'Superior Craft' by the visually impaired
Keisha Hill, Sunday Gleaner Writer
You have probably come across the lattice-look weaving on some chair frames that your grandmother had, or you saw some at a flea market, or maybe you even have some yourself that need repair. The weaving method design and material used have not changed much over several hundred years and help to keep the craft alive.
Think of how much money you can save by repairing the chair when the seat falls apart. Chair caning can very good and lucrative and you will be able to recycle, reuse, restore, and preserve your flea-market finds and precious family heirloom antique chairs in the process.
Second-hand or antique chairs often have a major drawback - torn or missing cane on the seat, back, or both. The easiest way around the damage is to rip it out and replace it with webbing and upholstery. However, if the look of cane is what you desire, it's fairly simple to replace the surface with caning.
Superior Craft and More Limited, a non-profit entity, manufacturers and repairs caned, wicker and corded furniture as well as accessories. They employ visually impaired and blind persons to work on the chairs. Maxine McIntosh has been working at Superior Craft and More since 2000 and was trained at Creative Craft Plus to create chair-caning designs.
"Some of us were retrained and kept here for employment. Depending on the size of the chair, I can complete three or four per week. I am satisfied working here, and I am more comfortable doing what I do here," McIntosh said.
Mostly antique furniture are repaired at Superior Craft and More Limited; however, some of the items are also custom-built. Dyntie Davis, manager of the unit, said they are hoping to increase their customer base, once their marketing plan is fully activated.
"Our partners are teaching us to fish, and within another year, we will be fishermen. We are hoping through these social interventions that we can employ more visually impaired persons," Davis said.
Chair caning encompasses all types of seat weaving. Included are hand caning, where you weave each cane strand through holes drilled in the frame. There are also machined cane or cane webbing, which is already woven and is held in the frame by glue and spline, and close-woven caning, which may be done with binder cane, flat reed, oak or hickory splints.
Typical examples of close-woven caning include porch rockers with herringbone or basket pattern. Also included is rush seating, available in paper rush, pre-twisted rush - which is usually sea grass - and your natural rush cattails or bulrush. Other materials used in seat weaving are Danish cords, rope, leather and willow.
The material used in caning chairs comes from the peeled bark or skin of the rattan vine native to Indonesia, The Philippines, and Malaysia. Some vines reach 600 feet in length. Rattan vine looks somewhat similar to bamboo, but is quite different in that bamboo is hollow and holds itself upright while rattan is a solid, flexible vine that needs the support of surrounding structure to elevate itself off the forest floor.
Camille Welham was also retrained when she started working at Superior Craft and More Limited. Although visually impaired, she has been caning chairs since 2005.
"I like the type of work that I do. It brings out the creative side of me. Although I cannot see the finished product, I can feel the results and it makes me feel good that I have done a good job," Welham said.
Chairs with cane backs and seats are common household items. What is also common is for a cane chair to start losing it's caning long before the frame itself begins to deteriorate. If you have a chair that is in good shape structurally, but the cane is missing or falling apart, do not throw the chair away, you can take it to Superior Craft and More Limited.
Superior Craft and More Limited is located on the premises of the Jamaica Society for the Blind at Old Hope Road in St Andrew. For further information, visit its page at www.facebook.com/superiorcraftandmore.