Introduction: Hanging Garden Chair

About: I'm a chartered mechanical engineer and life-long maker. I especially like making useful things from cheap materials, including waste, and fixing things that would otherwise be scrap. I'll have a go at anythin…

This is a cross between a chair and a hammock, for use on sunny days in the garden or taking with you on a camping trip.  It is surprisingly comfortable and can be adjusted to give a fairly upright position (suitable for using a laptop) or a more recumbent one for lazing the afternoon away.  Similar chairs cost from £65 to £120 or more to buy, but you can have one for a fraction of the cost.  This is a good project for teenagers to make for Father's Day because everyone can contribute, whether it is with sewing skills, basic woodwork skills or tying a few knots. It should be easily made in a weekend.

My chair hangs just a short way above the ground, making it easy to get in and out of and allowing my feet to rest comfortably on the ground when I am in it.  You could hang the chair higher up but then you might need a ladder to get into it, which could be a hazardous exercise.  Some commercially available hanging chairs have a foot rest, which would be easy enough to add if you want to be well above the ground and don't feel comfortable with your legs just dangling. You will spin and swing around a bit in the wind if your feet don't touch the ground, but that is part of the fun. 

You will need

1.4 m (1 5/8 yd) of canvas (or other strong, rip-resistant, hardwearing fabric) that is at least 1.3 m (51") wide
Strong sewing thread
A reasonably powerful sewing machine fitted with a jeans needle and ideally a walking foot
2.7 m (3 yd) of 25 mm (1") wide webbing
A crayon, chalk or a biro
Ruler or tape measure
Strong scissors capable of cutting the canvas and webbing
Sewing pins
One 28 mm (1 1/8") diameter wooden broom handle, at least 1.2 m (48") long
Two 23 mm (7/8") diameter wooden broom handles, at least 1 m (39") long
10 m (11 yd) of 7 mm (1/4") rope from a climbing shop (check the breaking strain is well above your weight)
A length of thicker rope - length depends on how high up your tree branch is
A hand drill or power drill with 8mm and 10mm wood bits
A saw
Teak oil or wood preservative
A carabiner capable of taking your weight plus the chair's (optional)
A suitable tree

Unless you live somewhere where the climate is dry, I suggest using canvas, webbing and sewing thread made from manmade fibres that will not rot if they get wet, because sooner or later your chair will get left out in the rain.  Opt for polyester or nylon instead of cotton if you have the choice.  Ideally, the canvas should have an open weave to stop rain collecting in it, but strength is more important than that.

Safety warning

The strength of this chair depends on the materials used and the quality of your stitching and knot-tying.  Mine takes an adult male weighing 11.5 stone (160 lb, 73 kg) with ease, but you may need to beef up the components if the user is substantially heavier.  When buying the rope and carabiner, check their load ratings.  Carabiner-type keyrings are NOT suitable.  Don't take chances, particularly if you want to use the chair to hang high above the ground.  Make sure the branch you hang it from is sound wood and thick enough to bear the weight of the occupant.  Remember that the load will be increased if the chair is used like a swing.  Check the stitching and knots every now and again, and certainly before using the chair after it has been put away for a while.

I have given suggestions for the knots to be used, but the best knot for a job depends on such things as the flexibility and slipperiness of the rope, its fibre content, construction and diameter as well as what needs to be connected to what.  If in doubt, consult a good book of knots or someone who understands such things - amateur sailors are usually good on knots. 

Step 1: Marking and Cutting the Canvas

Iron your canvas flat then lay it on a hard floor wrong side up and draw a trapezoid on it with the following dimensions (refer to diagram):

  • front edge of the chair (this side is along the selvedge of the canvas)  - 137 cm (54")
  • back edge - 71 cm (28")
  • each side -  135 cm (53")
  • approx. perpendicular distance from front to back - 130 cm (51")
Draw on the canvas using chalk, a crayon or a biro, whatever you have.

In the photos you'll see that the back edge of the chair is along the selvedge, but it would have been better along the front to make for a smoother front edge. 

Cut out the trapezoid.  Don't throw away the scraps, you can use them to protect the tree from the rope and to make a head cushion for your chair.

Step 2: Preparing to Attach the Webbing

Fold under 5 cm (2") to the wrong side on the front and back edges, pin these hems in place (place the pins well away from the folds so they don't get in the way of the iron) and then press the folds with the iron.  If you are using a manmade canvas, be careful not to melt it. 

Then press 5 cm (2") hems along the side edges in the same way. Remove the pins and turn under the raw edge by 19 mm (3/4") to give a double hem that is 31 mm (1.25") wide.  Pin and press, taking care not to press out the first crease.  Then do the same with the remaining edges, except for the selvedge which doesn't need a double hem. 

You should now have a double crease around three of the four edges. 

Open out the hems and fold in each corner such that the diagonal distance between the two inner creases is about 10 cm (4") - see photo.

Fold under the double hems on either side of the corner, draw a line across between the inner corners of each hem (see red line in photo) and a second line parallel with it, 25 mm (1") nearer to the corner point.

Cut off the tip of the corner along the second line (the one that is nearer the corner). 

Turn the hems under neatly near the corner and pin in place.

Do the same with the other corners and pin all the hems.

Sew the hems using a fairly long stitch.  If your machine does a triple stitch (where it goes backwards and forwards to stitch three times in the same place), use that.  Otherwise, experiment with using the thread double in the both the shuttle and the upper bobbin.  A walking foot will help considerably.  Sew into each corner and back out again to hold the hem firmly in place at the corners - see photo.

Step 3: Attaching the Webbing

The webbing strengthens the edges of the canvas and provides hanging loops at each corner.  It is attached to the underside of the chair. 

Cut 2 lengths of webbing for the front corners, each 70 cm (28") long.  Cut another piece that is 125 cm (49") long to go along the back edge of the chair.  If your webbing is made of a meltable fibre such as nylon, pass each cut end swiftly through a flame to seal it.  Otherwise, use your sewing machine to oversew the ends and stop them fraying. 

Start with a front corner.  Each corner actually has 2 points because the corners of the trapezoid were trimmed off.  I'll call these the front corner and the side front corner.  Mark the centre point of one of the short pieces of webbing with a pin and use 2 more pins to mark the points 6.5 cm (2.5") either side of this, then remove the centre pin.  Position the webbing on the underside of the canvas with one end on the side hem and the first pin at the side front corner (see photo).  Pin it in place from the side front corner along the side hem to the end of the webbing.  Do the same from the 2nd pin to the other end of the webbing, placing the pin at the front corner.  This makes a hanging loop.

Now stitch each of the 2 sections of the webbing in place around its 4 edges.  Again, use a triple stitch if your machine does it, otherwise a couple of rows of stitching next to each other would be a good idea.  You may need to use a spare piece of webbing alongside the webbing you are sewing when sewing along the outer edge, so that the presser foot has something to grip on.  (See photo.)

Repeat with the other front corner. 

For the back edge, pin the centre of the webbing to the centre of the back edge and work from there towards each back corner.  Measure 13 cm (5") along the webbing from the point where it reaches the corner and attach it at that point to the side back corner, and from there along the side hem.

Step 4: Making the Struts

3 struts made from broomsticks act as compression members to keep the chair in the right shape.  Saw your broomsticks to the following lengths:

  • 28 mm (1 1/8") broomstick for the top strut - 117.5 cm (46") long
  • 23 mm (7/8") diameter broomsticks for the side struts - 100.5 cm (39.5") long
The lengths are not absolutely critical. 

My first attempt at this chair had notches rather than holes at each end of all 3 struts to take the rope.  Notches make it easier to make adjustments and to pack the chair away, but there is a possibility that the ropes will slip out of them.  This risk is minimised if you are aware of the issue and take a little care getting in and out of the chair, but if it is to be used by children, or by people who are unfamiliar with it, or hung above normal chair height, you might want to use holes.  I ended up using holes only at the front end of each side strut, because these were the ones that the rope turned out to be most vulnerable to "jumping" out of, and that seems a reasonable compromise between convenience and safety.

Use a wood drill to make a hole at each end of each broomstick.  The holes should go straight through the centre, perpendicular to the axis of the broomstick and in the same direction at each end.  (In other words, if you lay the broomstick flat on the ground with the hole at one end running vertically, the hole at the other end should be vertical too.)  Drill the holes as follows:

  • 28mm broomstick - 10mm (3/8") hole centred 10mm (3/8") from each end
  • 23mm broomsticks - 8mm (5/16") hole centred 10mm (3/8") from each end
If you wish, having read the warning above about the possible implications for stability of the chair when getting in and out of it, make both holes in the larger broomstick and one in each of the smaller broomsticks into notches by sawing 2 parallel cuts from the end of the sticks into the holes. The notches need to be the same width as your thin rope.

Smooth all the cut edges with sandpaper.

Treat the struts with teak oil or wood preservative to protect them from the weather. 

Step 5: Fitting the Ropes

Cut your length of 7 mm (1/4") rope in half and seal the ends with a flame or a dip in glue.  (Or whip them.)  Mark both ends of one piece of rope temporarily with tape or a biro.

Tie both ropes together into a hanging loop at their mid point.  A simple loop knot (called an Overhand Loop by Wikipedia) should suffice.  The size of the loop doesn't matter much, aim for a loop about 10 cm (4") long.

Below the loop, split the four ends of rope back into their 2 pairs (this is why the ends needed to be marked), with one pair going to the left and the other to the right.  Pass the left pair through the hole or slot in one end of the top strut and then tie a simple knot (with the rope still doubled) that is 82 cm (32") below the hanging loop knot. 

Split the pair of ropes below this knot.  Mark the point on the rearmost rope that is 71 cm (28") from the knot that is below the top strut and tie another simple knot at that point.  Then pass the free end through the hole or slot in one end of a side strut and tie it to the rear hanging loop of the chair using a bowline.  The bowline needs to sit just below the strut.  Don't cut off the excess rope, it may be needed for adjusting the hang of the chair later.

Take the other end of the left side rope and mark the point that is 99 cm (39") from the knot that is below the top strut.  Then feed the rope through the hole in the front end of the side strut and tie it to the front hanging loop with a bowline at the marked point, again with the bowline just below the strut. 

Do the same with the other length of rope on the right hand side of the chair. 

Put all three struts in place (if you are using slots - they will already be in place if there are holes at each end) and suspend the chair from something suitable to check how it hangs.  Viewed from the front and rear, the top strut should be horizontal, as should the front and back edges of the canvas.  Viewed from the side, the side struts should be at the same angle as each other.  See the penultimate photo of this step.  If you have used slots in the top strut, remove it temporarily to double check the side struts as in the final photo.  You may need to adjust one or more knot positions to make the chair hang evenly. 

When you are happy with it, measure the vertical distance from the top of the hanging loop to the lowest point of the canvas seat.  This distance will help you work out how high up your suspension point needs to be in the next step.

Step 6: Hanging the Chair

Find a suitable tree with a sturdy branch that is reasonably horizontal, or a fork.  Get someone to hold the ladder while you go up with the suspension rope and a scrap of canvas. 

Lay the canvas over the branch at the point where you are going to tie the rope.  This will help to stop the bark being rubbed off.  Then knot one end of the suspension rope round this branch using a suitable knot.  I used a magnus hitch, as found in an old book of nautical knots, but this seems to be called a Rolling Hitch 1 on Wikipedia.  The type of knot/hitch you use will depend on factors such as the type and thickness of the rope, the thickness of the branch and personal preference, but choose one that grips the branch rather than a loose loop that will wear it away as the chair swings in the wind.

After your experiments in Step 5 you should know how far above the ground the suspension point needs to be.  Tie a loop using a bowline knot in the free end of the suspension rope at the correct height.  Leave a few feet of rope hanging below the loop rather than cutting off the excess because some people find it helpful to have something to hang onto when getting in and out of the chair. 

If you aren't using a carabiner, you will need to pass the free end of the suspension rope through the hanging loop on the chair before tying the bowline.  Otherwise, all that remains is to connect the hanging loop on the chair to the loop in the suspension rope using the carabiner.

Step 7: Adjustments and Extras

When you first try the chair, it is advisable to have it hanging close to the ground with someone else in attendance to hold it steady while you get in and out. if you've already adjusted it as in Step 5 it should be fine, but you may need to make tweaks to the length of the side ropes to suit your favoured sitting position.

Try sitting in the chair and note whether you feel like you are going to slide out of the front, or conversely whether you are tipped too far back so that it is difficult to sit up or get yourself out. You can use the dangling end of the suspension rope to pull yourself up if necessary - just tuck your feet under you on the ground and pull up. Adjust the length of the side ropes to fine-tune the sitting position. After doing so, again remove the upper strut temporarily (easy if the ends are notched) and leave the chair hanging. The two side struts will hang next to each other and it is easy to see if they are at the same angle. Make further adjustments until they are. Then pop the upper strut back in and give it another go. Cut off the excess rope at each corner when you are happy.

From leftover canvas you could make yourself a small pillow, stuffed with foam or polyester fibre, to go behind your head. Get someone to mark where your head rests when you lean back in the chair. Sew the soft loop side of Velcro fastener onto the chair and the hook side onto the pillow, then it is easily removed for washing. Two vertical strips of Velcro rather than one horizontal one would allow the headrest to be moved to suit different people.

Children will inevitably want to spin in the chair by twisting it round and round. That may not be good for the knots, or the tree branch. Incorporating a swivel would solve the problem. I haven't done this, but I expect that a suitable swivel might be found in an angling shop that caters for big game fishing. Just check that the breaking strain is well above the weight of the chair and its occupant.

As mentioned in the Intro, a stirrup-type footrest would be a useful addition if you want to hang the chair up high. I envisage a broomstick bar hung by means of ropes to either end from the upper strut, or possibly the front ends of the side struts.

Father's Day Contest

First Prize in the
Father's Day Contest

Great Outdoors Contest

Participated in the
Great Outdoors Contest