Tuesday, 6 September 2022

Woven seats in ancient Egypt (Part 2)

 Now here's a stool dating back to 1600 BC, from the 17th Dynasty. The wooden frame is tamarisk, and the seat is woven from rush. It's about 13cm high. That might seem quite low to us, who are used to much taller seats, but in ancient Egypt people were accustomed to sitting on the ground most of the time, so even a little stool like this would elevate you above everyone else. 

It seems to be quite a common pattern among seats of that vintage. So far as I can make out, the rush isn't twisted the way we'd twist rush for modern seats in the traditional rush pattern,  but it must be twisted a bit, in order to create those long fine strands. 

The rush is wrapped around the frame, and then looped back over itself (  See the stool I recently did  with cord, which is looped in a similar way. ) This creates a single-layer seat, unlike the stools we commonly make nowadays where we wrap the cord all the way round, underneath the seat, making an upper and lower layer (which takes more work, and requires more material!)

The other thing I notice is that there  don't seem to be any intermediate, short wraps round the frame in between the strands strands that cross the seat. (Though it's difficult to make out in this rather small photo. There might be single wraps in between.)

 It's a simple, but pleasing pattern, and I may try it with fine, ready-twisted rush on one of our 12-inch stools. Actually working the pattern would make it easier to see what the original seatweavers did.

But.... Isn't it wonderful to see such well preserved furniture from 3½ thousand years ago?  The dry conditions in Egypt helped to preserve such things of course, but I'm pretty sure our own ancestors weren't making pretty furniture back then.

Below is my take on the pattern. I haven't bothered to draw it all the way across the stool, but you can what I've done. Does it need intermediate wraps? I think it probably does, otherwise the loops would interfere with each other. Watch this space: I'll show you my experiments when I try to do it myself.

If you'd like to try it yourself, you can buy fine, ready-twisted rush from our website, here: Fine ready-twisted rush

Saturday, 3 September 2022

Woven Seats in Ancient Egypt (Part 1)

Woven seats go back a very long way. They have been found, still in very good condition, preserved in ancient Egyptian tombs. 

Now, what I really want to do is copy the photos I'm finding, but some are under copyright, so I'll try to link to the relevant websites instead. The one below has several beautifully clear photos which can be zoomed right into, so you can see the pattern of the seat in great detail.

This is a lovely specimen, which can be found in the British Museum. The chair was found near Thebes, and is made from inlaid acacia wood, and the seat is woven in a diagonal pattern with fine cord. It's a simple pattern, but one I've not come across in modern chairs. It could easily be replicated on any chair with holes round the edges – obviously those designed for caning would work, but the holes might need to be a bit bigger. 
Above: simplified diagram of ancient Egyptian woven seat pattern

There are groups of 3 strands of cord going in one direction, and 4 strands going in the other, and each hole takes 2 sets of threes and 2 sets of fours, so would need to be large enough to accommodate 14 strands of  fine cord. (I'm guessing about 2mm.)

It's not clear how the cord is held in place underneath. I'd imagine it's knotted in some way. If I was trying to replicate the pattern (and I might at some point in the future!) I'd try to work out a way of doing it neatly. Remember that the underside of the seats we weave should be as neat and tidy as possible, even though they're not often seen!

We should also remember that the seatweaver who produced this lovely chair wouldn't have been able to contact SitUpon Seats to place a simple order for fine chair cord. (Not something we stock,  but we could order something similar!) It would have to be twisted by hand, laboriously (perhaps by slaves?), mile after mile of the stuff. Someone would have had to harvest the plant material from which it was made (papyrus was the commonest material for cordage), strip it down (only the rind of the stem was used for fine cord), clean it, dry it, and then twist these enormously long strands. I've made short lengths of rope with rush or heavy cord, just to see how it's done, and even using thick material and only going for a couple of metres of the stuff, it's time consuming. 

The papyrus used for fine string was made from offcuts of the rind left over when they were making papyrus sheets for writing on. It's incredibly strong stuff and could make tough but fine cord. 

[To be continued ...]

Thursday, 1 September 2022


There are lots of these little 12-inch stools about, mostly worked some years back in seagrass or brightly coloured polycord. They're wearing out now. Some of our customers are keen to have their stools re-done in exactly the same style as the original, and all I have to do is remove the old material, clean up the frame, and work the seat with seagrass in the traditional chequerboard pattern. 

It's rather nice, though, to have a customer who wants something different. This stool had belonged to her son when he was young, and had  bright green polycord wearing away on its surface. She told me that now that he's an adult he prefers calm, muted colours, and provided me with a tin a grey paint to cover the frame. This took a bit longer than I thought as it required several coats to get a nice, smooth surface. 

She asked if I had any grey cord, so I showed her our lovely silvery flax cord, which is so soft and nice to work with. The only trouble with this stuff is that it stretches a bit in use, so can't really be used on its own on a seat. But this gave me an opportunity to try something I'd had ticking over in my mind for a while: a hybrid seat, with warp strands in a tough cord and soft flax cord for the weft. I suggested Danish cord for the warp.

I used the "no-nails" Danish cord pattern, which can be found in our bestselling book. This relies on the strands of cord looping over themselves at the sides, rather than being fixed to L-shaped nails underneath (as in the more common Danish cord seats) or being wrapped all the way round (as in traditional styles like the cheuquerboard pattern. 

Wrapping the cord over itself creates a pleasing pattern of little knots round the edges, as you can see in the photos.

I'm quite pleased with the result, and it's a new design for me.


SitUpon Seats Instruction Books


(Scroll down the page when you get there.)

Flax and other natural cords


Danish cord

Saturday, 16 July 2022

An unusual long stool

This customer had a long footstool, of the same construction as a typical seagrass stool, except that it's three times as long. At some point in its history, a previous owner had had it upholstered with a padded seat, and elaborate piping round the edges. It must have looked amazing when it was newly done, but the fabric was worn and dirty, and urgently needed a new lease of life. Mrs S just wanted it looking decent again so that she could put her feet up on it.
(Above) The stool prior to starting work on it

I suggested that it might be better to re-do it with a woven seat, which would be better suited to that sort of frame, and she agreed with me. 

I started stripping off the upholstery, which took AGES, as there were so many nails embedded in the hard wood of the frame. I also discovered that the side bars of the frame were badly warped. It seems the weight of the upholstery, and many years of it being sat on, had caused the side bars to twist. A stool of that length really needs a stabilising bar of wood in the middle, to keep it straight, but such a thing was missing here. You can see the result quite clearly in the photo below.

I removed the rest of the webbing and nails, and had a look at the side bars, which were impossible to unbend. Mrs S thought it would be perfectly fine just to leave them warped, if it was possible to weave a pattern over them, so I just twisted them back,  glued them in place, and added a stabilising bar in the centre.

Mrs S rather bravely left it to me to decide on the pattern. She wanted mainly darker colours that wouldn't show the dirt (as it's used as a footstool) so I picked out some nice warm dark colours of cotton cord, with a flash of yellow to make things stand out. I started off with a pattern I'd designed on paper, but soon realised it was too elaborate and ended up just making it up as I went along. 

In the photo on the left you can see the warp strands in place, and the start of the weaving of the weft strands. The stabilising bar across the centre is visible at the bottom of the photo. Notice the plastic clamp, holding the cord in position, top right. These things are invaluable for seatweavers!

In order to keep the pattern symmetrical, I worked it from both ends at once, working gradually towards the middle. It was a lot of fun to do, with a few head-scratching moments!

You can buy this type of cotton cord from our website  HERE. The colours used were Burgundy, Dark Brown, Moss Green, and yellow.

You can buy the SitUpon Seats Stool Book HERE. This particular pattern isn't in it, but a number of other patterns are, and if anyone particularly wants this pattern I'll draw it up and add it to the book. (All our instruction books are written, illustrated, printed and bound by me, Ally McGurk, at SitUpon Seats. They are not currently available from bookshops.)

Monday, 14 February 2022


the rush seat

Evidence of rush seating turns up throughout history. The Vikings almost certainly used this method, and in mediaeval Italy simple rush-seated ladderback chairs were commonly used. Strangely, considering that the best rushes grow in England, there's no direct evidence of rush-seating in Britain before the 17th century, though it's quite likely it was used before this.

The pattern is simple, and must have been discovered numerous times by different people throughout history. It's simply a matter of creating a twisted rope of some local material, and wrapping it in a particular way around a wooden frame. You simply attach it to the inside of the frame, and work your way round, over and under, over and under, until you reach the centre of the seat. This produces a strong, but comfortable seat.

Above: stool seated with ready-twisted natural rush.

In the UK, the common bulrush, Scirpus lacustris, grows in the River Thames and various Norfolk rivers, and this is the plant used most of all in this country for rush seating. In the USA the leaves of the cattail plant are more usually used, and each country will have its favourite seating material. 

Anything that can be twisted into a rope can be used for this pattern. We often make seats in the rush pattern using seagrass, Danish cord, cotton cord and flax cord, and I've seen chairs made with brightly coloured nylon rope.

Above: a chair seat partly wrapped with rush cord. You can see the working end hanging loose in the middle. The next strand of rush will be tied to this, and the knot will be hidden inside as work progresses. We use plastic clamps to hold the rush in place as we work.

Above: two chairs from a set of four. The one on the left is still to be done, while the one on the right has been stripped down, cleaned and polished, and seated with paper rush.

You can find various materials suitable for the rush pattern on the e-commerce part of our website, SitUpon Seats Shop.

If you'd like us to reseat your chair, just send us an email to ally@situponseats.co.uk or give us a ring on 01900 813200.

Thursday, 25 March 2021



I've just finished these two lovely old cane chairs. The backs were still in reasonable condition, but the seats were worn out and needed recaning. 

It's been a real pleasure of a job to do. The hardest part was matching the colour of the seats to the old, dark cane of the backs.

Chair cane is, of course, VERY glossy and hard on the front, and most wood treatments just tend to slide off, or, worse still, come off on people's clothes, so one has to be careful. When it does stay put, it tends to be very transparent and pale. But I think I've finally found the solution. 

I'd never tried water-based varnish on cane before, and didn't think it would stick, so I did numerous experiments with offcuts of ready-woven cane until I found the perfect combination. In the end I used a couple of layers of dark, spirit-based woodstain, plus, on top, another couple of layers of water-based, medium brown, gloss varnish. It's a good colour, and a nice looking finish. The customer was delighted!

The other interesting thing about these seats is that there are the same number of holes along the back and the front, although, like most chairs, the seats are trapeziod – i.e., wider at the front. It's much commoner to find there are more holes at the front, which leaves the seatweaver with the problem of making the sides neat, where extra strips of cane have to share holes with the usual horizontal ones. 

Having the same number back and front makes a much cleaner looking pattern. You hardly notice the slight distortion as the verticals splay out towards the front. I think it's a much more sensible solution, and if I were making my own chairs from scratch, I'd definitely do this.


Monday, 24 August 2020


        I know a lot of people have been missing our lovely wooden stool kits recently, which we couldn't get for a few months. At last, a new batch of wooden frames is on its way, so if you want one  – or some! – get your orders in, as they're sure to sell out soon.

    All these kits now come with our updated, new edition instruction books – either The SitUpon Stool Book, or The SitUpon Rush Pattern Book

    I'll be  updating the photos on the KITS PAGE as soon as the wooden frames arrive later this week.

    Please note, we are still awaiting new stock of cotton cord, but there's still a selection of nice colours if  you want a kit using this material.