WHAT IS WICKER?
Any product that is made with woven vines or stems is referred to as wicker. The word wicker is believed to be of Scandinavian origin, coming from the words wika, which means "to bend" in Swedish, and vikker, meaning "willow." The rattan vine, the material traditionally used for making wicker products in this country for the past 150 years, is still the most highly sought after material for wicker furniture. Rattan plants are climbing palms found only in the rain forests of Southeast and East Asia, Africa, and South and Central America. The highest quality rattan is the honey rattan of Southeast Asia, which is what we use for Spice Islands Wicker.
When good quality materials are used and the vines are woven properly, rattan woven furniture should last 100 years or more with normal use. Some wicker antiques of the Victorian period are still in use today. The oldest surviving pieces of wicker furniture date from the Egyptian Empire. These pieces include chests made of reed and papyrus, wig boxes made of reed and rush, and wicker hassocks and chairs.
Wicker's durability comes from the properties of the material. A rattan vine, which can be cut into various widths and shapes, is filled with fibers running lengthwise through it, giving the vine the strength of multistrand cable. A vine will bend, but unlike wood, it will not splinter or break. Many Americans, who are accustomed to wood furniture, mistake wicker's flexibility for weakness.
Converting the fourteen-foot lengths of harvested vines into a piece of finished furniture involves a number of processes, virtually all of them done by hand. The thorny leaves of the vines are removed by pulling each length across a forked stick driven into the ground. Bundles of rattan are floated down the river through the jungle to the sea, where the material is cured in the sun before it is shipped to the factory. At the factory or at the wholesaler's, machines cut the vines into all kinds of shapes. The smooth, strong outer skin, or "cane," is often used to make chair seats, known as "cane seats." Cane is usually woven by a machine. Workers prefer to work with rattan core products that are still a bit green and pliable; but if the material becomes dried out and rigid, they simply soak it for a few minutes until it regains its flexibility. When steamed, rattan vines can be bent and twisted. As the material cools and dries after steaming, it gains rigidity. After drying, wicker will maintain its molded shape permanently.