Tuft Love: Rare collection of vintage chenille clothing in new exhibit in Dalton, Ga.

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If you go› What: “Southern Tufts: Fashion from Georgia’s Bedspread Boulevard”› Where: Creative Arts Guild, 520 W. Waugh St., Dalton, Ga.› When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Fridays, through March 31› Admission: FreeInformation: www.creativeartsguild.org

Before there was an interstate roadway system, U.S. Highway 41 - known as Old Dixie Highway - was a popular route to Florida. Its stretch between Dalton and Cartersville, Ga., became known as Bedspread Boulevard, so named for numerous lines of tufted bedspreads that cottage entrepreneurs draped on clotheslines along the road.

Bedspread Boulevard was a popular tourist attraction with Northerners headed to the beach. They'd stop to buy "off the line," as the saying goes, and these Northern tourists showed a particular affinity for the peacock pattern, according to "Early History of the Carpet Industry in the United States." The popular pattern lent itself to a third nickname for that stretch of Whitfield County highway: Peacock Alley.

The tufted additions to the bedspreads were made from chenille, the French word for "caterpillar" since the yarn was meant to resemble the insect's fur.

After World War II, chenille went out of style. At the same time, innovations in loom machinery made it possible to manufacture wide lengths of tufted carpeting, resulting in a boom in the carpet industry that solidified Dalton, as the Carpet Capital.

While Northwest Georgia's fame for tufted bedspreads still lives on 50 years later, its role in chenille fashion is less well known. So the staff of the Creative Arts Guild in Dalton has brought together a collection of vintage chenille garments, along with photographs, tufted accessories and other nostalgia gathered from private collections and the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society.

"Southern Tufts: Fashions from Georgia's Bedspread Boulevard" is on view now at the Guild through the end of March. Most of the exhibit is being displayed for the first time.

"It's a nice collection of different pieces," says Amanda Brown, Guild executive director. "There are beach capes that were worn as cover-ups, aprons for children and adults, vintage photographs and drawings for clothing designs."

Brown says the exhibit will be guest curated by Ashley Brown Callahan, 42, an independent scholar from Athens, Ga., who grew up in Dalton. The "Southern Tufts" exhibit is based on Callahan's research for her new book, "Southern Tufts: The Regional Origins and National Craze for Chenille Fashion" (University of Georgia Press).

The Creative Arts Guild will host a free book signing and gallery talk by Callahan on Friday, March 4, from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

Callahan says growing up in Dalton she was aware of its tufting history, "but learned a lot more as I got into the book.

"Lots of people are familiar with our bedspreads and carpet, but people don't talk about the garments as much. Throughout the history of the tufted textile industry, there were people who worked with bedspreads for tourists and department stores as well as companies around Dalton making apparel only for department stores."

Among the latter, she says, were Blue Ridge, Art-Rich, Duchess Chenille bathrobes and Lawtex, which started with spreads then added garments to its production.

Callahan says her book brings the story of chenille up to the 20th century, when there was a revival in interest in tufted fashion. The story will be shared with the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society on Sunday, March 6, when she presents a slide-illustrated talk highlighting items from the society's archives as well as knowledge gained during the three years researching and writing her book. The talk is free and will be open to the public.

Contact Susan Pierce at spierce@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6284.

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