Chenille bedspreads are making a huge comeback.

Chenille is the French word for “caterpillar.” The word is generally used to describe fabrics that have a thick pile, which is raised yarn ends, protruding all around at right angles. According to textile historians, chenille yarn dates back to 18th century France.

While these bedspreads look like cotton, and sometimes are, they more commonly wear the disguise of being made from rayon and other durable threads.

The vintage bedspread was developed by Catherine Evans from Dalton, Georgia. As a young girl in 1892, Evans visited a relative in McCuffy, GA who owned a candlewick bedspread. Candlewick is embroidery consisting of a series of raised knots used to create an outline that forms a tactile pattern on the fabric, such as a flower.

Evans set out to create an imitation of the candlewick-spread using the type of yarn available in her area at the time.

The technique involved stamping a familiar pattern onto blank sheets, then filling the pattern with yarn.

Finishing involved washing the spreads in hot water to shrink them and lock in the yarn tufts. The tufted spreads could also be dyed in a variety of colors.

By the 1920s, tufted bedspreads appeared on the shelves of department stores in Atlanta and other major cities.

By the 1930s, clotheslines bearing chenille bedspreads lined U.S. Highway 41 through Dalton. Tourists on their way to Florida often stopped and bought the spreads.

Of the many designs adorning the spreads, the most popular among tourists was the peacock. This section of Highway 41 became known as “Peacock Alley,” precisely because of the dominance of that design in the roadside displays.

The participation of farm families in this industry provided cash, which was greatly needed to weather the Great Depression. Others went on to make millions on this new trendy bedspread.

The handcraft of tufting played a crucial role in the economic development of northwest Georgia. Dalton remains the “tufted bedspread capital of the world,” but it also became the carpet capital of the world by the early 1960s. Due to the success of tufted bedspreads, companies began to experiment with tufted rugs.

The popularity of these bedspreads continues to this day, due in part to the nostalgia of yesteryear.

— Marla Ballard’s Master of Disguise appears in the Times-Journal weekday editions.

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