The History of Cane and Rattan

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Cane, Rattan Lamp - Image by Arushi Sana

Rattan and wicker are a woven construction that has made its way into many cultures over time. This is because it is a versatile material that works in many different styles and has an unmistakable timeless quality.

However, it wasn’t until Cyrus Wakefield started using discarded rattan as the core of his wicker furniture that it really became popular in the United States.

Origins

Wickerwork is an ancient craft, and we’ve seen it in art from early civilisations throughout India, Southeast Asia, Egypt, the Middle East and Europe. There are different plant materials that can be used for wicker work, and these vary in style and weaves.

Among these, cane and rattan are two of the most popular types. These are natural, eco-friendly and durable – they’re also both incredibly easy to care for and maintain.

Both rattan and cane are produced in tropical climates, and both are fast-growing and can be easily harvested without harming the trees themselves. As an environmentally friendly alternative to logging, rattan and cane are an excellent source of sustainable furniture for your home.

The rattan palm (Calamus Rotan) grows in tropical rain forests in Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, China, Singapore and Hong Kong. This plant sends out long climbing tendrils that grow in tight clusters and creep up the surrounding trees to form a sturdy trunk. It can be quite a dense vine, but it’s a very quick-growing, flexible wood, making it an excellent choice for baskets and wicker-work.

While rattan is often confused with bamboo, the two plants are actually distinct and have different properties. While bamboo is hollow, rattan is solid, but flexible, making it the perfect choice for wicker-work and furniture.

In order to process rattan, sharp thorns are removed from the outer skin or bark called “cane” and the inner rattan pith called “reed.” Once processed, these strips and strands of chair cane and rattan reed are packed into coils, hanks and bundles ready for shipment.

Cane is the outer skin or bark of the rattan palm pole, which is used for hole-to-hole chair caning, over-the-rail caning and sheet-woven or spline caning. It’s typically woven into a super strong octagonal pattern and is a commonly used webbing material on chairs, as well as being a beautiful finishing material for furniture like the flat-wrapped peacock chair below.

While rattan is naturally glossy and does not accept stain or paint well, cane has a more neutral color and can be easily wiped clean. It’s a wonderful complement to other woods and fabrics, adding texture, dimension and a sense of airiness to your design scheme.

Uses

Rattan and wicker are two plant-based materials with different names and often are used interchangeably. But there are distinct differences between them that you should know before purchasing a piece of furniture.

In the late 19th century, Europeans were looking for a new kind of furniture material that was less expensive than wood but more durable than bamboo or cane. They began to look to rattan, a type of palm tree that grows throughout Southeast Asia.

Unlike other palms that grow straight up and fan out, rattan grows like vines, bending back to the ground. They also do not need as much processing to be used in furniture making.

After the outer bark of a rattan plant is removed, the dry sheathing is cut and the inner pith is processed into strands for chair caning. This process does not harm the rattan tree, so it’s called a “sustainable” method of harvesting.

Another part of the rattan tree that’s a great resource for furniture making is its inner pith, called reed. The reed is more fibrous and porous than cane, so it is usually used for decorative embellishments on rattan furniture.

For instance, the swirls and curls that appear on some Victorian-era wicker are made from reed. Other examples of reed are in woven baskets, trays, and framed artwork.

In the woven basket industry, cane is a great way to create a unique woven pattern that doesn’t require too many knots. In addition, a cane weave can create an upscale effect for homeware items.

Cane is a strong, flexible, and durable material that can be woven into different patterns, such as the six-way weave that’s been popular on Instagram feeds recently. Cane can be paired with steel for a sleek look, or it can be used as a panel in a wood frame for things like space dividers, armoire doors, and nightstand drawers.

It’s a sustainable, biodegradable material that does not contain any pesticides or fertilizers. It’s also CO2 neutral and does not contribute to deforestation, so it’s a great choice for people who are environmentally conscious.

Styles

Cane and rattan are two types of natural materials that are often used together for furniture. The two different materials share many characteristics, including durability and lightweight weight. However, the difference is in the way they are woven into different styles of furniture.

Cane is a thin, woven material that is primarily made from the outer bark-like part of the rattan plant. It is woven into tight, webbed patterns to create furniture pieces like chairs and cabinets.

On the other hand, rattan is the reed-like portion of the rattan plant. It’s more porous and absorbent than cane and is often used as decorative embellishments on wicker furniture.

Rattan is a naturally durable and long-lasting material that can be used in a variety of ways, but is also easily molded into the shape of chairs, sofas, and other furniture. It is popular in all styles of homes, and can be paired with many other materials to create unique, modern furnishings.

It’s a great choice for those who want to add natural texture to their space, but aren’t interested in having a wood or upholstered piece. It’s also a good option for those who live in humid climates and are looking for a material that is light and easy to move around.

The cane look was popular in the 1950s, and it has since returned to fashion in a number of styles. Its woven details are also becoming more common in mid-century modern design.

Cane is available in a wide range of price points, and it’s also a very eco-friendly and sustainable material. It’s produced without the use of any chemicals or fertilizers, and it is 100% recyclable.

Because it’s a natural product, it is easy to clean and maintain. You can wipe down the cane with a damp cloth or spray it with a furniture soap and water solution. But be sure to let it dry completely before using it or storing it.

You can also use a steamer or a warm water-and-vinegar soak to remove dust and grime. This helps to keep your cane furniture free from mildew and other fungus that could eat away at it.

Materials

Rattan and cane are materials used to make furniture and other decor. Typically, they are harvested from tropical palm trees and woven together to create an article of furniture. These natural materials are popular for both contemporary and traditional designs.

Cane and rattan are both naturally beautiful, organic materials that are often found in beach-y interiors and tropical living spaces alike. They are easy to clean and provide a comfortable and durable surface that will hold up for years to come.

Aside from being aesthetically appealing, rattan and cane are also incredibly versatile. These types of natural materials are lightweight and are strong enough to stand up to children’s constant movement, making them perfect for any family-friendly room.

Another advantage of rattan is that it grows very quickly, so it can be harvested very quickly for furniture and other items. This makes it an ideal option for anyone looking to buy furniture that is both affordable and environmentally friendly.

The process of creating rattan furniture is usually done by hand. The rattan stems are carefully cut into pieces according to the size of the piece that needs to be made. Then, a binding is added to secure the pieces together.

Once the components are secured, they are painted with a base coat to help them dry faster and give them more durability. This process also helps to reduce the chance of rotting or warping.

Finally, they are sanded down to remove any rough edges and give them a smoother, more polished look. After this, a clear lacquer is applied to protect them from the elements and keep them looking their best.

Lastly, rattan is one of the most renewable materials available. It only requires about 5-7 years to grow, so it is much easier on the environment than other woods.

While rattan can be found in many different types of furnishings, it is most commonly used as the material for wicker chairs. It can be woven into seats or backs, or wrapped around portions of a frame to add texture and interest. It is also a popular choice for high end pieces of furniture due to its graceful weaving, which gives them an elevated feel that appeals to a wide variety of people.

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Arushi Sana
Arushi Sana is the Co-Founder of Santerra Living, a bio-pellet factory that makes a renewable form of eco-coal and Co-Founder of NYK Daily, a global news platform. She was awarded the Times Power Women of the Year 2022, Times Digital Entrepreneur of the Year 2023, Silicon India's Top 10 Women Owned Startups of Hyderabad 2023 and IHW Council Climate Health Influencer 2024. Arushi is also a speaker for Sustainability and Entrepreneurship at various forms like the World Bank, UN International Solar Alliance and Universities, and was also invited to the UN COP28 UAE Climate Conference. She is a Sustainability Consultant for organisations looking to reduce their carbon footprint and also works with brands on social media to help them carve a presence in that niche. She holds a Degree in Computer Science Engineering from VIT University and a Diploma in Marketing Analytics from IIM Nagpur. She has previously worked in Ernst & Young and Deloitte as a Forensic Data Analyst. Arushi is a writer, political researcher, a social worker, a farmer and a singer with an interest in languages. Travel and nature are the biggest spiritual getaways for her, and she aims to develop a global community of knowledge and journalism par excellence through this News Platform.

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