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