The terms "rattan" or "wicker" often are mistakenly used interchangeably to describe the popular indoor/outdoor furniture that graces patios and summer homes, but rattan is a material used to make the furniture, while wicker is the technique that involves weaving natural materials such as bamboo and willow, often into intricate patterns--a process that used as far back as ancient Egypt.
Wicker--a weaving process that uses bamboo, reeds, rushes or willow--is an ancient technique. Wicker baskets and stools have been found in ancient Egypt and among the ash-covered ruins of Pompeii. These days, the same weaving techniques are being used with recycled materials to create eco-friendly furniture and home furnishings.
Rattan is produced from a jungle vine found extensively in Southeast Asia. The strong, solid cane with its vertical grain is harvested, cut into lengths and often steamed to shape into curves. The cane is used to make the sturdy indoor/outdoor furniture popular in tropical climates, while rattan peel, the "skin" of the vine, is stripped and soaked to make the thin, pliable strips that bind the rattan poles together when the peel dries.
Durability and Versatility
Rattan is very strong and comes in a variety of natural colours, but the cane can be painted--Victorians like to paint the rattan to resemble bamboo canes, so-called "faux bamboo" painting on bamboo's distinctive rings.
Old rattan and wicker furniture can command high prices in antique sales--notably Victorian wicker and vintage rattan pieces made in the Philippines or Hawaiian Islands and dating from the 1940s and 1950s. The rattan pieces often have colourful bark-cloth cushions with tropical designs.
Collecting rattan and wicker
Since large pieces command high prices, beginning collectors can look for wicker baskets or small rattan pieces like magazine holders, or side tables and stools that are not as expensive.