Twig chair workshop get people twisting and turning

July 11, 2014
It is always a very good day for me when synchronicity happens in my life and the more often and the more twists and turns in the synchronicity, the better as far as I am concerned.

Recently I just passed on one of Bill Simpson’s business cards to someone for whom I did a tea leaf reading and tarot reading. I saw working with wood would be a passion for her. I assume that Bill Simpson is still doing his twig chair workshops.

The following article was written by me after a synchronistic experience I had. For years, in my living room, on Salt Spring Island, I kept two twig chairs made by my friend Nancy Kulchiski from rural Manitoba willow before I moved to the island. I always loved the organic feel of it and how something that you would not think would be comfortable to sit on was actually really comfortable to sit on. I did many, many readings while sitting on that chair and ate many meals while on it.

In the summer of 2005, I took a look at a furniture display in the ArtSpring gallery. There were some locally made twig chairs as part of the exhibit. The price tag on one was $200. I thought to myself if I have lots of readings in the next week or so, I think I will buy another twig chair for myself.

I think it was within a week that I got an email for Gail Sjuberg, the managing editor for the Gulf Islands Driftwood. Knowing about the twig chairs I already owned, she explained that she had a request to run an article on building twig chairs for the newspaper. Would I like to do it?

It meant saving $200 on buying a chair and going to a complementary workshop as well as getting a freelance article fee for writing the piece. This is the kind of synchronicity that I really like.
The lesson being: there are many ways that we can get or be given what we desire from The Universe.

Here is the resulting article:

Gulf Islands Driftwood
August 10, 2005
Twig chair workshop gets people twisting and turning
by Tanya Lester

I have a confession to make: I cannot hammer a naim in straight.

This is not a gender thing. My father was a builder on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, where I grew up. Both my sisters could hammer nails into 2X4s until the cows came home (if we had owned cows, that is).

Being burdened with this shameful secret, I was surprised to find myself participating in Bill Simpson’s Make a Twig Chair Workshop last weekend.

Bill’s talents as an instuctor made it one of the most pleasurable experiences I’ve had during an exceptionally appealing Salt Spring summer. I left believing I was in full recovery from hammer cluts-a-phobic, and the celebatory glass of Saturna Vineyards wine had nothing to do with my euphoria.

The proof is the funky — in a good way– alder twig chair that I have to show for it.

I knew things were going to go well from the moment I arrived at the Simpson farm on Rourke Road and was greeted by the gentle family bulldog Nell. The tone was set for a weekend in an always friendly and mostly quiet atmosphere. I won’t say “idyllic” — the squabbling geese and rooster’s persistent 2:30 p.m. crowing kept things real.

Bill got us quickly down to work, stripping the leaves off alder branches in the sheep pasture. The woolly creatures quickly devoured the refuse of our toil.

Next, just outside the animals’ fence, we hand sawed the thicker alder into pieces which would become the “members” for each chair structure.

By this time I was asking Bill a lot of questions. (And not because I was trying to avoid the work, belive me.) It turns out that Bill is a structural engineer who keeps busy ensuring island houses are seismic-proof. Years ago, still in Ontariom he took a workshop in twig chair construction.

Now, four years into living the simple Salt Spring farm life, offering these weekends fits in perfectly with his family lifestyle, which includes 4-H Club involvement.

Back in his workshop, with a window view of the Three Sisters islands outside Ganges Harbour, we arranged our thicker alder pieces on a line pattern Bill has permanently etched on his work tables.

Not trying — I swear — to avoid hammering the pieces for the chair sides together, I ask Bill about his business name etched above the columnar entry way into the workshop’s other room. “The Artful Bodger” is a clever play on a Charles Dickens’ character name: “The Artful Dodger.”

But what is a bodger?

Bill explained it’s a term for a 1700s British chair maker. In a time that we believe was much less specialized that ours, a bodger went out to glean wood. He sat down and made spindles for chairs right in the forest. This was the only part of the chair he worked on. Others constructed the rest of the chairs elsewhere.

Hmm. Just when I was thinking that really this might be the way for me to go on my twig chair, Bill quickly pointed out that the bodger worked on a much different style of chair called a Windsor. This is the kind the inventor Benjamin Franklin sat on while making notes at his desk. Bill constructs those sorts of precision-beautiful chairs, too, but that’s another story.

Outside, on the grassy knoll next to the workshop and overlooking the family log house, we got down to the serious hammering involved in putting the arm, back and seat saplings onto the legs, frame/seat supports and top rail of the chair.

This is a sort of twist, turn and shout exercise. (The “shouting” being one’s reaction if she happens to hammer a thumb; or graze a finger with a fishtail gouge used to denude the saplings of bumpy knots that would make for uncomfortable sitting.)

The twisting and turning was accomplished by our bodies trying to get the nails hammered into all the intricate places where the sapling branches had to be bent in order to remain tacked onto the rounded frame wood members.

We did this keeping in mind comfort in sitting as well as a final furniture piece that would be pleasing to the eye.

Alan Thurston and Franklyn Roy enjoyed making their twig chairs so much that they booked an extra night at Birdsong Bed and Breakfast next door to the Simpson’s place.

“Alan and I have done some pretty neat things and this is way up there,” said Franklyn.

For $200, you get to learn from a patient, knowledgealbe instructor and get to keep a unique rustic chair. Those who want to take the easy way out can purchase Bill’s furniture…

To read earlier posts on this blog, please go to
Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader by Tanya Lester can be purchased from the author or by going to the title and author name at to read the first pages and buy a copy.


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