Beacon Blankets Make Warm Friends

Those of you who have been reading this blog a while know I’m interested in more than just old clothes. I also love reading about the Southern textile industry, and especially in how it operated in my state of North Carolina. Like much of the rest of the South, cotton grows in NC, though not where I live in the a bit too cool for the crop mountains. As a kid I had cousins who lived in the textile town of Gastonia, and even then I was fascinated in the difference in their way of life as cotton mill kids, and that of mine, whose father worked making paper.

Even though the Asheville area does not grow cotton, textile industries developed in the mountains after the arrival of the railroad made getting the cotton here very easy. Most of the businesses made hosiery, but there were sewing plants as well. The denim-weaving center was a few hours east by rail, and so small jeans and overall factories were scattered across the mountains.

But most of the actual spinning of cotton and production of cotton took place in the cotton growing area of the lowlands. A major exception to this was Beacon Blankets, which were made in Swannanoa, ten miles or so east of Asheville. The company actually started in the textile center of Massachusetts, but in the 1920s, the owner, Charles D. Owen, looked to the South in order to cut costs. He chose the Swannanoa River Valley, as it was undeveloped, and there was a ready and eager work force nearby. I’ve written quite a bit about the history of Beacon, and the motivations of Northern companies in their quest for cheaper production. part 1 part 2 part 3

I recently found a little brochure published by Beacon, telling consumers (and retailers) why they needed to use cotton, rather than wool, blankets. At the top is a drawing of the massive factory at New Bedford, MA. Beacon was a vertical factory, meaning that the entire process of blanket-making happened under the same roof. They collected cotton waste from other industries, reprocessed the fiber, spun the yarn, dyed it, and loomed it all in the same facility.

There’s no date on my brochure, but because it shows the facility in Massachusetts, I can assume that it was before the 1925 move to North Carolina. Another clue is the cover picture of the Indian, and the use of “Indian Blankets” in their product line listing. In 1930 Beacon was sued by the Navajo Nation because Beacon’s use of  images of Native Americans and the term “Indian Blankets” seemed to imply that the blankets were Indian-made. After 1932, Beacon had to drop the phrase “Indian Blanket” and limit the use of images that implied the blankets were Native-made.

But the best indicators of age are the lovely illustrations of people using Beacon Blankets.

Skirts (and nightgowns) are several inches off the floor, and most of the women still have long hair.

The illustrations show the loose waistline of around 1919 to 1921.

It’s very slightly raised in some of the pictures, as you see in garments just before the waistline dropped to the hips in the later 1920s.

Beacon not only made blankets, they also manufactured what they called robe cloth. It was a bit lighter weight than the blankets, and was sold to both robe manufacturers and to home sewers. If you look in a vintage mail order catalog, it is likely you find both the finished robe and the robe cloth yardage for sale.

If you watch old movies and television shows, it’s quite likely that you’ve seen Beacon robes in action. Last night an early 1960s episode of The Andy Griffith Show was playing, and Floyd the Barber was wearing one of the best Beacon robes I’ve ever seen. Of course, by 1960s, his robe was terribly old-fashioned, which was the point.

 

16 Comments

Filed under Textiles

16 responses to “Beacon Blankets Make Warm Friends

  1. That’s a wonderful find. Beacon made beautiful textiles, and achieved special ombred color effects with their weaving that remain unique to their blankets!

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  2. jacq staubs

    Love Pendleton products! Remember them from my fashion office days . Yes! The “Indian” blankets . Fantastic! Thank you – never knew the sold the cloth. Floyds’ robe would bring a fortune now! Wonder why RALPH did not pick up on them!? In the 70’s there was a resurgence of “Indian” motif in R T W. Perry Ellis / maybe it was Ralph…I recall the moccasins / belts and sweaters. Love the ad/illustrations. I would love to have any/ all of it now! Thank you Lizzie!

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  3. jacq staubs

    PS Forget Floyds’ robe! I want the robe – I want the gentleman’s robe in the illustration!

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  4. Great post! Have you read this book? I think you would find it fascinating…https://www.amazon.com/Most-They-Ever-Had/dp/1441707859 . there are also some great videos on youtube about the cotton mills…here’s one that I like, (I grew up in Greenville) . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2XX1MIZyHiE . Wendy

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  5. Thanks for this bit of history, Lizzie!
    Happy Holidays to you and yours!
    🎅🏻 🎄 ☃️

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Connie

    Thanks for all your interesting work on this blog. I really enjoy it.

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  7. I own….three Beacon robes, two blankets and have owned/worn through more. I blame the television show “ThirtySomething” for the first one, and ever since it’s just the thing I’m always looking for on eBay. I’m presently shopping for one for my son as a graduation gift from college. They are so nicely woven and so very cozy,

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  8. I was intrigued by the name Swannanoa, so I looked it up. It’s a variation of Shawnee. (Maybe Swanee/Sewanee, too?) Or maybe it’s Cherokee for “shining river.” I also learned that it’s the name of a mansion in Virginia, not connected to the Beacon textile baron. (There are mansions like that all over. Each was built by the richest guy around (hometown boy makes good, in many cases) with the finest materials and electric light, central heat, etc. I wonder if there is a travel guide that lists all of them?)

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  9. I think I’ve seen the Beacon robes in pop culture from time to time. I wonder if they had ties with tassels at the end. I recall that and also the colors and patterns. Just never knew what they were called. I can think of two that I saw in TV shows (long ago).

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