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Bringing New Life to Lucy’s Old Chair with Paint and Cane Webbing

A few months before Lucy was born, a baby shower was thrown to celebrate this new little life. At the shower, my mom’s twin sister (who has owned a few antique shops throughout her life) gifted us the most adorable bentwood children’s rocking chair. It was in good vintage condition, with some minor wear to the caning near the top of the backrest, so we treated it delicately and hoped for the best. But after almost two years in our home, the chair had become a favorite spot for our friends’ kids, and what started out as minor wear to the brittle caning, slowly became a full blowout to the backrest of the chair.


So although the damage is what actually kick started the makeover, we still had some restorative surgery to get this beautiful vintage chair back to being the stunner it was meant to be!

Rocker | Before

Recaning and painting a vintage rocking chair // via yellow brick home

Rocker | After

Recaning and painting a vintage rocking chair // via yellow brick home
bookshelf | Lucy lamb | crib | curtains

The pint-sized rocker was one of our favorite gifts we received, but we took this makeover as an opportunity to make a perfect fit for our home. We wanted to maintain the character of the chair, but give it a bit of modern appeal. Here’s how it looked when we started:

Recaning and painting a vintage rocking chair // via yellow brick home
Recaning and painting a vintage rocking chair // via yellow brick home

We first began by gathering quotes to see who could do caning repair in Chicago, and while we did find a few places, it was shockingly expensive! To be fair, we actually had a bit of a challenge, because the backrest needed to be weaved from scratch – or so we thought, more on that in a minute – and that alone was several hundred dollars. (You read that right.) So Kim challenged me to a DIY, and although I was hesitant at first, it wasn’t anywhere near as difficult as I thought it would be!

Tools + Supplies Used

  • cane webbing kit (including new webbing for back and bottom, as well as wood wedges, glue and spline for seat)
  • additional spline for backrest
  • small flat head screwdriver
  • large flat head screwdriver
  • white vinegar
  • small stiff putty knife
  • small chisel for removing old glue
  • sandpaper or sanding block
  • spray paint

What We Did

The first step of the process was to remove the old damaged caning from both the backrest and the seat of the chair. In order to do this, we started by removing the backrest and seat from the chair’s frame. This simplified this step, as well as the painting process that was to come. Next we used a small flat head screwdriver to remove the thin trim piece that covered the back of the cane holes.

Recaning and painting a vintage rocking chair // via yellow brick home

Many of the tutorials we read online and watched on youtube mentioned that white vinegar can be used to soften brittle old caning and glue. It worked like a charm! (Our workshop, however, stills smells vaguely of pickling.) After the vinegar had softened things up, we worked our way around each hoop, gently prying the old caning loose. I followed this up with a small chisel (not pictured) to remove any remaining dry glue and leave a clean channel for the new webbing and spline (the thin strip of wood that helps to hold the caning in place) to fit inside.

Recaning and painting a vintage rocking chair // via yellow brick home

Once the old spline and caning were removed from the seat and backrest, it was time to show the chair’s frame some love. We used a 400 grit sanding block to smooth out any chips and nicks. We were looking to preserve as much of the chair’s ‘character’ as possible so we didn’t seek perfection here. If we wanted it to look closer to perfect, we could have filled the deeper nicks and chips with wood putty, but we’re very happy with our decision to keep the chair looking well-loved!

Recaning and painting a vintage rocking chair // via yellow brick home

We purchased the caning from a kit, which also came with instructions that helped us throughout the process. These instructions stressed the importance of soaking the caning for 2 hours, which I did while I continued sanding and prepping for paint. This allows the webbing to soften and expand so it remains pliable and eventually shrinks to tighten up once installed – like magic! A clean drywall bucket was the perfect vessel for the size of our pieces. Tip: Caning floats, so you may need something to hold it in place under water.

Recaning and painting a vintage rocking chair // via yellow brick home

Next, we got to work spraying the partially disassembled chair frame as well as the backrest and seat ‘hoops’. We chose this Rustoleum satin paint & primer in one because we love the trigger sprayer as opposed to the messy finger-numbing tip found on other cans. This also helped us to cover the intricate curves and details of the chair more evenly. For reference, we used about 3/4 of a can for 2+ coats on the entire chair.

Recaning and painting a vintage rocking chair // via yellow brick home

Once the paint was dry and the caning had soaked for 2 hours, we were ready to cane the seating surface of the chair! The instructions called for us to line the cane webbing up nicely, then press one of the five included wood wedges on each side of the hoop. The fifth wedge was then used to work around the entire seat, pressing the cane webbing into the spline groove.

Recaning and painting a vintage rocking chair // via yellow brick home

Once the webbing was pressed fully into the spline groove, I got to work cutting away the excess with a sharp utility knife. The small chisel also came in handy here, as we found that the utility knife ‘pulled’ at parts of the webbing a bit more than I would have liked. The chisel was able to press directly into the caning to cut it, as opposed to pulling along it with the utility knife.

Recaning and painting a vintage rocking chair // via yellow brick home

After all of the excess webbing was removed, we filled the groove with glue and hammered in the spline using a wood wedge. It was at this point that we finally got a glimpse of what the chair would look like once complete! The webbing felt a little loose at first, which had us nervous, but once it was fully dry, the caning tightened up nicely!

Recaning and painting a vintage rocking chair // via yellow brick home

With the seat complete, we were able to move on to the backrest. This step was a bit trickier, as the back of the chair was originally made with hole-to-hole caning (which is done by hand) as opposed to cane webbing. We felt that hole-to-hole caning was beyond our ability level to do right, and as I mentioned earlier, we searched for local companies that could complete the project for us. Even in the chair’s disassembled state, the quotes we received for hole-to-hole caning ranged from $250-$400 – just for the backrest. We understand it’s an art form, but for a small child’s rocker (that will likely get damaged again), it didn’t feel like a wise way to spend money. So, we got to problem solving!

As we stared at the chair (for a long, long time), we realized that if we flipped the backrest loop over and made the back the front, there was a perfect spline channel left behind from where we removed the decorative trim strip from the former back of the chair! In all fairness, this did mean that the spline holes that were formerly on the front of the chair would now be visible from the back, but this didn’t bother us at all since the black paint hides it well. (Here’s hoping that all made sense?) TLDR: we flipped the backrest hoop over so the front was now the back.

Recaning and painting a vintage rocking chair // via yellow brick home

I needed to order the appropriately sized spline for the newly discovered channel, and then I was able to get back to work a few days later.

Tip: when ordering spline, measure the channel the spline will press into and order based on that measurement. Spline should fit easily into the channel by itself to make for a tight fit once the webbing is in place.

Recaning and painting a vintage rocking chair // via yellow brick home

Finally, I repeated the steps used for the chair’s seat, for the back. Phew! We did it! And it’s so much more ‘us.’

Before | After

Recaning and painting a vintage rocking chair // via yellow brick home
Recaning and painting a vintage rocking chair // via yellow brick home

pouf | rug | white rocking chair | octopus | elephant

The second Lucy saw her newly refinished chair, she literally sprinted to it as quickly as her little legs could carry her. After realizing she didn’t have a book to read, she jumped back down, ran to her bookcase, carried her favorites back to chair and hopped back on!

We learned a lot throughout the process (and much respect to those that cane chairs!), and although we may never need to know how to do this again, I’m glad we gave it a go. It was a really satisfying makeover! Most importantly, to say that Lucy’s happy with it is the understatement of the year – and that’s all that really matters.

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  • Mirela8.12.19 - 7:34 AM

    It looks AMAzing! Didn´t know you can DIY this…ReplyCancel

  • Mel8.12.19 - 7:36 AM

    Amazing transformation.  I have 2 stairs downstairs that have a TON of potential but they’ve been sitting there for TWO YEARS.  No more.  This is the week I tackle them. Thanks for  the inspiration!  (too bad theyre not tiny though, my 3 year old would FLIP for a small chair like this).  Lucy looks adorable :)ReplyCancel

  • Abbe8.12.19 - 7:46 AM

    How can I pin your photos easily?  Compared to other sites, your photos don’t have a pin button that I can locate.  If I go to the top of your page, I can pin from there but frequently I cannot find the latest blogs.  For instance, I have an old rocker and a table chair that need caning.  I learned how to do it myself by going to a class over 30 years ago….but now I have a money pit to restore, kids, pets, work and reteaching myself isn’t going to happen.  I couldn’t figure out how to pin this blog quickly.  By tomorrow my mind will be mush and I’ll forget about this article I want to recall.  
    BTW – Lucy is a lucky little girl to have such a “rockin” chair in her room! ReplyCancel

    • Kim8.12.19 - 8:32 AM

      Hi Abbe, sorry about the hassle! When you’re in the post, you can use the pin bookmark in your web browser to choose your images for saving. Another tip: The very top of our home page shares some highlighted posts, but if you scroll JUST past the featured slider, you’ll see the section ‘on the blog,’ which shows all of our posts in chronological order.

      Let me know if you’re still having troubles!ReplyCancel

  • Stacy8.12.19 - 7:55 AM


  • Molly8.12.19 - 8:42 AM

    This is so gorgeous! I didn’t know it could be done so easily – I thought all caning was done by hand!ReplyCancel

    • Scott8.12.19 - 8:57 AM

      Thanks Molly! I don’t know if we’d use the term ‘easy’ since removing the old caning was pretty tedious, but we had fun doing it!ReplyCancel

  • Paige Cassandra Flamm8.12.19 - 9:24 AM

    This is amazing! This reminds me of the rocker my mom had when I was little!


  • at home with Ashley8.12.19 - 10:07 AM

    This is such a great DIY! And even better that it was a precious piece to your family. You were genius to flip the backrest over. And I love how you made it match the esthetic of your house for the “after.” ReplyCancel

    • Kim8.12.19 - 10:09 AM

      Thanks, Ashley! Flipping the back over was a light bulb moment for us, haha. When there’s a will, there’s a way…ReplyCancel

  • Katya8.12.19 - 10:39 AM

    What clever solutions to save this lovely chair for your happy little bookworm!  Your final photo sums it all up in the most adorable way.
    Years ago, in Paris, I often saw elderly artisans who set up their cane repair services around the many outdoor markets.  There they would weave the long rush canes with the expertise that a lifetime of employing this artisanal craft brought to their nimble fingers.  Your modern take on replicating an old tradition is truly wonderful!ReplyCancel

    • Scott8.12.19 - 11:24 AM

      Thanks Katya! We wish we were talented enough to handle the cane weaving in the ‘traditional’ manner. Sounds like it would be an incredible thing to witness in an outdoor market in Paris!ReplyCancel

  • Laurel8.12.19 - 12:43 PM

    Looks fantastic and so classic yet contemporary!ReplyCancel

  • Jennifer Flake8.12.19 - 5:13 PM

    This post saved me. I inherited these beautiful chairs from my grandmother, chairs that I used to love when I was a little girl. Unfortunately, my kids have loved them too much and broke the cane in the seat of one of them. I am so excited to restore them! Thank you for this post!ReplyCancel

    • Kim8.12.19 - 8:41 PM

      That’s so sweet. You can revive them!ReplyCancel

  • Deb8.13.19 - 1:50 PM

    Simply gorgeous!ReplyCancel

  • Ryan8.15.19 - 3:00 PM

    We had cane seat dining chairs growing up and I think my dad had to replace the cane and least twice on every chair before I left for college due to wear (and kids sitting in the chair on their knees). If you’re looking for inspiration to do the cane weaving as a DIY, Farmhouse Vernacular ( has Instagram stories saved in her highlights of her caning her mother’s dining chairs. I haven’t done it myself but watching someone else learn “on the job” inspires me to try it someday.
    I do have a worn laundry hamper, spray painted green by a previous owner, and haven’t found a replacement that is the right size for us. I love that cane and rattan come in sheets, I’ve been thinking of recovering the sides and lid maybe and staining or painting it something that doesn’t leave green smudges on the wall.ReplyCancel

  • Ellen8.16.19 - 12:25 PM

    That chair is gorgeous!  Love the black contrasted with the very light tone of the caning; might be on the search for a similar chair my size now!ReplyCancel

  • Julia at Home on 129 Acres8.18.19 - 12:35 PM

    I have a collection of adult-size bentwood rockers with plans to put them on our front porch… once we build a front porch, of course. I love the child size version! Thanks for the tip about the white vinegar. My Mom started recaning a chair last year and gave up in frustration because she couldn’t get the old caning out of the groove. I’m going to pass this post on to her. Another tip I’ve heard to help keep your cane in good shape is to cover the chair with a damp towel every few months.ReplyCancel

    • Kim8.18.19 - 7:30 PM

      We read that as well! It helps the caning to shrink and tighten back up.ReplyCancel

  • Katherine7.28.20 - 10:27 AM

    Can you link where you bought the caning kitReplyCancel

  • Kelly Montgerard1.10.21 - 11:22 PM

    I have a chair that is in need of repair. Your post has inspired me. I have ordered my caning repair kit and am ready to give it a go. Thank you for being an inspiration.ReplyCancel

  • […] liegt hier schon ne Weile, Motivation dafür fehlt aber irgendwie noch) heute nur der Link zu der Anleitung die mir geholfen hat und ein paar […]ReplyCancel

  • Pat Grady5.18.21 - 2:44 PM

    I am a professional chair caner , i have 53
    Ayears of experience in both strip cane (hand woven) and press cane. I have found that warm water works just a well as vinegar. When i read your explanation
    on putting on a woven seat there is a chance that the seat over time could crack under pressure. I have a questiondid you put that cane in that
    seat that was upside down.?ReplyCancel

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