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Marshall McGurk, Elm House Farm, Crosby, MARYPORT, Cumbria, CA15 6SH. Tel: 01900 813200   

Go To First Page On The History Of Rush Seating Previous page
Rush Stool

Above - a stool of the type more commonly woven in seagrass, this time seated with natural rush. (Click for bigger pic.)
Big
Rush Seated Rocking Chair

Above - Big comfy rush-seated rocking chair complete with my mum's old teddy bear. (Click for bigger pic.)

RUSH SEATING - the background - contd.

CORRECT TERMINOLOGY

Rush seats should really be called 'sedge seats', as the plant used for seating is a member of the sedge family, Cyperaceae, not the rush family, Juncus. The correct English name is the Common Bulrush, and the botanical name is Scirpus lacustris. The Great Reed Mace is often confused with the bulrush.

In the USA the material commonly used for 'rush' seating is the cattail plant. In the UK, when we weave with rushes we use the flattened stem of the plant, but with cattails it's the leaf that's used, and it's harder to work and not as hardwearing as true bulrushes.

THE COMMON BULRUSH Scirpus lacustris

The common bulrush is ideal for weaving, with its long, smooth, leafless stem, up to 10ft (3m) long. (The leaves grow from the base of the plant below water.) At the top of the long stem the flower grows - a cluster of reddish-brown spikelets. (We often leave some of these on when weaving a seat - have a look underneath!) The rhizomes, thick, creeping underground stems, may have astringent and diuretic properties and have been used in herbal medicine.

Spindle Back Rush Chair With Arms

Above - Pretty spindle-backed armchair seated in natural rush. (Click for bigger pic.)

Unusual Corner Chair With Turned Spindles And Seated In Rush

Above - Unusual corner chair with turned spindles painted black and seated in natural rush. (Click for bigger pic.)


Straightforward Vernacular Spindle Backed Kitchen Chair With Rush Seat

Above - Nice old vernacular chair seated in rush. This chair is in my own kitchen - I rescued it from our local auction rooms, stripped it down, treated it with Danish oil and gave it a nice new rush seat. It's now my favourite chair. (Click for bigger pic.)

AREAS WHERE RUSHES GROW

There are far fewer places now where bulrushes grow. They can still be found in parts of England, and here and there throughout the northern hemisphere: in Europe from the Black Sea to the Atlantic as well as the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and the Scandinavian lakes. They also grow in Australasia.

Although rushes grow in these places however, they are often fairly inaccessible or in quantities too small to be commercially worth harvesting.

In Britain they are most common in north west Ireland and the English counties to the east and south of Staffordshire. Most of our rushes come from the upper reaches of the Thames and East Anglia. Since there's not enough English rush to go around these days, some is imported from Holland, Spain and Portugal, but it's generally regarded as not as good as English rush which is longer, stronger and displays a wider variety of natural colours - greens, browns and golds.

HARVESTING

Half the crop is harvested one year and half the next, usually between mid-July and the end of August. Rushes grow under water so there's no practical mechanical method for gathering them, and rush-cutters still go out in flat-bottomed boats or wearing long waders, using sharp blades fixed to poles to cut the stems. Next the rushes are laid out on the bank to drain before being taken for storage to a dry, airy place out of the sunlight; they must be turned frequently to avoid mildew.

It takes 3 weeks for the rushes to dry out completely, after which they're tied into bundles and stacked. These bundles are between 6-8 feet tall (1.8-2.4m) and about 38" (96mm) around the base. They're known as 'bolts' of rush, though nowadays they're usually sold in bundles of 2 kilos - enough to seat 2 average dining chairs.

="Marshall