Matelasse Bedspreads

In 1850 Benjamin E. Bates founded a textile mill, along with several co-investors, and called it the Bates Manufacturing Company. The original, and current location of the Bates Mill is 35 Canal Street in Lewiston, Maine and is run on water power from the Androscoggin River.. Establishment of the mill was the main contributing factor in the transformation of the town into what is now a thriving city.

Mr. Bates wove the first Bates style cotton bedspread in 1858. It wasn’t until 1915 that the company purchased power weaving and spinning looms, allowing the mill to produce a greater volume of bedspreads, and in a larger variety of weaves. Jacquards, crochets, satins, brocades, damask and in 1940 terry toweling and rib cord cloth were introduced. Now, there are many varieties of Bates bedspreads. Here we will take a brief look at a few of them.

In 1950 the infamous Matelasse bedspread began production, becoming one of the most sought after styles. Matelasse is a french word meaning quilted or padded. For Mr. Bates purposes, he chose to use the jacquard loom to create the appearance of the Provincial fabric. There are several bedspreads made in the Matelasse fashion, but bear different designs. The two most popular are listed below.

The Abigail Spread is woven in the Matelasse style, usually featuring a large floral design set in a square at the center of the spread. The edges are bordered with stylized scrolls, flowers and leaves but the areas between the centerpiece and the border design are left simple in order to highlight the other features. John and Abigail Adams chose the Matelasse for their personal linens during John Adams’ Presidency.

The Queen Elizabeth bedspread design can be dated back to the first Elizabethan era. As with the Abigail Spread, it is a Matelasse design with a floral centerpiece, but the edges are trimmed with fringe and the entire spread is woven in graceful floral ‘puffed’ designs. It became popular in Colonial America early in the 19th century, but Mr. Bates did not start producing the Queen Elizabeth until the 1950’s.

The cotton-terry loop weave is created on a dobby loom and features high loops woven in patterns. Using this method creates a hand woven look, despite the use of a loom. Most patterns are floral in nature, however geometric shapes are also popular. Here are two popular styles of terry-loop bedspreads.

The George Washington bedspread is a 100% cotton-terry loop weave featuring garlands and flowers. The style of weaving is as ancient as Christianity, but the name given to the bedspread is in reference to George Washington presenting his new bride with a bedspread woven in this style. Thus, it is sometimes called the Martha.

The American Tradition bedspread, also a cotton-terry loop weave, is designed using more geometric shapes than the George Washington. The large centerpiece is often circular with a triangular design in the center, much like a snowflake. The outer areas and borders are decorated with geometric floral and tree patterns rising up from the edges. The fringe is usually shorter than Matelasse spreads.

Bates bedspreads have been an American tradition for at least 200 years, and will continue to be handed down to coming generations. When Benjamin Bates saw the beauty of the woven materials being created by the Aboriginal peoples around him and the linens coming from European countries, he wanted to add his own voice to the art. Now we are in the 21st century and Mr. Bates mill is still being run by the Maine Heritage Weavers producing the same lovely heirlooms he did.


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