Vintage chenille bedspreads first appeared on the American landscape in the early twentieth century as a hand made folk art item bought by northern tourists traveling south. The popularity of chenille bedspreads continued to grow country wide until they were a mass produced marketing and cultural phenomenon by the 1950’s.
Vintage chenille bedspreads are highly sought after now long after they’ve went out of production. Reproductions are currently available on the market but there’s nothing like having a real vintage chenille bedspread. At the risk of sounding cliché, these tufted bed covers remind us of a happier, simpler time. The good news is that there are plenty of vintage chenille bedspreads to be had in good to great condition at a reasonable price.
Dive into the history of chenille bedspread making (below) or check out our Chenille Guide which discusses the different types of chenille such as hobnail and needletuft, as well as chenille sizing and buying vintage bedspreads online. We also cover such vintage names as Cabin Crafts, Hofmann, Bates, and Morgan Jones.
Much of the value in owning a vintage chenille bedspread is in understanding a little bit of the history behind it……
A History of Vintage Chenille Bedspreads
The phenomenon of chenille bedspreads in the early twentieth century evolved from the art of candlewicking. Candlewicking was a form of embroidery prevalent in the American colonies where the cotton thread that was used for the wicks in candles was also used to make designs on bedcovers. Generally, the candlewick thread would be left in its original white cotton state and stitched into a white cotton sheet. This type of embroidery died out by the mid nineteenth century.
Chenille bedspreads, as we came to know them in the twentieth century, were originally developed by a young lady from Dalton, Georgia named Catherine Evans. As a young girl in 1892, she visited a relative in McCuffy, GA who owned a vintage candlewicked spread. Upon her return home, Miss Evans sets out to create an imitation of the candlewicked spread she saw using the type of yarn available in her area at the time.
Catherine Evans continues to perfect her craft, hand-tufting each spread. She gave one to her sister-in-law as a wedding gift and it made quite a splash on family and friends. Through word of mouth, Miss Evans began selling her hand tufted spreads at $2.50 apiece.
At this point it is worth noting how this form of tufting came to be called “chenille”. Chenille is the French word for caterpillar. Very often the tufts in a chenille bedspread are cut from the top to give them that fuzzy look and feeling like a caterpillar. Not all chenille bedspreads are cut loop like this though. The non-cut loop spreads are often referred to as needle-tuft which more closely resemble candlewicking. Nonetheless, the name chenille (caterpillar) stuck for posterity.
Catherine soon became overwhelmed by the demand for her chenille bedspreads so she begins hiring and showing others how to make them thus creating a cottage industry in Northwest Georgia. Crown Cotton Mill, which began operations in Dalton in 1885, provides much of the material for the local bedspread activity. By 1910, dozens of women were making chenille bedspreads around Dalton, GA and many of them would display their handiwork by the roadside along Old Highway 41, a.k.a. Dixie Highway. Because people could travel down this thoroughfare on any given day and see mile after mile of colorfully tufted chenille bedspreads, it became known as Peacock Alley.
In 1917, Addie Evans, the sister-in-law who received the chenille bedspread as a wedding gift, started the first chenille bedspread manufacturing company named Evans Manufacturing. By then, Catherine and Addie had developed a stamping method whereby patterns were stamped onto the sheets prior to tufting.
By 1920, the bedspreads were still being hand tufted but then people began altering sewing machines to tuft the bedspreads. More and more households began their own little chenille bedspread tufting business. Chenille bedspread making grew exponentially during the roaring 20’s. During the Great Depression, it remained a viable industry which provided income for many who had saw their prior livelihood disappear.
From World War II through the 1960’s, chenille bedspread making is in it`s heyday. Companies like Cabin Craft in Dalton sprang up which develop machinery to make chenille bedspreads even faster while still maintaining the original vintage look. While there are dozens of family run chenille tufting businesses in around Dalton, larger companies in other parts of the country also get in on the action: Morgan Jones, Bates, and Hofmann in particular.
As always, fashions fall out and new ones take their place. Chenille bedspread making which we refer to as the vintage kind lasted for about 60 years. Peacock Alley disappeared after 1965 when Interstate-75 was built bypassing Highway 41 and chenille bedspread making vanished with it.