A Dying Breed; Gaithersburg Woman Specializes in Lost Handicraft of Chair Caning

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 10, 2004 | Go to article overview

A Dying Breed; Gaithersburg Woman Specializes in Lost Handicraft of Chair Caning


Byline: Chris Baker, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Kathy Morrison works with chairs all day long, but she rarely gets to sit down. The Gaithersburg resident is a chair caner. She spends hours weaving strands of cane into the sturdy patterns that form the seats of many dining room and other chairs.

Give her some cane, and she is able to work wonders.

It is a backbreaking job. Mrs. Morrison spends all day on her feet, often taking eight hours or more to cane a single chair.

"It's not very difficult. It is very tedious," she said.

Chair caning is centuries old, but it is becoming a lost art. Mrs. Morrison said she is one of a dwindling number of people in the United States who still do the work.

"There aren't a lot of us doing it; but since the Internet, I've discovered there are more than I thought," Mrs. Morrison said.

One of the most common caning patterns dates to the 1500s.

"It's been around a long time, but no one has come up with a more efficient way. It's incredibly strong," she said.

Mrs. Morrison became a chair caner about 30 years ago, when she and her husband bought some seatless chairs at an auction.

She thought to herself, "Well, we could get those caned easily."

Wrong.

Mrs. Morrison couldn't find anyone to do the work, so she took a class through a Montgomery County adult education program. Within a few years, she was teaching the class herself.

Mrs. Morrison and her husband, Jim, have ended up making chairs their life.

She canes chairs, charging roughly about $10 an hour.

Mr. Morrison sells handcrafted wooden chairs.

She spends her day working in the family room of their comfortable suburban home on Blue Violet Lane, while he works in the basement.

Her space is the coziest. A plaid sofa lines one wall. Hanging on two other walls are shelves that hold a collection of tea cups and saucers bearing the images of members of the British royal family, including many of the late Princess Diana and her children.

"I'm a fan," Mrs. Morrison said.

The room overlooks a big wooden deck with plants, bird feeders and a wind chime fastened to the branch of an old tree.

A recent Monday began about 7:30 a.m., when Mrs. Morrison and her husband did some paperwork in their office and placed an online order for cane.

All of the cane she uses is imported from Southeast Asia.

About 8 a.m., they departed for their respective work spaces.

"We pretty much stay in our place. We're in the same house 24 hours a day. We don't need to be with each other all the time," Mrs. Morrison said.

She resumed caning a 1980s Brentwood dining-room chair propped up on her work table. …

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