Chenille bedding has been popular at various times throughout history. For the United States, chenille bedspreads and carpets came into vogue during the years of and immediately following the Great Depression. This type of bedding enjoyed a revival in the late 1950's and 1960's. Today, chenille has once again caught the attention of lovers of vintage fabric, as well as those who are going green by salvaging family treasures from the past.
Chenille Bedding - How This Caterpillar Became a Butterfly
The word chenille is French for 'caterpillar'. It refers to the long rows of tufted fabric or yarn, which gives chenille its distinctive look and feel. Although historically, the actual introduction of chenille may go back as late 1700's, its popularity in this country rose when Catherine Evans of Dalton, Georgia revived the technique in the 1930's.
Georgia storeowners took an interest in her bedspreads, gradually taking over production by sending this work out to farm families who did both the printing of the patterns and the yarn work. They returned the spreads for washing so the yarn color fixed, and the finished product then sold.
Tourists traveling to Florida could stop just about anywhere along Highway 41 through Dalton and neighboring towns and purchase the bedspreads. As creating chenille yarn and affixing it into patterns for bedding grew in popularity, a new textile industry, sorely needed, in the state arose. The process of creating chenille yarn by hand dropped away and machines took over.
In the 1940's through the 1950's, companies began to make other chenille items including bathroom sets (rugs and toilet tank covers), and larger carpets that came to the height of their popularity in the 1950's.
A 21st Century Revival
Chenille bedding is enjoying a revival thanks to the design world's incorporation of it when mixing retro-inspired bedroom furniture and pieces in modern settings. In terms of color, all white is the most popular.
Because chenille yarn is tufted and the yarn actually stands up at right angles, it gives two different looks; brushed one way and it actually appears to shimmer in the light with an iridescent quality. Brushed by hand another way and chenille appears flatter and has a more matte appearance.
For vintage chenille bedspreads, refreshed and made to look as good as new, the stopping point on the web is Coco Chenille.com. Vintage bedspreads are recycled, and sometimes just usable pieces incorporated into new bedding. They also produce decorative chenille pillows and stuffed animals.
Per the store's website, it is impossible to find vintage chenille bedspreads in a size larger than a queen-size (king size were never made in the early years hand production), and even those are rare. The most common sizes still available are twin and full size. A full size chenille spread will fit a regular queen size bed with the addition of fabric and a dust ruffle.
Caring for Chenille
Whether you purchase your chenille bedding in a department store, or go vintage, it is important to remember that chenille will only retain its look with gentle treatment. While dry cleaning is highly advisable, it is washable in a washing machine if washed and dried on gently cycle only. High washing machine agitation as well as high heat cycles can irreparably damage chenille. Vintage chenille may be made of silk yarn as well as cotton, and new chenille bedspreads and duvet covers may be backed with a polyester fill that can clump together.
While white chenille is bleachable, many of the older bedspreads are not true white but more of an eggshell color. Bleach will destroy this color and might harm the fibers of the yarn.
The absolute best thing you can do for this fabric when washing it, is to either hand wash by squeezing the soap through the fabric, or, again, washing it on the gentle cycle of your washing machine.
Chenille cannot be hung on a wash line with clothespins. It should be dried flat or, barring space issues, gently draped over a quilt rack or shower bar.