, all freshly woven seats will show colors ranging from green to tan. This variance is due to the fact that each hand weaver is constantly drawing from newly soaked and opened burlap bundles and some strands from the center areas still retain original green hues. Exposure to air and light, however, brings about a tan uniformity in a matterof weeks.
By no means should rush be confused with cane, an entirely different, imported reed. There is no similarity whatsoever between the two, either in appearance or installation. Cane, especially nowadays, is often machine woven, but rushing never has and never will lend itself to anything but exacting hand-work.
On the average, a rush-seat weaver completes only about three seats per day.
Once a seat has been entirely woven, the long ends, which hang down beneath it while in process, are clipped off and used to pack and fill out the body of the seat.
- Source: John Tarrant Kenney, The Hitchcock Chair, 1971. Hitchcock Chair Company Official Home Page
Rush seats were used by the Egyptians.
Examples from Buffalo:
- Illustration above: Hitchcock chair - Fillmore House Museum
- Connecticut bannister back chairs - Dana Tillou Fine Arts