Sew It Yourself with Cannon Towels and Sheets

I know that half the crafters on etsy think they invented DIY (do it yourself) but here’s proof that we Seventies hippie girls were the actual inventors of repurposing.

I’m joking, of course.  Remaking textile items has been going on as long as there have been textiles.  What changed were attitudes toward remodeling old textile items.  Whereas our grandmother and mothers during the Great Depression and WWII were well acquainted with making things last, the prosperity of the 1950s made remodeling old clothing unnecessary for many.

But then, in the late Sixties, we discovered the delights of old textiles.  To get in on the action companies that made new textiles pushed using their products as crafting materials.  This poster from Cannon Mills is a great example.


There’s no date on the poster, but all the Simplicity and McCall’s patterns featured are dated 1970.  That seems right to me.  I was in the ninth grade, and I was really into these type of  Peter Max-ish graphics.  

Cannon Mills was located in Kannapolis, NC.  The town was a mill town, but was the largest of its type with around 1600 homes, a hospital and YMCA.  By 1918 the factory had become the largest producer of towels in the world.  Other Cannon factories produced sheets and kitchen linens.  At the height of the company’s prosperity, there were 30,000 employees.  Starting in the 1980s there were a series of company mergers and sell-offs, and on one dark day in 2003, the Kannapolis mill closed, putting 4340 at that mill and 3310 others out of their jobs.  The Cannon name was sold, and products with the name are now produced in Asia.


Filed under Curiosities, North Carolina, Textiles

24 responses to “Sew It Yourself with Cannon Towels and Sheets

  1. Love the colour illustration. That poster would look great framed. 🙂


  2. A very interesting blog….I never dreamed Cannon was as large as that.
    However, I should have known, because we grew up using Cannon towels….they were great, moderately priced towels.

    Love the Hippie Poster. I wonder… would you hippies get the credit for all the very pretty flower sheets that came to be…..way back then. Who knew??? Thanks!


  3. Lillace Christianson

    “one dark day in 2003, the Kannapolis mill closed, putting 4340 at that mill and 3310 others out of their jobs. “…
    It was the same sad story in small towns all over the South. Some of the old buildings are being used for antique malls, upscale apartments and lofts, etc., but the jobs that supported the communities are still gone. And we get to wear and use substandard clothing and textiles produced in some other country. WE GAVE IT ALL AWAY! I think the resurgence of vintage in clothing and home textiles is a great beginning in reclaiming our own, or at the very least, slowing down our support of other countries in their quest to gain control of our economy.


  4. Boy, I remember sewing with towels that had a woven design in a velour texture. We loved them! My first project was matching his/hers kimono style bathrobes in the ‘new’ short karate length that I sewed up in 1969–I still run across this patterned towel look at thrift stores now and then.


  5. Susan

    Lillace is right about what we lost — does anyone else remember that TV commercial with about 100 Union workers singing “Look for the Union Label, when you are buying…?” I’d love to see it on TV again. On a cheerier topic, I scrolled down expecting to see simple towel robes — the Peter Max look surprised me. I remember girls in the dorm (mid-60s) wearing a pull-over robe made from 2 fancy towels, shaped by an elastic-in-casing high waist. The pattern I bought to make a bathrobe out of towels was Simplicity 6048 — zip front, empire waist, Jiffy pattern…. the lime green robe illustrated in the middle seems to be made of towelling. Your post sent me looking for this old friend; sometimes, I love the internet. (P.S. I’m not sure any man would have loved that velour outfit in the ad, however! Imagine being a teenaged boy whose Mom made it for you, with love….)


  6. Christina

    “…slowing down our support of other countries in their quest to gain control of our economy.” An interesting perspective. Hasn’t the US has always been a participant in the competitive global free market economies? How manufacturing industries have adapted to the changing times is a bigger discussion but I think many of us who have an interest in social history and appreciate the products – in this case textiles – that were produced in towns and cities not just in the US but in other “western” countries and would love to see a manufacturing resurgence of those and other goods where quality and standards of production may be better than those which are imported. We can also choose to shop and buy locally if price is not an issue and we can support the call for changes in the working practices in countries where cheaper, poorer quality goods are produced. Major US companies have been party to these imports and they are the ones that have to address what is a moral and ethical issue as well as an economic one before change can happen.


    • Yes, to me it is just as important that the Scottish cashmere industry be saved as it is that the North Carolina denim industry be saved.

      As we can see from the union commercial, the issue of imports was already a concern to US workers in the 1970s, and that was before NAFTA and the opening of the import floodgates. They are stressing the economic effects on communities, but today we also know there are the other issues of human rights and safety and quality.

      One thing that I’ve not read is how the rise of the big discounters – Walmart, Target, Kmart… – coincided with the increase of cheap imports, the falling of quality and the desertion of local businesses. It was not a coincidence.


  7. Teresa

    I love this! 70s crafts can be such a mix bag of things but these are all great and I love how Cannon has used it as a promotional campaign.

    The Australian Women’s Weekly and several other leading women’s publications in the 70s released oodles of book on all sorts of crafts, which are pretty collectable today. Especially amongst Australian crafters.



  8. Love that poster! I am still using old textiles to create clothes and love the fact that I am not adding to our throwaway society. If you hop over to my blog you can see my current addiction to table linen……


  9. Well, I am ashamed to admit that I did nothing to keep those jobs in the US. By the seventies I was sewing with Indian bedspread–already outsourcing!


    • Yes, but then it was all about being a global citizen, was it not? You were using a product that was uniquely Indian – not Western-style textiles that just happened to be made in India. I’ve always been a believer that the heritage of a garment or textile should determine its origin – madras from India, silks from the East, wools from the UK, jeans from the US.


  10. Pingback: Sew It Yourself with Cannon Towels and Sheets |...

  11. Joelette

    That explains why a few vintage items I’ve seen remind me of bedsheets I had as a kid. I grew up an hour away from Cannon Mills, and it was always a treat to go there, then shop in Concord, and end up at the Cabarrus Creamery for ice cream!


  12. I LOVE this poster. It reminds me of so many ads in vintage Seventeen magazines that show DIY (Rit Dye, pattern companies, fabric companies).


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