Southern Tufts
The Regional Origins and National Craze for Chenille Fashion

Ashley Callahan
Foreword by Madelyn Shaw

Peacock kimonos, shrimp capes, and Roy Rogers robes—southern tufted garments on the national fashion scene


“Callahan has brought us an engaging, little-known part of American textile history. This profusely illustrated book will have us all longing again for the comfort of a chenille robe.”
—Philis Alvic, author of Weavers of the Southern Highlands

Southern Tufts is appealing on many levels. Callahan blends the folksy topic of chenille and roadside America with the Colonial Revival to create a real contribution to textile history.”
—Pamela A. Parmal, curator of textile and fashion arts, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

“Callahan’s handling of this material is masterful. She braids the different threads of gender, race, class, business, and regional culture into one integrated narrative and, in the process, thoroughly contextualizes the objects and their origin and production. Southern Tufts emerges as the definitive study on this genre.”
—Dale Couch, curator of decorative arts, Georgia Museum of Art

"The book is a thoroughly researched survey of the fuzzy fabric's history, beginning with Catherine Evans Whitener, credited for reviving the art form and first commercializing it in 1895, and encompassing profiles of the northwest Georgia textile companies that produced the fabric as it rose and fell in popularity over the years. Research and history aside, a highlight of the book is the scores of photos of beautifully detailed robes, capes, coats, skirts, jackets and bedspreads made from the nubby textile."
—Suzanne Van Atten, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Callahan’s work adds detail to our knowledge of this important southern industry and contributes to our understanding of the production and consumption of fashion in the twentieth century.”
—Randall L. Patton, The Journal of Southern History

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Southern Tufts is the first book to highlight the garments produced by northwestern Georgia’s tufted textile industry. Though best known now for its production of carpet, in the early twentieth century the region was revered for its handtufted candlewick bedspreads, products that grew out of the Southern Appalachian Craft Revival and appealed to the vogue for Colonial Revival–style household goods. Soon after the bedspreads became popular, enterprising women began creating hand-tufted garments, including candlewick kimonos in the 1920s and candlewick dresses in the early 1930s. By the late 1930s, large companies offered machine-produced chenille beach capes, jackets, and robes. In the 1940s and 1950s, chenille robes became an American fashion staple. At the end of the century, interest in chenille fashion revived, fueled by nostalgia and an interest in recycling vintage materials.

Chenille bedspreads, bathrobes, and accessories hung for sale both in roadside souvenir shops, especially along the Dixie Highway, and in department stores all over the nation. Callahan tells the story of chenille fashion and its connections to stylistic trends, automobile tourism, industrial developments, and U.S. history. The well-researched and heavily illustrated text presents a broad history of tufted textiles, as well as sections highlighting individual craftspeople and manufacturers involved with the production of chenille fashion.

The footage above was shot in 1949 outside a country store along a Northwest Georgia portion of U.S. 41 known as Bedspread Boulevard (later Peacock Alley), famous for its chenille bathrobes, aprons, and bedspreads. From the Booth Williams Home Movies Collection, courtesy of the Walter J. Brown Media Archives, University of Georgia Libraries.  

Page count: 256
171 color and b&w images, 1 diagram, 2 maps
Trim size: 7 x 9

Read more about Chenille Bedspreads at the New Georgia Encyclopedia.


List price: $39.95

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Ashley Callahan has an MA in the history of American decorative arts from Parsons School of Design and the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Institution, and a BA in art history from the University of the South. Callahan, an independent scholar and former curator of decorative arts at the Georgia Museum of Art, is the author of Georgia Bellflowers: The Furniture of Henry Eugene Thomas, Modern Threads: Fashion and Art by Mariska Karasz, and Enchanting Modern: Ilonka Karasz.