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 Murray County Museum  
EARLY CHENILLE

In the beginning women working at home created every chenille bedspread totally by hand. At a time when the vast majority of Murray County families depended upon farming for their livelihood, the extra income they earned by making bedspreads enabled them to buy essentials for the family.

Catherine Evans, a Whitfield County teenager, in 1895 determined to copy a family heirloom bedcover that was called candlewick. She soon learned that the technique was no longer used and none of the people she contacted remembered how to do such work. She decided to try to figure out the process for herself.

First she had to create a pattern and stamp it on a piece of sheeting.

She discovered that a stitch could be locked into the sheeting fabric to create a short length or loop for trimming to create a soft pile. She learned to thread a very big needle with thick yarn, pull the yarn through the fabric, then use scissors to cut the yarn between two stitches. She called the trimmed loop a turf. . Each cut thread was then teased and fluffed to make it stand up, contributing its color to the overall pattern of the spread. After the turfing was finished, the spread was hung on a clothesline to fluff the turf.

She made a spread to give as a wedding gift. A lady who saw the unusual gift asked Miss Evans to make one to sell her. Then others wanted to buy her unique hand-turfed bedspreads. This was the beginning of whole new industry that would greatly impact all of North Georgia for decades.

The demand for hand-turfted bedspreads quickly became far greater than she could satisfy. To satisfy this increased demand, a network evolved. Those needing bedspreads to fill orders would stamp the pattern on sheeting material, then haulers would take the stamped spreads, along with appropriate huge needles and various colors of thread required, to area households where the females would do the turfing. (The word "tufting" did not come into common use until later.)

Haulers would return in about a week to pick up the turfed spread and leave new ones to be turfed.

Once the spreads were back at a central point, they were washed and packaged for shipment to fill orders from stores and catalog houses.

Payment to turf a bedspread typically was between twenty-five and fifty cents, depending on the perceived amount of turfing a pattern might require. Even so, this endeavor enriched some household by as much as a dollar a week, money that the family otherwise would not have had.

In their Spring-Summer 1935 catalog, Sears Roebuck offered three hand-tufted spreads, "Handmade by the southern mountain women," priced at $1.59; $1.95; and $2.49 each. They also offered "Hand-Tufted candlewick cloth," 39 inches wide, that they recommended for making "matching draperies, dresser scarf, chair covers." Pictures of these products can be seen below.

This hand-turfing cottage industry continued from around 1920 until the late 1940s, when customized Singer sewing machines replaced the hand turfing.

Mrs. Catherine Evans Whitener, though not of Murray County, probably had the greatest impact upon Murray County of any Georgian–ever. Georgia Women of Achievement recognized the work of this remarkable woman in 2001.

About the Following Collections:

A privately owned collection in Murray County contains these early chenille spreads. Some were hand-turfed, others were made with the very earliest chenille machines. Click on any picture to see an enlargement.

Privately Owned Collection Pictures


Other privately owned chenille items. Individuals having only an item or two can show them in this section.

Sears Roebuck Spring-Summer 1934 offered one "Hand Tufted Candlewick" bedspread.

Sears Roebuck Spring-Summer 1934 Pictures


Sears Roebuck Spring-Summer Catalog 1935 included hand-tufted fabric by the yard, as well as a bath mat, chenille room-size rugs, and hand-tufted bedspreads. Pictures are from the catalog.

Sears Roebuck Spring-Summer Catalog 1935 Pictures


Montgomery Ward Spring-Summer 1946 contained no chenille bedspreads. It did offer two chenille crib covers and six bathroom sets, even round bath mats.

Montgomery Ward Spring-Summer 1946 Pictures


Sears Roebuck Fall-Winter Catalog 1948 contains numerous spreads, all now made by machine, as well as women's house-coats. Two piece bathroom sets were popular then. Reversible chenille rugs also are included. Pictures are from the catalog.

Sears Roebuck Fall-Winter Catalog 1948 Pictures


Sears Roebuck Spring-Summer 1949 contains still more spreads and different house-coats. This catalog also contained brightly colored chenille bath mat and lid cover sets for the bathroom. Pictures are from the catalog.

Sears Roebuck Spring-Summer 1949 Pictures


Spiegel Spring-Summer 1951 included a house-coat and ten spreads.

Spiegel Spring-Summer 1951 Pictures


Spiegel Spring-Summer 1952 included chenille spreads for baby cribs and youngsters. Their bathroom sets included a three-piece collection to also cover the toilet tank. This catalog also contained more than a dozen bedspreads and coverletts.

Spiegel Spring-Summer 1952 Pictures


Spiegel Spring-Summer 1955 featured numerous spreads they indicated were reproductions of Colonial American masterpieces from such places as Mount Vernon and Monticello.

Spiegel Spring-Summer 1955 Pictures


Sears Spring-Summer 1960 contained an early juvenile design clearly for girls...Ballerina. They also featured "Outer Space" design that year. Bedspreads continued to dominate the chenille offerings.

Sears Spring-Summer 1960 Pictures


Sears Fall-Winter 1972 contained only a hand-full of chenille bedspreads, one was chenille shag with pile height of one inch.

Sears Fall-Winter 1972 Pictures


Note: Anyone having other very early chenille bedspreads, bathrobes, house-shoes, dolls, or bath sets, is encouraged to submit pictures and brief information to be added to this section. Even single items are wanted. Email murraymuseum@aol.com regarding this matter.

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