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.