Progress: Business

April 4, 2012

The story of carpet

In late 1800s, Dalton nurtured the tufted textile industry

(Continued)

Simulating the “Oriental” rug

Industrialist/retailer Marshall Field had a traditional Axminster weaving loom modified to create what no one else had ever created — a machine-made rug woven through the back, just like a handmade Oriental, featuring intricate designs and virtually unlimited color variety. Karastan’s rug mill was established in 1926, and introduced the first Karastan rugs to the public in 1928.

Alexander Smith, Bigelow, and Karastan are companies continuing today as divisions of Mohawk Industries, headquartered in Georgia.

There are many manufacturers today producing both simulations of antique designs and updated “oriental” type rugs by both weaving and tufting processes.

The tufted carpet industry: The pride of Georgia

Through the late 1800s, Dalton struggled with cotton mills and steel manufacturing works to forge a small town in the north Georgia hills. Northwest Georgia, with its hard-packed clay, poor farmland and rolling hills was among the last areas of Georgia settled. Rich in a heritage of Cherokee Indians and Civil War battles, that northern corner of the state was rugged and spawned people who were independent and self-sufficient. Those were the people who brought forth and nurtured the tufted textile industry. The industry’s infancy was in Dalton; it has gone through intense growth in Dalton; and it has now matured in and around Dalton. The carpet industry’s impact is great on this region, this state, and the nation; and the story of its growth is unique.

The beginnings

The industry began in a simple way, around the turn of the century. A young, Dalton woman, Catherine Evans Whitener, recreated a bedspread in a hand-crafted pattern she had seen, for a wedding gift. Copying a quilt pattern, she sewed thick cotton yarns with a running stitch into unbleached muslin, clipped the ends of the yarn so they would fluff out, and finally, washed the spread in hot water to hold the yarns in by shrinking the fabric. Interest grew in young her bedspreads, and in 1900, she made the first sale of a spread for $2.50. Demand became so great for the spreads that by the 1930s, local women, who were real entrepreneurs, had “haulers,” who would take the stamped sheeting and yarns to front porch workers. Often, entire families worked to hand tuft the spreads for 10 cents to 25 cents per spread. The local term for the sewing process was “turfin” for the nearly 10,000 area cottage tufters — men, women, and children. Bedspread income was instrumental in helping many area families survive the depression.

As an example of the spirit of these early entrepreneurial women, Mrs. J. T. Bates stated that she simply “shipped 15 spreads to John Wannamaker’s department store in New York. On a piece of plain tablet paper I made out a bill for $98.15 and put it in with the spreads. Although there had been no previous contact whatsoever with the store, Wannamakers sent us a check for $98.15.” Chenille bedspreads became amazingly popular all over the country and provided a new name for Dalton: The Bedspread Capital of the World.

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Progress: Business
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