How to Make a Rope-Bottomed Chair
For a truly rustic ladder-back or a Danish modern chair, a cord or rope bottom makes a comfortable but sturdy seat. It can last a long time -- when you use the correct rope or cord. Do not choose ropes that stretch, such as nylon, polypropylene, polyester or polyethylene.
These ropes come from petroleum-based chemicals, so they can also detract from creating the desired authentic look. Choose a manila rope made from hemp -- a natural material -- or a Danish cord, which is made from twisted strands of brown paper.
Things You Will Need
- Solid wood chair, ladder-back or Danish modern
- L-shaped upholstery nails
- Upholstery tacks
- Curved jaw locking pliers
- 1/4-inch hemp rope or Danish cord
Remove Existing Cord
Turn the chair over to loosen or remove the previous rope, cord or cane seat. Insert the awl between the existing rope or cording and the L-shaped nail head on the inside of frame's bottom. Slightly lift the nail out to free the existing cording. Repeat this step for all nails to access and remove the cord. Don't worry about breaking any of the nail heads; you can replace them if needed.
Remove the cord, rope or cane from the chair bottom after you have freed it from the nail heads that hold it in place. Discard the old rope or cord.
Pull out any of the broken L-shaped upholstery nails using the locking curved jaw pliers. After gripping the nail head and locking the pliers, slightly twist the nail to pull it out.
Turn the chair so it sits upright. Replace any L-shaped upholstery nails as needed. Verify the chair has an odd number of nails on the front and back of its inside seat frame.
First: Front-to-Back Weave
Weave from the front to the back of the chair for the first run. Start on the left-hand side at the front of the chair. Tack the end of the rope to the chair behind the front nail to secure it in place. Wrap the rope or cord around the front of the nail facing you; pull it down the inside of the frame, and wrap it over the front of the chair before leading it to the back.
Wrap the rope over the back of the chair, and insert it behind the L-shaped nail from the left to the right, pulling the rope taut as you work. Repeat this on the same nail until you have four strands across the top of the seat for the first run. Subsequent weavings only consist of two strands per each nail until you get to the other side. After the fourth strand, skip the rope over to the next nail, which should be about an inch away from the first nail.
Draw the rope behind the nail, down to the bottom of the frame, wrapping over the front of the chair to the back, wrapping over the back of the chair, and then carrying the cord behind the nail before repeating the process to create two strands. Repeat this weaving pattern across the front of the chair. On the last nail, wrap four strands as you did for the first strands on the left, cut the rope and secure with an upholstery tack beside or in front of the L-shaped nail.
Cut a single piece of 1/8-inch rope about 60 feet long -- if you use larger diameter rope, you'll need less rope. Set its middle point over the middle nail in the front of the chair. Wrap from the middle to the left outside of the chair between the front-to-back weaving. When you reach the end, cut the rope and tack inside as before. Repeat this from the middle to the right side to wrap the front frame of the chair entirely in rope. This creates a finished look that also keeps the front-to-back weaving from moving. As you wrap around the front, skip over the front-to-back weaving to continue working. Cut and secure as before. Repeat for the back frame.
Second: Side-to-Side Weave
Tack the rope on the inside left frame on the side of the chair below the nail. Wrap it behind the nail and pull it down to the outside frame of the chair; wrap around and over it, pulling it taut as you weave first over, then under the front-to-back ropes.
Repeat the wrap you completed in Step 1 for two total weaves on one nail, following the process found in the previous section for securing to the nail and wrapping over the exterior frame. If your last run ended up under the front-to-back weaves, repeat that for the second rope as you weave it to the other side -- under, then over.
Start the next wrap by pulling the rope over the edge of the side frame, but weaving opposite the first run of two cords, under then over, repeating across the width of the chair for two runs.
Repeat the wrapping process for each run of rope, two strands per nail and run -- so that each wrap consists of two strands that continue the weave opposite to the run beside it. Repeat this under-over process for both strands, keeping two strands in the same pattern. Two strands will start over, then under, while the next two will start under then over, repeated across the width of the seat.
Finish by cutting the rope and securing it with an upholstery tack inside the frame. Because you wrap over and under for the side-to-side weaving, the frame should be entirely covered with rope.
Check your work often as you weave, to ensure all your runs are the way they should be. Remember to wrap over the outside each time on the side-to-side runs before weaving the rope across the top -- over and under. This creates a typical basket-type weave that's strong and sturdy. The size of your rope determines how much rope you need. Thicker rope covers more of the frame, but it's best to work with rope no greater than 1/4 inch in diameter. You can use Danish or paper cord in place of rope, but it will take more cord to wrap the chair's bottom.
Verify you have enough side-to-side wraps to ensure there are no large gaps at the back of the chair. You might have to push the rope or cord forward as you near the back to accomplish this.
As a native Californian, artist, journalist and published author, Laurie Brenner began writing professionally in 1975. She has written for newspapers, magazines, online publications and sites. Brenner graduated from San Diego's Coleman College.
- KenTannenbaum/iStock/Getty Images
- KenTannenbaum/iStock/Getty Images