Biltmore Industries, Asheville, NC

1919 ad from Vogue magazine

For years I’ve been looking for an item from Biltmore Industries, and last week it finally happened.  A little background about this enterprise:

Biltmore Industries got its start in Asheville when two women from New York moved there to start a craft school.  In 1901, they met the Vanderbilts – Edith and George – who funded the school, and who changed the name of the school to Biltmore Estate Industries.  Over the next few years Edith Vanderbilt worked hard to develop the weaving and woodworking aspects of the school, creating a  program known for the excellent weavers it produced.  A shop was opened in Biltmore Village where the finished cloth was sold.

In 1917 Mrs. Vanderbilt sold Biltmore Estate Industries to Fred Seely, son-in-law of the owner of the Grove Park Inn, a luxurious Craftsman style inn.  The name was shortened to Biltmore Industries, and the entire operation was moved to the Grove Park grounds.

In its heyday, Biltmore Industries ran ads in magazines such as Vogue, and its quality was renowned.  Asheville was a destination for rich tourists, who would buy the fabric and take it to the many local tailors to be made into fashions appropriate for “country wear.”  The business ran 45 hand operated looms in order to fill the demand for the cloth.

The Great Depression severely hurt Biltmore Industries, and the death of Fred Seely in 1942 almost did the business in.  But it was revived in 1953 by a new owner, who ran it until 1981 when production of the cloth ended.  Today, the buildings have been restored and are used as  a craft shop and small museum.  I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never visited the museum, but that will be remedied very soon.

So what did I find?  A jacket made in the late 60s or early 70s from a medium blue homespun.  The jacket itself is rather boring, but its not the garment that is important to me, it is the fabric.  The fabric would have been bought in the Homespun Shop at Grove Park, and then the buyer would either sew it into a garment, or have a tailor make it.  Interestingly, this has a lining of Oleg Cassini print acetate, which was available in fabric shops at the time.

And it answered a question that I’ve had:  Was there a Biltmore Industries label?

An ad from 1948.  Ads were no longer in Vogue, but rather, in tourist publications.

Comments:

Posted by patti shreeve:

I worked there, in the gift shop,about 26 years ago.The owner at the time also owned the Cadillac dealership. There were still weavers, though most of the equipment was in sad disrepair. But the place was great, encouraging quotes in craftsman lettering on the walls, beautiful brass coffee urns for the workers. I don’t know about a craft school, what I heard was that Mrs. Vanderbuilt was employing Scotch-Irish immigrants who came with a knowledge of making tweeds from their previous life in Great Britain. 

Saturday, December 5th 2009 @ 4:31 AM

Posted by Lizzie:

Patti, that is so interesting. The building is still open and there is a museum. I’ve GOT to fit it into my schedule! 

There is some information on the Grovewood Galleries website: http://grovewood.com/history.php According to it, Mrs. Vanderbilt actually sent the founders of the school to Scotland to learn more about wearing from the experts there.

Sunday, December 6th 2009 @ 5:02 AM

Posted by Mod Betty / Retro Roadmap:

I knew my pal Patti would have some interesting info to share on this post, glad I forwarded it to her – I told her I always learn something reading The Vintage Traveler!:) 

Sunday, December 6th 2009 @ 6:23 PM

Posted by patti shreeve:

I told Mod Betty about the day the weavers unloaded a bunch of old raw wool and camel’s hair in my garage. I lived in Fairview at the time. The owner told the weavers to take it all to the dump and I thought I could do something with it(they didn’t want to just toss it out). I made some felt and used it for doll’s hair, I was making funky clay dolls while studying ceramics at UNC-A. Some was already spun and I could knit it.
Some was just too far gone. But I still have some. They were still taking orders for there famous tweeds. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the museum ‘tho they’ve kinda messed up the wonderful old Grove Park. 

Monday, December 7th 2009 @ 2:04 PM

Posted by Lizzie:

Oh my gosh! That is just unbelievable about the wool. I glad you were able to save it. I agree about the Grove Park. Looking at old photos of it makes me really sad. 

Mod Betty, thanks for bringing like-minded readers my way!

Monday, December 7th 2009 @ 5:34 PM


5 Comments

Filed under Advertisements, North Carolina, Textiles

5 responses to “Biltmore Industries, Asheville, NC

  1. At least you have a jacket. I have never heard of the company until now. I’m about 45 minutes away, maybe I’ll pack up the kids and head that way next week.

    Raven

    Like

  2. Hello Raven, It’s possible that the museums are closed for the winter, but the Grove Park Inn has the gingerbread houses on display and I hear those are great to see.

    Lizzie

    Like

  3. Karla

    I Have an old wool dress with a telltale Biltmore Industries label in it. If it is the wordy purple on white label, does that mean that the dress cannot be older than the 40’s? Because it sure looks old, Celluloid buttons.

    Like

  4. Pingback: Homespun Museum at Grovewood Village | The Vintage Traveler

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