Made in London: Rachael South

This is the latest in our Made in London series of films about London-based makers by filmmaker William Scothern. This month’s video is about third generation chair caner and seat weaver Rachael South. Watch:

Rachael gained a first class honors degree in textiles at London Guildhall University and had a successful career as a freelance textile product designer and bespoke passemanterie designer before returning to the family business. “My sisters and I were always in our Dad’s workshop, so I can’t remember a moment when I thought I wanted to do the chair caning, it was just something that was around all the time,” she says. “It wasn’t until later that I thought, this is just a lovely craft.” She applies her own skills and knowledge to the family craft, working on both traditional restoration projects and contemporary new furniture designs.

She was just 14 when she learned to cane chairs – a process that brought her closer to her father. “My dad sat me down and showed me how to do the caning of one little nursing chair and then kept bringing me more chairs to do,” she says. “That was a whole other way of having a relationship with him.”

Her father learned chair caning from his father, Michael South. “My Grandfather lived in Ladbroke Grove and he would walk up to Kensington and he would wait for people to bring broken chairs to him and he would fix them. [Today] people seem much more interested in sustainability. The beauty of caned furniture is that it’s actually designed to be reused and recycled. We can repair it and make it as beautiful as it was when it was first manufactured.”

Rachael finds fulfillment in both the sense of history and the potential longevity of her work. “When someone commissions me to restore a piece of furniture, it should be good for another generation,” she says. “Pieces of furniture are little time capsules. I might be caning a chair that’s been caned four, five, six times before. I like being a part of that chain through time.”

Katie Treggiden is a purpose-driven journalist, author and, podcaster championing a circular approach to design – because Planet Earth needs better stories. She is also the founder and director of Making Design Circular, a program and membership community for designer-makers who want to join the circular economy. With 20 years' experience in the creative industries, she regularly contributes to publications such as The Guardian, Crafts Magazine and Monocle24 – as well as being Editor at Large for Design Milk. She is currently exploring the question ‘can craft save the world?’ through an emerging body of work that includes her fifth book, Wasted: When Trash Becomes Treasure (Ludion, 2020), and a podcast, Circular with Katie Treggiden.