The “Mother” Of The Carpet Industry!

The “Mother” Of The Carpet Industry!

Fine brick homes fronted by plush landscaped lawns dot the hills of Dalton, GA (also known as the carpet “capitol” of the world). The residents of this hard working community found success in “tufted” floor coverings. Tufted floor coverings (AKA carpeting) grew in popularity in the 1950’s and ’60’s.

But did you know that this mega-industry started with the production of “chenille” bedspreads? Chenille? Whether you love or hate chenille is a matter of personal taste. It is true, however, that chenille is warm, sturdy, and feels good against to skin.

Here is how it all started…

In the late 1800’s a Dalton teenager named Catherine Evans Whitener, while visiting a cousin’s home, noticed a coverlet with a weave foreign to her. Already an accomplished seamstress, she decided to reproduce the fancy embroidery, which had probably originated in Europe.

Returning home, she bought some unbleached muslin and drew a pattern on it. Then she found some thread and a large “bodkin needle”. After threading the needle, she began pulling it through, clipping each stitch with scissors. This left little “tufts” of thread. Her creation took so long to finish that the material soiled. Though worried that laundering it would ruin it, she washed it and hung it to dry in the sun. To her delight, the tufts turned to “snowy fluffs”.

By the early 1900’s, word of Catherine’s beautiful coverlets traveled to the surrounding areas resulting in many product orders for her work. Eventually, the orders piled so high that she could not handle them all, requiring her to call on the assistance of friends. Those were tough times to live in as the south was still experiencing the ravages of the Civil War. Catherine’s friends eagerly accepted her employment.

The orders kept pouring in, so Catherine recruited a relative to drive through the North Georgia countryside, delivering materials and teaching the craft to women and children. Trucks bulging with stamped sheets and other supplies for tufting chugged up the mountains to farm homes in North Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Alabama. At times, 9000 men, women, and children sat on cabin porches or around fireplaces after supper “tufting”.

The city of Dalton was lucky, in that, the Great Depression of 1929 never really had much impact on it. Rather than go to waste, empty stores served as factories for making coverlets, small bath mats, robes, and housecoats, etc. In the 1930’s, in nearby Tunnel Hill, Rhetha Quinton opened a 9,000 square foot chenille plant (which her daughter, Sue Gordon, operated until the late 1990’s). According to Sue, mechanization enhanced the trade by supplying machinery to cut pile, run yardage, sew with more than one needle, and even produce such novelties as “fabric flowers”.

During World War 2, Dalton’s mills made mostly chenille bedspreads and bath mats. The
business thrived in Dalton until after the war, when residents turned to carpet manufacturing. The mills that originally made chenille gave way to computerized technology.

The colorful, peacock-decorated fabrics one would see draped over clotheslines, flapping
in the breeze, has been replaced by signs along U.S. Highway 41, from Chattanooga Tennessee to Marietta Georgia, advertising Dalton carpets. To those with a fondness for history, this route will always be referred to by its original nickname, “bedspread alley”.

Carpet Facts:
* 90% of today’s carpet is tufted (a process that grew out of the chenille bedspread
* Dalton produces 44% of the world’s carpet (74% of the U.S. total).
* 80% of the yarn used used in the nation’s carpet industry is produced and processed
in Georgia.
* 80% of the U.S. carpet market is supplied by mills located within a 65-mile radius of
Dalton, Georgia.

Mark Stanley
Copyright 2003 Mark Stanley. All rights reserved