1930s Chenille Bathing Suit Cover-up Cape

During a recent lucky streak, I ran across this fantastic cape, which is a bathing suit cover-up.  It is made from machine-made chenille, a fabric that started out as the product of a cottage industry in northern Georgia.  Based around the town of Dalton, Georgia, home workers began making hand tufted bedspreads to sell to travelers going south on the newly finished Dixie Highway.  A local textile mill, Crown Cotton, provided the base material, which is a heavy muslin-type fabric.  By 1910 the homeworkers were setting up stands along the highway to sell to the growing tourist travelers.

In 1917 a manufacturing process was set up. and some of the tufting was done by machine.  Hand tufting was still being done, but it was increasingly mechanized.  At first the product was just bedcovers, but by the 1920s some garments, such as bathrobes and beach wear, were also being made.

I can remember seeing the bedspread stands as a child traveling to visit relatives in the far western reaches of North Carolina and on the road to Atlanta.  Some of the designs were quite bizarre – wildly colored peacocks spring to mind.  And occasionally a stand can be spotted even today, but for the most part, the chenille factories converted to carpets years ago.

I can’t say a lot about the origin of the cape.  There is a small, handwritten label, that looks more like a collections number than anything else.  Could this cape have been in a collection before becoming a part of mine?  It is possible.

I do have two more chenille garments, one a bedjacket and the other a shorter cape.  None of them have  makers labels of any kind.

The neckline is gathered with a cotton robe tie.  There is an extra row of red chenille for decoration.

The back of the gathering.

I don’t have any photos showing a chenille cape, but I did find this jacket.  It is dated July 1939, Mountain Lake, New Jersey.

19 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Textiles, Vintage Clothing

19 responses to “1930s Chenille Bathing Suit Cover-up Cape

  1. Julia S.

    Going way out on a limb here, but is there any chance that the 6.36 on the label stands for “June, 1936?”

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  2. Jane C

    I found up a chenille bed jacket this past year. Great piece on a history I didn’t know about.

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  3. Thank you for this, Lizzie, and congratulations on such a great find! I remember growing up someone in the family had a chenille counterpane (bedspread) that had seen better days. That and it’s drab colour turned me off the fabric until recent varieties began appearing again.

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  4. remember owning a chenille bedspread a long time ago. Haven’t seen one in years. The cape certainly brought some memories back!

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  5. it does! I remember seeing Bathrobes -distinctly in a classic movie-All About Eve–actress has one on -a very elaborate design-then in /around 1978 working in fashion -we saw a designer-Sal use chenille for sweaters for a collection we featured in a fashion show-I bought one/loved it-had it for years! Your find lizzie is (I think) really good looking!

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  6. How interesting that your cover up and the one in the photo both use a chevron design–a favorite of mine. Like CurlsnSkirls and Still Lucky, I mainly associate chenille with bedspreads.

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  7. OOOO, Lizzie. That chenille cape is fabulous. I’ve never seen anything like it. And I love chenille in general. Have chenille bedspread on my bed right now and own several I switch out from time to time. I just love the colors and the patterns. I pick them up whenever I can.

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  8. kherbaugh

    Hi Lizzie, There is a great book that was just published in December, Southern Tufts: The Regional Origins and National Craze for Chenille Fashion Dec 1, 2015 by Ashley Callahan forward by Madelyn Shaw. It has fabulous picture of surviving clothing and people wearing them. ATHM has a matching toilet seat cover and bathroom rug with a green ground and a peacock in the middle of each.

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  9. I had no idea of the history of chenille, but I do love a good chenille robe, jacket and especially a cape!

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  10. Norah

    My parents’ and my beds both had chenille spreads when I was growing up. My parents’ spread had pastel flowers on white. Mine was white, and the chenille was white tufts or dots. My mom had a rose-colored chenille robe.

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  11. Pingback: A Good Shopping Day | The Vintage Traveler

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