Take a good look at that Retrac tag on your vintage chenille bedspread – notice anything? “Retrac”is “Carter” spelled backwards! And the Carter Brothers will go down in history as one of the greatest original chenille bedspread manufacturers of all time. According to a fascinating article written by Harmon Jolley, the Carter
Brothers didn’t start with chenille. They started with mattresses!
From Selling Mattresses to Chenille Bedspreads
Before they ventured into making the high quality, beautifully designed chenille bedspreads and rugs that they became so well known for, the Carter Brothers (names: August and Peyton) owned a mattress company. Based in Tennessee, they sold their mattress business in the 1920s…and the rest is chenille history.
Here’s where it gets really interesting: making chenille bedspreads and rugs was no easy feat back in the day, as many of you familiar with chenille may be aware. Like any savvy businessman, August Carter knew he needed to increase production while lowering associated costs. By 1924, Carter received a patent for his tufting machine. Explains Jolley:
“The new tufting machine allowed the Carters to produce the first chenille bedspread and the first rug ever made on a chenille sewing machine, according to a Nov. 3, 1946 Chattanooga Times recap of the firm’s history.”
The Rest of Retrac’s History Remains a Chenille Mystery…
Wondering what happened between 1946 and today? Well, some of that remains a bit of a mystery. August passed away in 1949; Peyton in 1971. From about 1949 to 1960, August’s son John Carter ran the business with Peyton, until each sold their interests around that time. By 1975, Carter Brothers had vanished from the city directory.
Their stunning designs live on, continuing to bring old-fashioned charm and exquisite grace wherever they land up – atop beds, tossed over an easy chair or sofa as a chic throw, or repurposed into any number of projects, from elaborate chenille robes to stunning quilts.
But Their Unsurpassed Quality Lives On…
The chenille robe featured here was handcrafted from a rare old Retrac spread. This particular pattern – when you can find it – is typically seen in pink hues – whereas this robe was a wonderful, rich mocha color with apricot and iced peach hibiscus floral motifs and deeper espresso accents.
Retrac left a legacy with designs that encompassed everything from simple yet elegant to decadently elaborate – and they did it all so well. Retrac will forever live on in the hearts and minds of chenille lovers everywhere as one of the premier manufacturers of vintage chenille in the world.
If you have any info at all on Retrac/Carter Bros. and the role they played in the vintage chenille bedspread manufacturing industry, please don’t be shy!
We’d love to hear from you and to have the opportunity to share more about this wonderful part of our American textile history with the world.