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Wicker is woven fiber formed into a rigid material, usually used for baskets or furniture. Wicker is often made of material of plant origin, but plastic fibers are also used. Wicker is light yet sturdy, making it suitable for furniture that will be moved.
Willow baskets were commonly referred to as wickerwork in England.
Wicker has been documented as far back as ancient Egypt, made from indigenous "reed and swamp grasses." Middle-class families could only afford a few pieces, such as small tables. However, archaeologists working on the tombs of the wealthy pharaohs (rulers) have uncovered a wider variety of wicker items, including "chests, baskets, wig boxes, and chairs.". Wicker even found use in the Achaemenid Empire on the battlefield, in shields.
The use of wicker presumably spread throughout Europe as the Roman Empire expanded. It has been proposed that the extensive use of wicker in the Iron Age (1200 BC – 400 AD in Europe) may have influenced the development of the woven patterns used in Celtic art. By the 1500s and 1600s, wicker was "quite common" in European countries like Portugal, Spain, and England.
Wicker received a boost during the Age of Exploration, when international sea traders returned from southeast Asia with a species of palm called rattan. Rattan is stronger than traditional European wicker materials, although the rattan stem can be separated so the softer inner core can be used for wicker.
The 1800s brought immense popularity for wicker in Europe, England, and North America. It was used outdoors as well as indoors. People in the Victorian Era believed it to be more sanitary than upholstered furniture, it was inexpensive, wicker resisted the elements, and the material was adaptable to many styles. In the United States, Cyrus Wakefield began constructing rattan furniture in the 1850s. He first used rattan that had been offloaded from ships, where it was used as ballast, but his designs soon caught the attention of the population and he began importing the material himself. Wakefield's company became one of the leading industries in wicker furniture; it later merged with the Heywood Chair Manufacturing Company (a wooden chair company that had invented a mechanical process for weaving wicker seats) to form the Heywood-Wakefield of Gardner, Massachusetts, one of the oldest and most prominent North American wicker manufacturers.
Wicker is still a popular material. Antique wicker products are highly sought after by collectors. Reproductions of furniture and accent pieces are also sold for indoor and outdoor use. Wickerwork is an important industry in Poland, employing hundreds of skilled workers to create good for export to western Europe.
Wicker can be made from natural or synthetic materials, or a combination. In furniture, often a frame is made of stiffer materials, after which more pliant material is woven into the frame to fill it. In a smaller piece such as a basket, a strengthening frame is not needed so the entire piece is woven from the wicker material.
Natural wicker is well known for its strength and durability, and for the high level of beauty and comfort that an expert craftsman can produce. Materials used can be any part of a plant, such as the cores of cane or rattan stalks, or whole thicknesses of plants, as with willow switches. Other popular materials include reed and bamboo. Natural wicker requires maintenance to keep it in good shape.
Synthetic types include paper-wrapped high tensile wire (using the Lloyd Loom process patented in the early 1900s), and plastic or resin. The synthetic wickers are often preferred for outdoor use ("all-weather wicker"). The frame material used in these more recent versions includes aluminum.
- "Wicker", The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language (Fourth ed.), Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000 (Updated in 2009), retrieved 2012-05-19
- Seymour, John (1984 copyright by Dorling Kindersley Limited, London. Text copyright 1984 by John Seymour). The Forgotten Arts A practical guide to traditional skills. page 54: Angus & Robertson Publishers. p. 192. ISBN 0-207-15007-9.
- "From Egypt to the American Patio: The History of Wicker Furniture". Random History. 4 May 2007. Retrieved 11 October 2012.
- Kremen, Lisa (29 April 1997). "Ancient Egyptian Social Life: Professions". Retrieved 11 October 2012.
- Saunders, Richard (1990). Wicker Furniture: A Guide to Restoring and Collecting. Random House, Inc.
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- American Institute of Architects, San Francisco (2012). "Victorian Cottage & Wicker Furniture". "Wicker, another form of low-priced furniture, attracted even greater interest beginning in the 1850s and soon became a fixture in almost every American setting. Wicker furniture, suitable for parlor, porch or lawn linked the indoors and outdoors. Hundreds of patterns in wicker, mass-produced by dozens of forms across the country, illustrate the range and richness of Victorian fashion."
- "From Country Store to Modern Furniture: 100 Years of Progress". 2008. Retrieved 11 October 2012.
- "Dovetail Antiques: Fine American Wicker Furniture". Retrieved 11 October 2012.
- Easton, Adam. "Poland revives wicker tradition". Rudnik-on-San, Poland: BBC News. Retrieved 11 October 2012.
- Ridgeon, Jonathan. "How to Weave a Wicker Basket: A practical guide". Retrieved 11 October 2012.
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