Wicker patio sets are a popular choice for outdoor furniture. The most common type of wicker is made from wood like bamboo or rattan, while an all-weather synthetic resin wicker has revolutionized the market. However, there was a short period of time when another material called paper fiber was the prime choice in wicker furniture.
The original name of the material was fiber reed and art fiber, but today it is mainly called paper wicker or creative twist. Unlike original wicker, which dates back to ancient Egyptian times, the process of using paper fiber originated right here in the United States. In 1904 paper fiber was created out of manmade, chemically treated kraft paper that was twisted into ropelike structures. The reason paper fiber was invented was because an embargo was placed on oriental rattan coming in to the USA, and so became much harder to come by and also thereby more costly. In addition, it saved manpower and the tedious amount of time required to hand weave elaborate Victorian style furniture. The cheap new alternate material still managed to resemble expensive Victorian rattan imports, and thusly achieved incredibly popularity in wicker patio sets up through the 1930s.
Paper proved to be a very versatile and easy to work with material, in addition to its low production costs. The base pulp is first treated with sizing and glue and then twisted into strands that resemble rattan. Because of its properties, paper was a good choice for wicker patio sets as it could be fashioned into many sizes and colors due to its porous nature and can easily be manipulated without having to soak the wicker as was the case with reed wicker.
As one would assume, paper fiber quickly became stiff competition for traditional rattan. Not only was it cheaper but it was easier to repaint than rattan. Once industrialization set in, all wicker became mass-produced, rather than woven by hand. The Lloyd Loom was created in 1917 to more quickly and efficiently weave products while lowering production and labor costs. Then, in the 1920s, a wire core was added to the fiber strands to reinforce them.
Paper fiber found another outlet beyond wicker patio sets. Wooden chair manufacturers used the new material, which was now available in sheets, as the seat bottoms of wood chairs. Consumers of paper fiber liked how it came in a continuous strand, so there was no need to worry about joining multiple pieces together. It also took well to varnish and lacquers. So common was its occurrence in pop culture that classrooms and social groups would engage in art fiber weaving.
The problem however, with paper fiber is that in the long run it did not prove to be as durable as other types of wicker. Also, it did not bounce back as well from being wet as wood wicker. Paper fiber wicker patio sets fell out of favor in the 1940s, helped probably in part by the onset of WWII. Although it's not produced much these days, you can still find paper fiber furniture, and original versions from the early 1900s are coveted by antique collectors.