Whether it's a plain coverlet, a hand-embroidered labor of love, or a white-on-white masterpiece in chenille or lace, a good bedspread can brighten any bedroom and instantly make it a gallery for functional art.

While bedspreads or bed covers were often manufactured and sold for the specific purpose of decorating the top of a bed and hiding the boxspring and bed frame below, anything could be used as a bedspread. For example, quilts and blankets, from Navajo to Hudson Bay, often played the role of bedspread, whether or not their designs matched the bed’s pillowcases and sheets.

Woven coverlets from the mid-1800s coincided with the proliferation of the Jacquard loom, which industrialized the traditions of hand weavers in the United States and elsewhere. Overshot coverlets almost always had tight, geometric designs. Double-weave coverlets tended to have floral patterns, while single-weave “summer-winter” coverlets were reversible, with a darker pattern on one side and a lighter reverse design on the other.

Fringed or trimmed bedspreads with large embroidered images on their fronts were popular in the 1920s and ’30s. Frequently long enough to cover the bolsters at the head of the bed, these bedspreads featured floral wreath and basket designs, as well as various renditions of the so-called “Colonial girl.” Children’s bedspreads were often embroidered with nursery-rhyme images, which sometimes extended to matching curtains and throw pillows.

Another favorite type of decorative bedspread used a fine net or mesh of silk or linen that was embroidered with flowers or bucolic scenes. Because of their almost transparent nature, these bedspreads were usually meant to lie on top of a colored sheet, which were often coordinated with the embroidery. Lace bedspreads produced similar effects; to a lesser extent, so did crocheted ones.

But perhaps the most favored bedspread of the 20th century was made of chenille, a thick yarn spun from cotton, rayon, or other natural or manufactured fibers that was then sewn onto a base fabric, usually cotton, to create a soft, tufted material. Though the process had been around since the 18th century, it was updated in the 1890s by a Georgia woman named Catherine Evans Whitener, whose passion for chenille made her state a capital for the textile.

Chenille bedspreads produced in Georgia during the 1920s and ’30s were a hybrid of manufacturing practices and handcrafting. Companies would stamp their desired patterns onto cot...

Peacocks were a favorite pattern, and they were so ubiquitous fluttering from clotheslines in the 1930s that Highway 41 was sometimes called Peacock Alley. Eventually, manufacturers such as Morgan Jones and Cabin Crafts cut out the tufters, producing their hobnail, buttonhole, pink dot, and other chenille bedspreads in their factories.

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