Crafting a Chair

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Crafted Chair
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Photograph by Sudarshan Juyal

Crafting a Chair

By Sudarshan Juyal

It began about six-seven years ago…

Then, I was working for a TV channel and the crushing, oppressive corporate culture took up most of my time. Sunday was the only day I spent time with my son Aditya and wife Sunita, and that too was spent (read: wasted) visiting malls, restaurants and places where one ended up buying things, eating fast food or window-shopping. That was the idea of “A Good Life...”

Then one day I met Shammi Nanda, who had studied at the same film institute in Pune as I had and this marked the beginning of a new wonderful relationship. Shammi proposed that we do something on weekends with the children of some our friends. As I indulged in a little origami in my spare time, he roped me in for an Origami workshop.

On the following Sunday, some of us gathered in the nearby AAREY Colony (a wonderful place, still holding a large green patch, so far spared by the land sharks and builders) All of us carried paper, colours, brushes, scissors, gum as well as some food, water, coffee, tea and mats. It was like a picnic. For five hours, we had a gala time. After a long time we had enjoyed our Sunday to the fullest without spending a single rupee and wandering aimlessly in and out of shops. We came back with papers filled with joyful colours, origami caps, birds and cheerful kids.

Thus began the discovery of real joy: working with our hands. Week after week, all of us gathered on Sundays to spend quality time together doing simple creative activities. A few more families and friends joined in and we started calling it the ‘Sunday Club’. We discovered so
many talents within ourselves; cooking, singing, tie & dye, macramé, making pickles, pasta, pizza, wire jewelry, clay pottery, papier-mâché, singing, playing marbles, kite flying, climbing trees … the list was ever-growing. We did not look to malls and restaurants for spending our weekends. Our Sunday club transformed into an extended ‘learning exchange’ club; and all of us bonded in a completely different way.

On the personal front, it was a difficult time. My wife was going through a traumatic phase as she had been suffering from schizophrenia for the past few years. My relationship with many close ones had become strained. She had completely cut herself off from our regular social circles and I too, started shying from social gatherings of any kind. My son Aditya was becoming affected by this. My self-esteem was the lowest it ever was and Mumbai was getting on my nerves. Like most people slogging for a greedy corporate sector, I had lost touch with the real work and was working for one corporate to pay others (in form of post-dated cheques as EMIs).

Prior to our weekly activities, we had ceased to be individuals and lived in the roles assigned by our corporate organisation very seriously. We had turned into directors, cinematographers, writers, programmers, developers, consultants , ‘ors’, ‘ers’, ‘ists’ and so on. Our Sunday Club was a blessing in disguise in those times. We discovered the joys in small things. A piece of paper turning into a bird was like magic. I relived those wonderful years of childhood again. Week after week, new crafts were unfolding before our eyes.

Thanks to Shammi and the Sunday Club, we met so many people doing diverse interesting things. It further extended to our trips to Vanwadi, a regenerated forest farm near Mumbai and meeting people who nurtured it like Bharat Mansata, Bua, Ambibai, Daualt. We also met others like Manish – Vidhi Jain, Ramji (the list is too long) from Shikshantar, an organization dedicated to rethinking the ideas and practice of education and many other wonderful souls who helped in flushing toxins of all kinds from my system and psyche.

One of the things I learnt during those days at our club was rolling paper (newspapers, old magazines, useless credit card bills, used notebooks, electricity bills and so on) into sticks. Once you have rolled plenty of them, it is ready to be used to make structures like barrels, boxes, photo frames, mirror frames, table lamps, chairs, tables and curtains. The possibilities are endless… even paper jewelry.

However, I only took it seriously when my son Aditya wanted a small chair and table for his studies. I thought this was a good chance to experiment and also save some money. Though I was not very confident, I began by rolling a huge pile of newspapers into sticks. This is the most tedious and repetitive part of the process. It is a lot more fun if you involve your friends and family members at this stage. In fact, kids love it as they find these sticks quite amusing (you will have to restrain them from a mock sword fight!).

For a beginner, it will take some time to roll paper into firm and uniform sticks

  1. To begin, moist the index-finger a bit, and pinch the newspaper sheet from any corner.
  2. Once you get hold of the paper, roll it tightly. Once you reached 1/3rd of the paper, one can put the paper down and roll with the help of your palms. It is important to keep a firm grip onthe paper or else it tends to become loose and will not be of much use for making a strong chair. Use one hand to keep the roll in place tightly.
  3. At the end, apply some glue or diluted Fevicol to close the end to hold the stick structure. Make many such sticks. For this part, it is best to choose a flat surface like a dining table or the clean floor of your study or living room.

It is a good idea to observe cane furniture if you get a chance. Even studying bridges in pictures will help you evolve your own structural designs. I was inspired by the design of a cane chair I had seen, to make the chair in the pictures attached with this write-up. You can draw few designs on a paper first, to make the process easier.

I began joining the rolled sticks together with fevicol (undiluted) to make a simple structure. It was weak, wobbly and a rather sketchy rendering of the design I had in mind. Everyone at home smiled at the childish shape I had in front of me. Once I added two more layers of sticks to that, the structure suddenly grew stronger by at least four times.

I kept adding few more layers of paper sticks and the structure gained some more strength and credibility in the eyes of others. An important thing to remember is to use only undiluted fevicol at this stage. The quantity should be right (not too less and not too much) and be applied on the complete surface of each stick. Then let it dry a little (not completely) and press them into the shape. Keep a moist piece of old cloth to wipe messy hands.

While making the chair, I kept testing the piece by inviting my son and his friends to sit on it. By trial and error, I discovered the need of few more braces and cross supports (like those we see in the old wooden and iron bridges). As I added them, the structure became strong. It was soon ready to be used by my son. I grew a little more ambitious and added a few more layers, and the load capacity increased manifold.

Finally, the chair was ready sans seat and the backrest. I had seen chairs with old style woven seats and backrests in many houses and tried doing that with the paper sticks, but they were too thick for the purpose. I simply made a much easier and cruder version of the same for the backrest.

For the seat, I put one layer after another in criss-cross fashion. For the finishing touches, I wrapped each joint with paper sticks in such a manner that there was no possibility of them coming apart. It took about three-four hours every day for a week to finish the piece.

Everyone was amazed at the beauty, including me. Our maid Kalpana (who’d initially been very skeptical about the whole thing) was invited to sit on it and she did so with a lot of hesitation. The chair held together and so did my faith in the smaller things in life. The only tool I used was a flush wire-cutter (as scissors took little more effort in cutting the sticks but one can use them if needed) and the material was about 8 kilograms of waste newspaper and 3/4 kg of fevicol.

No nails and hammer, no high-end tools, no irritating sounds of cutting and hammerings… it was almost like sculpting in silence though with a little mess around my house and a few glue stains on the floor that everyone happily got rid of in no time.

Many of my friends who visited my house offered to buy the chair, but I had grown attached to the work. When I moved to Dehradun, I left the chair behind with a friend as I did not have the courage to hand it over to the rough handling of movers and packers. It is still more or less intact and so is my love for these little experiments.

Like all other good things in life, our Sunday Club came to a gradual halt. However, it continues to be present in all of us in one way or the other.

We discovered the dignity of labour, the beauty of small things and futility of greed and vanity. I am still very far from a meaningful existence and my wife is still struggling with her condition, but the intensity of misery is far less than it would have been. I have managed to gather courage to move to my hometown in Uttarakhand (Dehradun) and do the things I like. I am trying to reduce my carbon footprint. My relationships with old friends and family have been rejuvenated. My son Aditya has grown into a chirpy, well-meaning boy of 11 years and I feel more connected to people and my family.

Sudharshan Juyal is a film-maker and an artist who loves using materials around him to create simple, functional and aesthetic craft.