Recently I was at my friend Trish's , styling and shooting her apartment for a house tour. I brought along a vintage Chenille bedspread in case we needed some prop linens. Trish is from Georgia originally, in an area I had always known for their huge part in USA manufactured carpeting. We got to talking and she gave me a glimpse into the history of chenille and carpeting in the Dalton, GA area, and it made me want to dig deeper.
So let's start with chenille. What is it? In French, chenille means caterpillar, and the material was named this because it "resembles the fur of a caterpillar." It is said to have begun in France in the 18th century as a yarn. They made it by taking a gauzy fabric, cutting it into strips and then creating the yarn. In the 1830's Scotland developed a chenille of their own. The Paisley fabric mill's foreman created a fuzzy weave of fabric from which to make shawls. They wove tufts of wool together into a large piece and then cut it into shawl sized strips. Finally we come to Dalton and Catherine Evans, who took sheets of cotton and added tufting to create bedspreads. The designs were popular both locally and regionally. While the bedspreads were not chenille in the traditional sense of the word, the terminology stuck and the chenille of the South was born!
By the 1920's Northwestern Georgia was sending bedspreads to department stores in major cities all along the East coast. In order to meet demands, artisans all around the area in the South received deliveries of the cotton sheeting, marked with patterns. They would then tuft and the finished pieces would be picked up from them for distribution. It was a handcrafted collaborative market, where mainly women worked from their homes to fulfill a need. This industry helped keep many afloat during the great depression.
By the 1930's route 41 had become a popular path for tourists heading to Florida. Dalton's tufters lined the side of the highway with clotheslines adorned with the popular chenille bedspreads. One of the most famous patterns of the time was the peacock, giving route 41 it's nickname of "Peacock Alley". Continuing into the 1940's now in the form of corporations, including "Cabin Crafts" Northwestern Georgians began to experiment with small throw rugs for the bathroom using the same tufting technique. This eventually led to huge sheets of carpet, what we now know as wall to wall carpeting. By the 1960's carpet manufacturing well surpassed bedspreads in Dalton, but it's amazing to think about where this booming industry began.
Chenille can be found in many patterns and colors. I am partial to the poka dots and more graphic patterns, but I love a good floral as well. Recently I have been developing my deep love for chenille into a new product line. Stay tuned for updates on that. Can't wait to share it with the world!!
Patton, Randall L. "Chenille Bedspreads." New Georgia Encyclopedia. 19 August 2013. Web. 17 June 2016.
Photo: Courtney Dawley