Header photo: Brandy’s grandfather, Hobert W. Clements weaves a laced cane chair.
A family tradition since 1890.
I’ve been around chair caning all my life. Like most things you are around a lot, I took it for granted.
My family came from Scotland, through Canada and into Michigan. My great grandmother Gladys McInnes Allen moved to North Carolina with her itenerant farmer family. She taught my grandmother, Ida Allen Clements how to cane.
In Ida’s memoir, she describes a time when she put an ad in the paper for chair caning work so she could buy Christmas presents for her four kids. My granddad Hobert had been working on major infrastructure along the Virginia coast and broke his leg. He came home to the mountains to recover and learned to cane. Most of the caning was done in an old school house in North Garden, Virginia, where they lived and had a ceramic shop on the property.
My aunts Linda & Gladys, and my dad (also Hobert) learned how to cane as adults, mostly from Ida’s brother Dick and Granddaddy Clements. Linda coerced her elders into teaching her by putting an ad in the paper, getting work and then strong-arming the ailing men into perpetuating the family tradition. It’s funny cuz it is true….and now she has operated a part-time caning business in Norfolk, Virginia for over 30 years.
My dad always told me I should learn (mainly because he was tired of me hitting him up for money when my car broke down) and so I finally did back in 2005. I attended Chair Repair Boot Camp at Linda’s house and learned machine and laced cane, rush, and splint weaving on chairs she picked up at antique stores.
Since then, I learn with every chair I get my hands on. I have passed chair business along to Aunt Linda, and she has passed chair business along to me. We collaborated on The Beast chair, which took 2 years and 400 hours to complete. Linda drove 8 hours from Norfolk hoping she remembered how to weave a medallion back. We met in Charlotte at a family birthday party where I brought my first blind cane chair to get advice. She recently taught me a new binder technique when she broke her arm. She thinks I am largely self-taught, but I definitely couldn’t do it without her.
In 2017, I had the honor of passing the tradition on to my niece and nephew. They learned Shaker tape weaving on footstools and they taught me a lot about how best to teach the craft to kids.
Many folks out there have a family tradition of chair caning…if you are one of them, please email your family stories and photos to SilverRiverChairs@gmail.com.