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Once Used To Pack, Wicker Is Still Popular May 08, 2017

Wakefield ran a grocery near a shipping yard in South Hampton, Mass.-now renamed Wakefield in his honor-in the 1840s. Rattan palms, used as packing material for goods coming from the Orient, piled up in abundance at the docks. He began experimenting with furniture designs using the reed. His designs caught on, and his company quickly grew into the largest wicker manufacturer in the United States.

Other wicker companies sprouted, each introducing a new annual line of furniture. A knowledge of these lines, the company labels and the materials used to weave the pieces make it possible to date furniture to its exact year.

The general age of wicker pieces also can be determined by weight. Older wicker weighs more because it was made with a solid oak frame. Most modern wicker has a much lighter bamboo frame.

The old-fashioned wicker crafters were put out of business when machines were developed in 1916 that mass-produced evenly woven paper reed known as rush. Wicker was not forgotten, but its reign of popularity had ended.

Properly maintained, wicker furniture can last hundreds of years. A repair may improve the piece`s look, but only restoration can bring back the strength of the original piece.

Restoration that mimics the original weave can add a new lifetime and value to wicker. Even pieces that look beyond repair may be worth a great deal.

It takes years of practice to know how to save a piece of wicker furniture, but here are some things to keep in mind when looking for someone to repair wicker furniture or when making minor repairs:

- Wicker furniture has different gauges of reed (the center of the rattan palm), rush (twisted paper rope) and wrapping cane (partially flattened reed). - Try simple repairs such as rewrapping a leg, reweaving a seat or replacing a broken or missing piece of woven cane when beginning.

- If using reed or wrapping cane, soak it in warm water, no longer than 20 minutes for most pieces. Soaking makes the reed flexible and easy to work with and helps train it to the shape it will maintain. Don`t soak rush, however, or it will end up as mush.

- To rid a finished piece of small hairs, singe the cane with a cigarette lighter or blowtorch, keeping the flame moving to avoid burning the cane. This creates a smooth surface for paint or stain.

- Rather than repainting wicker every year-the thickening layers will cover the beauty of the piece over time-mist a mixture of five parts water to one part bleach on the piece to clean it and allow it to dry in the light of the sun.

- When seeking a wicker restorer, ask to see a piece under repair to check the workmanship. Ask to see before-and-after photographs.