from a 1927 Montgomery Ward catalog
Today it’s more about Beacon Blankets and the lovely robes made from the blanket cloth. If the original Beacon company were to open today, their big selling point would be that they were “green.” That’s because the blankets and cloth were made from the waste cotton from other processes. They were even able to reprocess their own waste. Because of the nature of blankets – you want a thick, fluffy product – ordinary cotton processing machines were not used. Beacon ordered special machinery from Europe, and then refit it to suit their purpose.
I’ll write about the history of Beacon tomorrow, but today’s topic is the product – that warm and fuzzy cotton blanket cloth. From the beginning, Beacon used jacquard looms that permitted the weavers to use up to four colors. They began to develop designs that were influenced by the American Indian blankets of the West. They even used Indian images in their advertising, a practice that they were forced to stop after being sued by the FTC and the Navajo Indian Nation in the 1930s!
Many of the designs were influenced by the Art Deco movement. Stylized themes and geometric shapes were commonly used. To increase the richness of the colors, a ombre process was developed that seemed to add shading and dimension to the designs.
The fabric actually had two distinctly different sides, due to the weaving process used. The strongest side was called the patternization, and the reverse of the cloth was called the colorization. Here is the robe I showed yesterday. The patternization is on the right, and the colorization is on the left.
The Beacon factory made the blankets and fabric from start to finish, and they even had a wholesale division that sold their products directly to department and dry goods stores. They also made fabric for other companies such as Montgomery Ward and JC Penney. Beacon did not make the robes; they provided the makers of them with the fabric and labels that read “Genuine Beacon Fabric” or “Made of Beacon Blanket.” The label from my well-worn robe:
Home sewers could buy the robing fabric, and Beacon even made kits that included everything the sewer would need to make the robe. The robing fabric was made in the deco prints and also in plaids. By the 1950s rayon was added to the fabric, and in the early 1960s Beacon stopped making the robing.
The blankets might have a simple “Beacon” label, or they might not be labeled at all. A removable paper label was sometimes used, so I imagine there are lots of unlabeled Beacons out there. By using the illustrations in the book I was able to determine that a blanket I bought at a flea market is a Beacon:
And here is one that is labeled “Beacon’:
Tomorrow, the history of Beacon Manufacturing, and thoughts on the Southern mill experience.