"Talking Textiles: Bedspread Memories from Gordon County"
Program in conjunction with Peacock Alley exhibit
20 September 2009
Gordon County Historical Society
Donald Davis, Professor of Sociology, Dalton State College
Polly Burnette, Calhoun resident
Norma Mincey, Calhoun resident
Informal presentation by Dr. Davis followed by conversations with former bedspread tufters (at front) and families of mill owners (in audience)
James W. Lay, president, Gordon County Historical Society: It's a pleasure to see everybody, especially if you haven't been to the historical society. There are materials upstairs as well. You may go upstairs to look at some of the treasures we've borrowed. We're pleased that some members of the community have had such a good time pulling out grandma's treasures. It's been a labor of love for both Jane [Powers Weldon] and Ed[ward Weldon], and we appreciate the interest and enthusiasm.
I've had the pleasure of knowing Dr. Davis for a while. He came to town in 2002 and made a presentation on one of his books when the society met at the arts center. He has written six books, Homeplace Geography: Essays on Appalachia; The Land and Ridge and Valley: A Photographic History of the Northwest Georgia Mountains-and that's the one he did the presentation for at the arts center; the award-winning Where There Are Mountains: An Environmental History of the Southern Appalachians, and others. He is interested in chestnut trees; he's a man of many interests. I had the pleasure of working with him and going to some of the Appalachian schools as we were looking at the Appalachian history of our area that Dalton College has opened a department for, and we are so pleased that he is-he's a Fulbright Scholar, and the main thing is that he's a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable person. It is such a pleasure that you have come down to be with us. I want you to come back to the historical society and tell us more about those trees because he can plant the trees for us, an interesting sideline in addition to other interests. Today he's going to discuss "Talking Textiles: Bedspread Memories from Gordon County." Thank you so much for coming. Don Davis.
DD: Thanks so much for that introduction. Several people have asked me, what do I know about textiles? Well, having grown up in North Georgia, there's just almost no way you can avoid knowing something about textiles. My situation is a little bit unique in that my grandparents on my mother's side actually came from Chicago in 1942 to Dalton, to what today is Morris Avenue, right across from what is today World Carpet. They were of German ancestry, Alsatian, spoke fluent German in the home. They didn't like to tell too many people in the 1940s they were German, so not a lot of folks knew they were of German ancestry. When we would have Sunday dinner with them, we would hear them speak fluent German to each other, and of course they would speak "Georgian" to us children.
My grandparents, Anna and Ed Kioebge, ran a textile business in Dalton, Georgia, from 1942 until 1968. That textile business was called Anita Textiles, named after my mother, Anita, who is still alive and well today. They were sort of jobbers, who would take the bedspreads, chenille products, and ship them up north, usually to Chicago, because they had originally come down from Chicago in 1942. My mom graduated in 1948, class of Bob Shaw, from Dalton High; she did some inspecting at some of the plants as a teenager. She was a chenille bedspread inspector; she did that awhile, and then she met my dad, who was a Marine in the Korean War. They got married and moved up to Catoosa County, where I grew up, graduating from Ringgold High. And of course, living in North Georgia, there's just no way you can escape textiles and bedspreads and things like that.
More recently, I've had the opportunity of meeting a lady whom some of you may have heard about. I was hoping she'd come today, but I don't see that she's here. If any of y'all have seen the old photograph taken by Doris Ulmann of the woman stamping a bedspread with the wooden mallet and a piece of fatback or meat skin, that photograph was taken of a woman by the name of Ethel May Stiles, of Ringgold. Doris Ulmann, who was perhaps America's greatest photographer, at least in the first half of the twentieth century-she's certainly the greatest Depression-era photographer-came through North Georgia in the 1930s, just before she passed away in 1934, and stopped at Ringgold and took a photograph of this family doing bedspreads. Thirty of those photographs have survived today and are at the University of Oregon. We're going to try to get some of those reprinted. The Vanishing Georgia series has some of those as well, but they're copies of copies of copies. We're going to try to get them printed from the original negatives.
The interviewing . . . this week . . . I've interviewed her once and am going to talk with her about the whole bedspread-making process. [Frances Stiles Whitener, Ethel May's daughter, who was also photographed by Ulmann.] So as I got more interested in the history of chenille bedspreads and the whole textile business in northwest Georgia, I came across a book that was published by the Russell Sage Foundation in 1937. This book was written by probably America's greatest folklorist, by the name of Allen Eaton, and the reason that those photographs by Doris Ulmann were sent to Oregon is because Allen Eaton graduated from the University of Oregon in 1905, and he requested that her photographs be placed at the University of Oregon. The reason that Eaton and Ulmann knew each other is that he was a fan of her work, and he asked her to go around the southern Appalachians and take photographs of people doing handicrafts, everything from making baskets to making brooms to making bedspreads, and back in the 1920s and '30s, bedspread-making was still considered a handicraft, still considered sort of a folk craft, although obviously by that time you were starting to see machine-made bedspreads as well.
So what I'm going to do for you folks is to read a section of this book published in 1937, where he describes the candlewick bedspread industry in North Georgia, and I think most of you are going to be proud that he focuses a lot of attention on Gordon County. The title of this section is "Candlewick and Other Bedspreads."
The most concentrated home industry and the one employing the largest number of workers in the Southern Highlands is the candlewick bedspread industry, which, as said earlier, has experienced a remarkable development in northern Georgia, where innumerable families are engaged, some members working at it continuously. The ride from Dalton through Calhoun to Cartersville, Georgia, is a most picturesque one, with hundreds of bright tufted bedspreads flying from farmhouse clotheslines on both sides of the highway like banners of many colors. They have foundations of white, cream, yellow, green, tan, blue, red, pink, rose, and peach, and are tufted in harmonizing colors, often with an occasional crude design in many hues. But even these at a distance are attractive in the breeze. The countless spreads displayed are but a fraction of the output of the rural homes, for many of the occupants are under contract with commercial firms to supply them on a wholesale basis, and these in turn are sold in department stores throughout the United States. A large firm with headquarters at Dalton, it is said, at one time shipped out 1,000 spreads each morning. (Allen Eaton, Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands , 225)
Probably the Rauscheberg plant, which employed, I think, several thousand employees in 1934.
J. Cooper Morcock Jr, does anybody know that name? I'd like to find out more about him. Does anybody know who J. Cooper Morcock was? He was the county agent in Gordon County in the 1930s, and he apparently wrote a little pamphlet where he wrote some information about the bedspread industry in Gordon County at that time. Eaton thought it was important enough that he would reprint that in his book. Here's what he has to say about Gordon County:
There are more than 2,000 farm families in this county And in 90 per cent you will find some member of the family doing bedspread work which they call tufting. It consists of working designs on sheeting with tufting yarn, which is coarsely spun cotton of many strands, about one-quarter inch in diameter. The sheeting on which a design is stamped is obtained from local dealers or bedspread companies. The women and girls, and in many instances the men when they are not otherwise occupied, tuft the design with the various colored yarns.
In addition to the rural families, there are scores of people in town at work. The completed bedspreads are disposed of through bedspread companies, and many hundreds of articles including bath mats, spreads, curtains, etc., are displayed along the highway and sold at what you might call a curb market to the tourists who travel this road. (Eaton, 225, quoting Morcock)
I've never seen a chenille curtain. Has anyone seen a chenille curtain? That's a new one to me. [Heads in audience nod "yes."]
So that's Mr. Morcock. Let me go back and continue with what Eaton is
saying about the candlewick bedspread industry. He goes on to say that
While the tufting is done in a large variety of patterns, some very attractive designs are "made up" by members of the family. And these occasionally prove to be the best sellers on the clothesline. Recently the pattern of an attractive candlewick spread of white tufting on a white background was designed by the grandmother of the household and executed by her daughter. The grandson also liked to work things out his way, and he drew a small peacock in a few simple lines to use as decoration for a child's apron. [So it sounds like we might have some evidence that the first peacock was a single peacock on a child's apron.]
Incidentally the peacock seems to be a favorite motif, usually two birds facing each other, with all their natural colors portrayed by the tufting yarns and often many more. Where the design originated no one seems to know. (Eaton, 225-26)
So he's referring to the double peacock. No one seems to know the origin of that,
but almost everyone uses it and presumably sells it. It seems perhaps [now this is Eaton, folks, so don't shoot the messenger!] the least tasteful of any of the designs because of its elaborate form and its variegated colors.
Another type of bed covering belonging to the same classification is the knotted spread, one in which the base may be the same as or similar to that used in the candlewick spread, but the design is put on in knots or loops and remains so. It is often spoken of as a tufted spread, but the material is not cut and frayed as in the candlewick. Bird in the Tree is a favorite design and a good example of a knotted spread. (Eaton, 226)
Eaton goes on to talk about the relationship between the tufting and the early candlewick, which goes back to the colonial period when it was more embroidering and knotting designs in a particular spread pattern. So that's Mr. Eaton. I think he tells us not only how important the bedspread industry was to home crafts in the 1930s. He's really saying that it's something we all should educate ourselves about. Notice that he says that this is something that belongs to all of North Georgia, not to necessarily one particular area. Certainly candlewicking was being done from Ringgold to Cartersville.
Now as I'm researching Eaton, the second document I want to share with you before we stop and really get things going is a booklet that was published by the federal government in 1935. This might be one of only two copies left in Georgia, in the original version. This was put out by the U.S. Department of Labor, the Women's Bureau, in 1935. Believe it or not, they sent dozens and dozens of people through the Appalachians specifically looking at home crafts. In this book they document everything from how long the tufting should be, according to the spread, whether or not the sheeting was a 64-64 or a 60-60, how long the yarn might be to be cut through the spread. It's almost frightening how detailed they are- even looking at how much time the spread making-as well as how much each person was being paid, right down to piece work and that sort of thing.
In summarizing the data, it looks as if almost 8,000 people were directly or indirectly employed in the bedspread industry in North Georgia in 1935. And just sales alone, when you accumulate all the sales of all the different industries, it was about a $1.5 million-dollar business. Again, this is going from Catoosa County down to Bartow County, a large area. Fortunately-and this is going to be one of my next side projects-those women and men who came to interview all the folks involved in the candlewick bedspread industry, those interviews have been preserved. They're in the National Archives, record group 86, and a lot of that work has already been done for us. If you read a book called Selling Tradition, which is a look at the tradition of folk crafts, written by Jane Becker, she went to the National Archives and got a lot of this data, looking at the specific interviews with the women involved with the textile bedspreads.
That's really all I wanted to say as your speaker today. The real reason I'm here, and what I want to do, and that's why I entitled this "Talking Textiles," is I want to sit down, and I want to have those folks who really know about bedspread making, who really know about the textile industry, to share their wisdom with you.
The first person I'm going to introduce to you is Polly Burnette. I'm going to have a conversation, and then we're going to open this up to the whole community; I'll facilitate this discussion, and we'll get all of you involved. Whoever wants to contribute will contribute, and I'm going to facilitate, because I really want this to be a community conversation, not just some professor lecturing you today. Is that okay?
All right, let's get started.
PB: Yes, Don.
DD: Jane has interviewed you, and all that interview was transcribed. I've read through it, and it was very interesting, fascinating. It was probably three or four pages, single spaced, of information. One of the things that amazed me that you told Jane is that you could do twenty spreads in a day. Can you tell us a little bit more about how that was possible?
PB: Yes, it didn't have much work on it. [Laughter] It had a bolster, which is the top, that goes over the pillow, and it had a border, and it had some little curls in the center. So that's all there was to it.
DD: Now did the sheeting come to you already stamped, already stamped and ready to be tufted?
PB: They did after a while, but at first, we had to stamp our own. We didn't have a table that was big enough, and we had to do it in the floor. Of course, I was younger then, and I could get down and then up. [Laughter] But then we had to take a, well, Mother used most of the time a pie pan with meat skin on that, and everywhere there was a pattern, like that, it would come through on that.
DD: So the design was cut into the pie pan, and then you would lay it out on your bedspread.
PB: Yes, we would-the pie pan was just a regular pie pan, and you greased the bottom of that with the meat skin, and when that went across those little knobs under there, the stitches, it came through and made a dark pattern. It wasn't hard to do that. Then after a few years, they started- [A completed spread was places upside down on a table or floor and covered by a plain piece of sheeting, which was then rubbed with a greased pie pan. The grease stained a new pattern on the sheeting when it rubbed over the raised knots on the reverse of the original spread. The pie pan had not had a design or pattern cut into it.]
DD: They went to something different, right? Instead of using fat, they used something similar to lead?
PB: Yes, they did use lead, and then after, at the last of it, they used some kind of blue wax. When we started, we had to use the pie pan or the lead.
DD: Do you mind my asking what year that was? Would it be the early or the mid thirties?
PB: It would be in the early thirties, because, let's see, I was about eight years old, I guess, when I could help her with that. I was born in '23.
DD: Now was this something that you did voluntarily to help mom out, or was that one of your chores that you had to do?
PB: Well, we all pitched in and did it. And when we went to school-and we didn't call it "tufting," we called it "turfing." It had an "r" in it-and then she would do the stitches in daytime between cooking and chores, and at night my job was to clip. If you clipped a hole and it couldn't be mended, you bought it. [Sympathetic murmurs.]
DD: Did you buy it or just lose the labor part?
PB: No, they sold it to you.
DD: Did they give you a discount?
PB: I don't remember. [Laughter] I know we didn't get much for them to start with.
DD: There is some-I know Eaton mentions this in his book, and I've read about it other places-some of the men folk weren't always so happy about the women folk doing this, because you wouldn't necessarily get your meals at the same time, and you wouldn't get your helpers in the garden, and things like that. Did you sense in your family at all any kind of anxiousness on the part of the men folk?
PB: My daddy was an invalid for years. He had some kind of paralysis, and he couldn't do very much, so we never had any complaints like that. But now, other families could have.
DD: But you didn't see anything.
PB: No, I didn't see anything from my family.
DD: Who was your hauler? Did you have a hauler that brought you the spreads, or not?
PB: Yes, a Mrs. Whitfield and her son brought them.
DD: And where were they taken? What hauler was working for which spread house?
PB: There was a Mr. Moore, I think, that had a place down there in back of the [Gem] theater on the other street [Park Avenue]. They would go and get so many spreads, and they would get so much yarn, and they would bring it, and you had so long to get it finished, and they'd come back and pick them up.
DD: About once a week?
DD: Now, we'll come back to you Polly, so don't go away, but I want to get Norma in on the conversation, too.
NM: She's doing good!
DD: Yes, she's wonderful. I want to hear from you a little about-in your interview, you seemed to know a lot about being able to distinguish between hand-tufted and single-needle stitching, machine-made stitching. For us novices out there who may not know the difference, how do you determine whether or not something was truly hand tufted versus some [done] with the single needle?
NM: If it's hand tufted, you can see single little dots, so to speak, that are stitches.
DD: Can you see that on the back side?
NM: Yessir. If it's done with a machine, it's a continuous row, just one row. That's the way it was turned out on a single needle machine. But of course gradually it grew to six needle, eight needle, twelve needle, and then of course it got to the continuous, big base of the bedspread.
DD: Did you do any hand tufting yourself, when you were young?
NM: Many, many of the hand-tufted bedspreads.
DD: And did you use a single needle, or did it have a curve in it?
NM: I used both. The double-fluff needle had a curve in it. The double fluff needle was wider than a regular tufting needle. And by the way, we didn't say "tufting," we said "turfing." [Laughter] A regular tufting needle is only about that long [four inches or so], and it has a gauge in the front of it, I think three-quarters of an inch per stitch. You used that gauge to gauge your stitches. If you had your spread over your lap here, and you were turfing, you could use your arm just like that, that's the way you'd do it, right on down the line, and then you'd get a whole bunch of stitches on your needle, and then you'd pull your needle through, and then your thread might be halfway across, that long, and then you'd pull it on through, and straighten it out, and pull your spread on over, and go further with it.
DD: Did you work mostly with one sheet of muslin, or did they ever have double layers?
NM: Just one layer.
DD: Now when Mrs. Ulmann came through and made those photographs of Ethel May Stiles, she is wearing what you might call thimbles, made out of inner tube and denim. Did you use those as well?
NM: Heavy ducking. You'd make a great big one to fit 'round this way, just right around there, and then you'd have different kinds, you're talking about an old inner tube, or whatever, heavy ducking, anything heavy and thick, and you'd make a covering, just to fit right down in there [in hand] like a big thimble. Heavy, real heavy, because this hand is going to be here, where this needle goes under the spread, while this is on the top side, and this hand is going to be down here, and you have to watch out, or you'll have your finger caught with the needle right quick.
DD: What did you call those things? Did you have a word for them? Mrs. Stiles called them stalls. I was kind of curious whether or not that was a regional thing, or particular to their family.
NM: I don't remember names for them. We just knew what they were, and picked them up and went to work. [Laughter]
DD: But you made them yourselves.
NM: Yessir. Everyone had their own individual one.
DD: You did a lot of work with the Muse spread house, is that right? Out in Sugar Valley?
DD: Where was that exactly, in Sugar Valley? Was it on the Hill City side, or closer to Calhoun?
NM: From here, when you cross the railroad into Sugar Valley, there was the big Muse house, out to the left, off the road a little bit, and then, I believe the first thing you came to on the left there, if you went straight, not make the turn (the old road used to turn and go up the railroad, that way). Now the road goes straight [unintelligible; train going by] . . . just past the big Muse house.
DD: What time period are we talking about, when you visited there a lot, mid or late thirties, or early forties?
NM: From 1936, four years, '36, '37, '38, '39.
DD: So they would send a hauler, and then you would take it back, or you would go directly?
NM: We didn't have a hauler there. We had had a hauler earlier in life. When I lived at Oostanaula, we had a hauler, like Polly was talking about. At Sugar Valley, we took them backwards and forwards. My dad took them down to what we called the Valley. Because he'd be going down for different things anyway, and sometimes maybe the boys, my brothers, might take them down. But we took our own to and from.
DD: Norma, I'll come back to you, but now I'm going over here to Polly. Polly, can you tell approximately how much you would make per spread?
PB: Well, on the day that I made twenty spreads, I got five cents apiece. That's on a good day. But the spreads didn't pay, sometimes ten, fifteen cents each, like the double wedding ring and things like that. They got more for that. It's heavier, and it takes longer.
DD: That's one of the things I noticed in this federal government document. They categorized ten or twelve different styles, and some of these are very hard to make. Did you have a choice of what type of pattern you wanted, or was it pretty much whatever they gave you?
PB: I think it was just about whatever they needed.
DD: So you couldn't say, "I like doing wedding rings; send me some wedding rings."
PB: And Mother did make wedding rings. She was better at it than I was, because she would make heavier spreads than I could. I never did try one. I've got one started, but I've got arthritis in my arms so bad that I can't pull it through, so I don't know whether I'll ever get it done or not.
DD: Did you hear me ask Norma about the thimbles that they wore on their hands? Did you also have the-
PB: I did, I did. And you made them out of denim-old [coverall] legs or something, and you doubled them, and you put them together. Because that was what you pushed with, and it had to be something that was thick enough that the needle didn't go through. And then you had a piece of rubber, like an old piece of inner tube or something, to make that thimble that went on your fingers where you could put your needle. Yes, I had one.
DD: Who supplied the needles? The needles would be something that you had to buy, right? or-
PB: As far as I know we didn't buy our needles. I can't remember him ever bringing any.
DD: Now were you aware at all of how much the spreads sold for in the department stores? Did you have an idea in general?
PB: No, no. Now Mother made some spreads for a lady that had a spread line of her own, you know, and she'd put them on the spread line. I can't remember how much she got, but she got so much for selling them and taking care of them, because if you put them on the line and it came up a shower of rain, they had to work to get them in sometimes, and sometimes they were left out. As far as [prices], I can't remember. That's been quite a while, and my memory's not as good as it used to be.
DD: Did you launder any of the spreads yourselves, or did you not have to worry about that end of it?
PB: Mother had to, some of the heavy ones.
DD: And did she do it in the big iron pot?
PB: Um-hmm, and then she hung them on the line. On some of them you hung them on the line and let the dew-let them get damp, and then you took a, something, and hit them with that. That helped fluff it up. Once that thread gets in that fabric and gets wet, you can't pull it out, hardly. The fabric draws up to the thread.
DD: And before it draws up, the threads are just lying there. They don't look anything like what you see here, right?
PB: Well, it's not exactly lying, because you pick up enough on the bottom that it holds it in there. It's not tied.
DD: I think at this point, if you don't mind, we're going to throw it out to you folks out there, and see if you have any questions, specifically. Anyone want to ask Polly or Norma any specific questions?
Jim Lay: How long did it take to make one?
NM and PB, mingled: It depended on the pattern, of course. Some could be made quickly, and others, it might take you a week to make one.
Audience: How much might you get for the more elaborate designs?
PB: It's hard to remember that.
DD: Let me give you an idea, here; I can actually tell you. They list patterns A through J. Without going to the federal archives, there's no way of knowing what those patterns are, but eventually we'll figure this out.
If the yarn weight is four ounces, and there are eleven workers, the time required to lay out a pattern, tuft it, and hem the spreads would be one hour and forty minutes, and the list or the slip price would be twenty-five cents [Price paid the worker the haulers used is twenty cents.] Average hourly earnings received from, eleven cents. Work received from one hauler, eight cents. (Bertha Nienburg, Potential Earning Power of Southern Mountaineer Handicraft, Bulletin of the Women's Bureau. No. 128. [Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1935], 48)
It looks like you're talking about dimes, quarters, and the spreads themselves were selling for, generally, $2.50 in the department stores in New York, about $2.50 apiece. Denise?
Denise Arnold: When you were hand tufting, did y'all work with the peacock at all; were people already doing peacocks then? Did they come out white, or were they colored, or do you know anything about the peacock design? When it came along, or when you first saw it, or [unintelligible]?
DD: When did you first see a peacock on a bedspread?
PB: Well, I don't know how long, but I know there were peacocks from Dalton to Adairsville, everywhere you went. [Laughter] This right here [points to spread hanging near her] is the original peacock. There were two that faced each other. They had several patterns, but this-and this was made on a machine-most all of the peacocks that I had any dealings with were this. There were not too many hand-tufted, or turfed, peacocks that were put out like that. There were more spreads something like that one there in the corner [white one]. We might get fifteen or twenty cents for that one over there. That was about the price.
DD: Norma, when did you first encounter a peacock? Did you ever make a peacock in your home?
NM: No, I never did. I never saw one that I recall at all until we began to make them on the single needle, and then I made many on the single needle. All kinds of colors.
DD: Usually the two facing each other, or facing the sides? Paul?
Paul Shofner: J. D. Meadows told me himself that he drew the first double peacock, when he worked at C. M. Jones. He was working for C. M. Jones and for Highway Arts and would walk from one to the other. He told me that he . . . machine peacocks. I don't know [laughter]. . . .
Aud: When you all were working as turfers, what was your schedule for the day? You got up, you ate breakfast, and then you started turfing right away? Was that mostly what you did all day, even as children? Did you go out to play, and then you were called in?
PB: No, are you asking me? We had chores to do at home. We lived in the country, and we farmed, and when we had spare time is when we did this. Then when we were in school, we would come home from school and get our chores done, and we would work, help Mother with that after school.
DD: Norma, what was your schedule like? Did you get up and start tufting right away, or did you wait awhile?
NM: No, I never got into turfing until after I finished the breakfast dishes. Mama would cook dinner, and we would mostly turf in between the breakfast dishes time and time for her to start the dinner, which was the noon meal at that time. We'd just work in-between times. It really didn't take away from our farm chores or anything, because those were the necessaries. The turfing was a means of income, but it was secondary to our farm chores.
Aud: Did one person work on one bedspread, and-two people didn't work on the same bedspread, did they?
PB/NM[?]: You can.
DD: I want to ask you folks some things. Before I leave today, I want to hear a little bit about some individuals that I've been reading about. You ladies can answer this as well. Anybody know much about old Doc Boston? Is the Chitwood family here today? [Yes] Good. I want to hear some about Thurman Chitwood. Owens Manufacturing Company? Anyone know much about Owens? [Silence] Mount Alto?
Aud: Mount Alto was Dr. Boston's company. I remember Dr. Boston. I don't think he was active in the business then.
JL: His two sons-in-law. Willie [his daughter] and her sister [Edna] started it, as I understand. They started it on the hill above the fire hall there, in their garage. And then when Mr. Brown came to Calhoun-Tom Brown was a schoolteacher-he married [Willie]; one of the most beautiful wedding presents was a bedspread that Ben Goldman gave them. Dr. Boston got started, and then Mr. [Luke] Spink, the other son-in-law, ended up with the laundry business. They divided up the business, and Mr. Brown kept the other, is my understanding.
NM: My first job was there at Mount Alto, right there on South Wall.
DD: So your first job in a spread house was at Mount Alto.
JL: Was that upstairs over Lay's Ten-cent Store?
NM: No, down on South Wall Street, where the brick buildings are now.
JL: Mr. Brown had it at one time up over what is now Wall Street Trading Co., and then he was up over Lay-Hall Grocery later on, too, so he moved around. Then he built the big building down there.
DD: There were at least two distribution centers in Rome, Georgia. Some of the Calhoun folks, I think, got haulers coming in from Rome, and then they would send the spreads back to Rome. Did you ever have any dealings with any Rome spread houses? Mostly Sugar Valley and Calhoun?
PB: Yes, Sugar Valley and Calhoun. Now Mother made spreads for a lady in Rome, and they were those heavy, heavy things. I don't remember her name.
DD: McCain, was that Mrs. McCain? [The Rome tufting centers were Dellinger Spread Company and Fred R. Prater's spread house.]
PB: I don't know how much she got, or anything, but she got paid better than [unintelligible]. . . .
Aud: When and why did you change from "turfing" to "tufting"?
DD: How long did they use the word "turfing," and when did they change-or did they ever change?
PB: Yes, it finally went out. [Laughter] But the machines like Norma said-I went to work for Jack Boston [Dr. Boston's son], over Lay-Hall Grocery Store, but I had to learn to operate the machine before they would hire me. I went to Mr. Deaton-he had a machine that you could learn on, and I went two nights, and the next day I went up there, and Rufus Neal gave me a job. I could make production, so from then on, it was peafowl and other things made on a machine. That was about, let's see, '40, or '39, or something like that when I went to work.
Aud: Did you use a treadle machine? Or electric?
PB: Yes, [flip tape] . . . things, and you had a pedal, kinda' like a sewing machine, best I remember, that you started and stopped. Yes, it was electric.
JL: Ed Lacy was over in Fairmount, doing the factoring, too.
NM: And I'll bet you some of these men in here have been mechanics.
DD: To come to the sheeting itself, the muslin sheeting, I've heard different stories about whether it was made locally or shipped in from even abroad. Have you any recollection of where the muslin sheeting came from?
NM: I don't know where they got it from. I just know that it came in on humongous rolls.
PB: I believe they made some of that at Echota Cotton Mills. I've heard they did. But otherwise, I don't know.
JL: Mescal, do you know where your daddy [Thurman Chitwood] got it?
Mescal Chitwood Medders: He got it from Bibb [unintelligible] Macon, Bibb Manufacturing Co. I mean, at one time. He may have bought it other places, earlier than that.
Jean Cox: Wasn't there a mill in Shannon back then?
General conversation: Rome . . . Georgia made, mostly.
Aud: The way the machine worked, with a card; it was done with a punch card. It was a lead in to the early computers; you used a punch card, like an IBM computer. That's the way the broadlooms made the pattern.
Aud: How did you make-how did the machine work that you could make the pattern? [unintelligible]
Aud: What these sewing machines were doing was just sew a regular sewing stitch, and they had the attachment that would come in and cut between them every time the stitch was done so it was just a bigger [?], a bigger needle.
Aud: How were they controlled? What made the pattern?
Aud: They stood there by hand and guided it. I don't know about the sheeting, the lines, and that kind of thing, but with the peacock, they always were following a pattern.
Aud: And that [?] that cut it loose was thanks to the Muse brothers.
Aud: Yes, that was the real kicker.
[Much garbled conversation, all talking at once.]
Aud: Making mops; they used this technique to make dust mops, too. The machine came from Broad Street machines in Chattanooga, and they were used in the tufting, in the carpet industry, but it used the same principle; it was just making a different [?].
JPW: At the arts center in a couple of cases, we have some of the curved and straight needles that came from the Chitwood family, and we have an old needle with a gauge on the tip that Polly lent us. We have some of the stamping blocks-stamping irons, they called them-that were kinds of crayons on a piece of wood.
Aud: Indigo and wax.
DA: There is a great deal of interest from some friends of mine, some people in Dalton, that want to make a spread themselves, but you can't get the twelve-ply cotton yarn any more, you can't get the unbleached muslin, so if anybody has a source, has an amount, has any [?], we might come and get it and make one, just to say we did it.
Aud: Doris has some stamped.
Doris Blaylock: I have some stamped; it hasn't been made; it's out in my car.
I also have a single peacock that my mother-in-law gave me before she passed away, and I've got her needles out there. It's actually sewn on the bottom; she had to piece it. She did this peacock design. I loaned it to Linda when they put up in the battle thing. I have it with me. She hand did it. She gave me all her needles and everything, because I was the only one in the family that was interested in anything like that. [?] . . . I have that I bought at an estate sale thirty years ago. The lady was so disappointed because she had gone around to all these companies thinking that they still had these machines that would run them off. One of them is stamped for a machine, she said, and one of them was stamped to hand turf.
Linda and I [?] try our hand at it [ ?] have several, but I brought two with me. I have two out in the car that are actually stamped from nineteen [thirty?] something.
JL: Tell them about your scissors.
JPW: We have a pair of shears, almost-that are operated this way [hand parallel to surface] instead of this way [conventional scissoring motion]-in a case at the arts center. They were invented by a North Georgian, a man from Murray County, who invented the spring action that makes them easier to use.
Aud: Were they hand tooled?
JPW: Yes, he had an old piece of equipment that he used for material.
DD: Any other questions, while we have all this knowledge here? Well, since we have Denise Arnold here, and we have Doris Blaylock here; if we can-I know Denise has some stuff in her car-just bring it all up and put it out on the table here. I have some Doris Ulmann photos; I have the federal government book here, so let's just keep this conversation going in an informal way. We also have a reception.
JPW: We have a reception, and there are also questionnaires that I'd appreciate your filling out when you have a chance.
DD: Let's thank. . . . [Applause]
JL: First, let's have a report from the Chitwood family to see how Thurman Chitwood got into the business.
Mescal Chitwood Medders: Well, I think the first way he got into it was like a hauler, for his aunt, Daphne Caldwell.
DD: Is that Mrs. Fred Caldwell?
MCM: Yes. He started doing that, but this is just what I remember. I think he soon saw that the easiest thing would be to buy the yarn and the sheeting and sell it, so he built a building for that purpose. He would have the sheets rolled off on these huge tables. The fabric would come-I'm not sure if it was in rolls, but it seems to me it was in folds. They would tear the sheets and fold them, and people would come there and buy it [direct]. I think he also took them [spreads] in and sold them, but I don't remember that part. My sister might.
Nita Chitwood Smith?: We/he had a spread house, and-before I was born, thirty-six [?], and [general conversation and laughter]
DD: How much did you sell them for, do you know?
NCS: No, I was just a [much laughter].
DD: If you had to give a percentage, what percent of these buyers were Yankees, and what were southerners, and-did most people buy them coming from Illinois and New York and Michigan?
[More general conversation]
Aud: She says 75 percent of them were Yankees.
Ed Weldon: Jane has on one of the panels there that the people in North Georgia found it was easier to pick Yankees than cotton [laughter].
Aud: What is the price of these today, say a museum price?
DD: Denise? Are you there? Denise has a collection of thirty or more peacocks that she buys mostly on ebay, so value-wise, museum quality versus ebay quality, can you tell us?
DA: Well, something like these right here, people would make, [?] going for $450. [ whistles] Now I bought this one myself, it's made [?] $50. And it's made from [?] You just have to know enough about [?] price, there's a lot of synthetic yarn out there. It's not what you would want. That's the one question you really want to ask, if you're trying to get one. But there are pictures, if you have any kind of pictures of the backs, you can tell if it's hand made. I have five or six hand-made peacocks, and I know they're hand made . . . not really old. . . . I'll bring them in so you can look at them. The fabric is much more of an indicator, probably, of how old they were. The ones that were machine made, you know they were made after a certain date. What I'm trying to do today is help people have an idea of when the one they have was made, or some real feeling for it. You're talking about . . . before the fabric was wide enough, they actually had to seam it together and then make the spread on top of it, and that would . . . [??] speed it up, and I think . . . we've got people trying to work with the hand made . . . fabric itself. . . .
DD: What you're saying is if they're hand made, like the one here on your left, if that were in a museum, it could be valued at $500 to $1,000.
DA: Certainly, and in fact, they can go for a good deal more than that.
DD: I think it can be, maybe, I've seen them for $1,000 easily. Some of the older ones that are worth the most. . . .
JPW: Thank you for coming. Please keep talking among yourselves, tour the rest of the exhibit, and join us for the reception.
Donald Edward Davis, Ph.D., is the author of six books, including Homeplace Geography: Essays for Appalachia; The Land of Ridge and Valley: A Photographic History of the Northwest Georgia Mountains; and the award-winning Where There Are Mountains: An Environmental History of the Southern Appalachians. A native of northwest Georgia, he teaches sociology at Dalton State College. He is a Fulbright Scholar.