- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 2004

Kathy Morrison works with chairs all day long, but she rarely gets to sit down. The Gaithersburg resident is a chair caner. She spends hours weaving strands of cane into the sturdy patterns that form the seats of many dining room and other chairs.

Give her some cane, and she is able to work wonders.

It is a backbreaking job. Mrs. Morrison spends all day on her feet, often taking eight hours or more to cane a single chair.

“It’s not very difficult. It is very tedious,” she said.

Chair caning is centuries old, but it is becoming a lost art. Mrs. Morrison said she is one of a dwindling number of people in the United States who still do the work.

“There aren’t a lot of us doing it; but since the Internet, I’ve discovered there are more than I thought,” Mrs. Morrison said.

One of the most common caning patterns dates to the 1500s.

“It’s been around a long time, but no one has come up with a more efficient way. It’s incredibly strong,” she said.

Mrs. Morrison became a chair caner about 30 years ago, when she and her husband bought some seatless chairs at an auction.

She thought to herself, “Well, we could get those caned easily.”

Wrong.

Mrs. Morrison couldn’t find anyone to do the work, so she took a class through a Montgomery County adult education program. Within a few years, she was teaching the class herself.

Mrs. Morrison and her husband, Jim, have ended up making chairs their life.

She canes chairs, charging roughly about $10 an hour.

Mr. Morrison sells handcrafted wooden chairs.

She spends her day working in the family room of their comfortable suburban home on Blue Violet Lane, while he works in the basement.

Her space is the coziest. A plaid sofa lines one wall. Hanging on two other walls are shelves that hold a collection of tea cups and saucers bearing the images of members of the British royal family, including many of the late Princess Diana and her children.

“I’m a fan,” Mrs. Morrison said.

The room overlooks a big wooden deck with plants, bird feeders and a wind chime fastened to the branch of an old tree.

A recent Monday began about 7:30 a.m., when Mrs. Morrison and her husband did some paperwork in their office and placed an online order for cane.

All of the cane she uses is imported from Southeast Asia.

About 8 a.m., they departed for their respective work spaces.

“We pretty much stay in our place. We’re in the same house 24 hours a day. We don’t need to be with each other all the time,” Mrs. Morrison said.

She resumed caning a 1980s Brentwood dining-room chair propped up on her work table. She started the project the previous afternoon; she estimated that it will take 20 hours to complete and that she will be paid between $100 and $125.

“Some things are more. Most things are less,” she said.

Mrs. Morrison spoke softly as she stood over the table, peering over her eyeglasses and transforming the cane into the seat of the chair.

She dipped each strand into a bowl of water and let it sit for a few minutes. Then she wove it across the seat chair, pulled it tight and tied it off into holes.

Caning is a repetitive process.

Dip. Weave. Pull. Tie.

Repeat.

Occasionally Mrs. Morrison murmured to the cane between her fingers.

“You little devil.”

“Where’d you go?”

“There you are.”

Thirty years of caning have left calluses on Mrs. Morrison’s fingers.

“Every now and then, I will prick myself, but it doesn’t happen often,” she said.

She tried wearing gloves once. She didn’t like it.

Besides, Mrs. Morrison said, you need to feel the cane between your fingers because each strand has little ridges that indicate in which direction it should be woven.

“I don’t even like to wear gardening gloves. I like to feel the dirt,” she said.

A can of Diet Coke is almost always at Mrs. Morrison’s side.

National Public Radio keeps her company during the morning. She misses Bob Edwards, the “Morning Edition” host who was forced from his job last spring.

In the afternoon, she usually switches on the TV. “Trashy” talk shows are one of her guilty pleasures.

The holidays are a busy time for Mrs. Morrison because people want to make sure their homes are in tiptop shape for entertaining. It isn’t unusual for her to work seven days a week during the holidays.

Sometimes customers have to wait four to six weeks before Mrs. Morrison gets to their chairs.

“I find putting people on a waiting list doesn’t work,” she said.

Mrs. Morrison was deep into her caning Monday morning when the telephone rang. It was her mother. She spoke for a few minutes and then got back to work.

“This is a problem with running a business out of your home. It’s always there.”

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