The History of Matelassé
As a loyal Bates customer, you are probably familiar with our two main collections: Matelasse Bedspreads and Terry Bedspreads. But what meaning do these titles have? Both of these words refer to the types of weaves, each with a very distinct appearance, that are used to create our products. Information on each style, and the difference between the two, can be found on our Frequently Asked Questions page. If you are the highly curious, however, then you've come to the right place! Read on to learn more about the Matelassé weave, and its background in history.
Technically, a Matelassé fabric is what is known as a "figured fabric." It has a compound weave structure, meaning that during the weaving process, multiple warp and weft series are used. To put this in perspective, in the most basic plain weave (a "simple weave"), only one set of warp and weft threads exists: a single wefts go over, under, over, the warp threads. In Matelassé, usually 3 or 4 sets of yarns are used, all interlocking amongst each other at once in a specific pattern to produce a very complex woven structure. Thick yarns are used within the weave as "puff" material, so that when the fabric is washed, it has a quilted appearance.
To begin the tale of the Matelassé weave's origins, we must travel all the way to Marseilles, France. In the early 18th century, Marseilles was known for their beautiful "trapunto" or "whitework" quilting. These luxurious, hand-quilted fabrics were highly popular, used mainly in fashion items for women. England wanted an "in" on the fine textiles but sought to recreate such a material domestically. Prizes were offered to whomever could produce such a fabric. In the early 1740's, a man by the name of Robert Elsden came forth with a way to reproduce a similar fabric on a loom, one that although woven, maintained a quilted appearance. Once the fabric became commercially available in the 1760's, England used the popularity of Marseilles quilting to promote their new product, calling it "Marseilles Cloth." France, wanting to maintain the identity of their hand-quilting, began using the name "matlasser," meaning "to quilt" in French. This is where the modern term "Matelassé" comes from.
With the advent of the Jacquard loom in 1801 in France, producing the woven "quilting" became easier and faster. Today, most Matelassé fabrics are manufactured on industrial Jacquard looms. It is on looms such as these that the famous Matelassé Bates Bedspreads were first produced in the early 1950's, and continue to be produced today with the utmost care and craftsmanship today.
Have a favorite Bates Matelassé style? We'd love to hear about it! Please share your thoughts in the comments below.