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Peacock Alley: A Cottage Industry


Pre-1650: Various forms of tufting & fabric decoration date back to ancient times. Decorative stitching, most likely a result of creative mending of torn fabric, is developed.

1650: American settlers bring the art of embroidery and tufting to the New World.

1700: American Colonial women begin candlewicking, using leftover bits of candlewick for tufting.

1725-1850: Candlewicking in America hits its height on the self-sufficient plantations of the South; but its popularity declines, fading out after 1850.

1860's: The industrial revolution brings various tufting and weaving machines. Textile manufacturing booms. Many young women work in American mills, particularly in the Northeast. None of this has much effect on textile manufacturing in Dalton, Georgia.

1885: Crown Cotton Mill opens in Dalton, Georgia.

1892: Catherine Evans, a twelve-year-old girl, sees a colonial candlewicked spread, a family heirloom belonging to her cousin, Milton Tate in McCuffy, Georgia.

1895: Catherine Evans makes her first spread by guessing at the methods used in the antique spread she has seen. This includes spinning a thicker yarn to approximate the candle-wicks used by colonial women. By doing this, she introduces the art of hand-tufting to Dalton, Georgia.

1898: Catherine Evans tufts a bedspread as a wedding gift to her sister-in-law, Addie (Mrs. Eugene) Evans.

1900: Catherine sells her first spread for $2.50 to a woman who has seen and admired the wedding gift given to Addie Evans.

1900-1910: Catherine Evans begins tufting spreads for various friends, neighbors and relatives. As more women see the spreads and ask for them, Catherine shows friends and neighbors how to tuft spreads. As orders overwhelm Catherine, she hires acquaintances on a per-order basis to tuft spreads for her. Catherine also devises a way to transfer patterns from finished spreads to new cotton sheets by a "stamping" method.

1910: "Spreadlines" begin as women in Dalton begin selling hand-tufted spreads "off the line" to tourists passing through town on Old Highway 41. Old 41 is now called by several nicknames including "Bedspread Boulevard" and "Peacock Alley" (so-called because of a popular peacock motif used on many spreads). Spreadlines continue to flourish even after machine-tufting overtakes hand-tufting. Spreadlines eventually die out after 1965 when I-75 is built, by-passing Highway 41. Housewives enlist the help of their spouses and children to help make the spreads.

1917: Addie Evans begins Evans Manufacturing Company, thus becoming the first woman to make an actual business of tufting in Dalton. Many other women follow suit, starting small tufting operations or retail stores. Evans Manufacturing continues under its founder until 1963, when she sells the business and retires.

1920-1930: Families and individuals open small tufting operations in sheds, unused chicken houses and small homes or spreadhouses built for the purpose. Men begin tinkering with sewing machines, modifying them for use in tufting. Shippers, clerks and salesmen in various states begin to notice Dalton's "secret" industry. Many come to Dalton to sell their wares or start businesses. In-home tufting is now a way of life for thousands in the mountains of "North Georgia."

1929: The stock market crashes and The Great Depression begins. Women in and around Dalton, who have heretofore tufted spreads as a way to earn pin money, manage to stave off economic despair by tufting spreads in their homes to supplement their families' income and help put food on the table. Men turn to the bedspread business as well, hauling spreads for Catherine Evans Whitener, Addie Evans, Cabin Craft and others.

1930-1940: Men and women open small tufting operations using single-needle Singer sewing machines modified to accomodate thick yarn. Also, a business called "Cabin Craft" begins to hire families to tuft in their homes. Men haul materials to tufters and return with completed spreads. Commercial laundries spring up around Dalton so that shrinking and fluffing can be done by machine, speeding the process; tufters can now make five spreads a day on sewing machines modified for the purpose, at about eight cents a spread. Yarn mills now spin twelve and fifteen-strand yarn to meet the demand of home tufters. A few small businesses begin tufting robes, bathmats and throw rugs using single-needle and then multi-needle table-top sewing machines. Related businesses and suppliers open in response to industry demands. The federal government legislates a minimum wage of 32 1/2 cents per hour. It is no longer feasible for Cabin Craft to hire "free-lance" hand tufters. Women go to work in local spreadhouses, using needle-punch-and-hoop machines designed by Cabin Craft.

1940-1950: By the early 1940's Georgia's tufted-bedspread business uses 30,000 bales of cotton per year, but hand-tufting is now only 1% of the industry. Even home tufters use machines. In factories, wide machines with needlebars now make it possible to tuft continuous rolls for making chenille robes. Continuous-roll tufting makes tufted carpet possible. Experiments in yarn-dyeing and carpet-backing begin. After 1945, the post-war tech boom leads to great advances in tufting technology. In 1941 the Reader's Digest article on Dalton's cottage industry appears.

1950-1960: Around 1950, nine and twelve-foot machines for tufting cotton-pile carpeting are developed. Experiments in dyes and backing begin. Cotton fibers are given over for more reliable, man-made fibers, making national (and later, international) marketing feasible. Nearly all carpets and rugs in the United States are now tufted instead of woven, thus making carpet affordable to the middle class.

1965: I-75 opens, by-passing Old Highway 41 (Peacock Alley), sending spreadlines (and spread-making) to their demise; but Dalton's economy is not harmed, as carpet has already overtaken the bedspread market. Outlet stores on I-75 spring up, taking the place of spreadlines.

1970-1980: Technology is now in place for the economical tufting of carpet. Dalton and surrounding areas boom as local residents and newcomers take advantage of the flourishing new carpet industry. By 1980, Dalton produces more than 80% of America's carpet. By 1980 dyes and backing have been perfected. Local business-owners put their feet into international waters as carpet exports begin. Dalton earns its title, "Carpet Capital of the World."

1980-1990: The housing boom creates new demand for tufted carpet products. Carpets are also used in the automobile industry. By now, Dalton carpets are known by their brand names.

By 1988: Ida Chance Whaley is probably the last person who still practices the art of hand tufting bedspreads. Mrs. Whaley, who, as a child, spun yarn for the pioneering Catherine Evans Whitener, now tufts and demonstrates the art of tufting for visitors to Prater's Mill, a local semi-annual arts-and-crafts festival.

1990-2000: Dalton's carpet-manufacturing industry consolidates: Shaw Industries, Inc., Mohawk Industries, and Beaulieu of America (all Dalton based) are now the world's largest three carpet manufacturers. By 1998, 75% of the carpet in the United States is produced in Georgia, with the bulk of that being manufactured in Dalton. Dalton ships over 1.6 billion square yards of carpet annually. During the 90's the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center is built in Dalton. Hispanics pour into Dalton as the town suffers from a labor shortage; however, the 1990 census makes a gross undercount of hispanics. The award-winning Georgia Project, implemented by the local school board in conjunction with a Dalton businessman, brings university students from Mexico to assist Dalton educators. Time Magazine publishes an article on "Capitals of the World," featuring Dalton, among other U.S. towns. The old American Threadmill burns.

2000: Only one "spreadline" now exists. Painter's Chenille, just south of Dalton, still sells spreads off the line. These bear little resemblance to the original, charming antique-style spreads. They are machine tufted using fuzzy, synthetic yarns in gaudy primary and secondary colors ~ but they do enjoy a small market. Dalton leaders push for an accurate count of illegal aliens to be taken in the 2000 U.S. census in hopes of having Dalton designated as a metropolitan area. The growth of this area is largely attributable to the carpet industry. Agreement is made for Shaw Industries to be acquired by Berkshire-Hathaway.

2001: Catherine Evans Whitener is selected as a Georgia Woman of Achievement. She is honored (posthumously) on March 29, 2001, during the 10th Anniversary Induction Ceremony, held at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia.

2002: Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway now owns 100 percent of Shaw Industries.

* "Chenille," as a technical description of Dalton's tufted spreads, is not accurate. Though our spreads became known as "chenilles," true French chenille differs from American chenille.

Back to Peacock Alley

Chenille in Film (trivia)     Folk Tufting     Carpet, Carpet, Carpet!     Works Cited


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