Tuesday, December 6, 2011

So What is an Antimacassar?

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Today’s Blog Post

So What is an Antimacassar?
You can still see them around today. Today they are used on airplanes and trains. They are seldom used on furniture today however my large recliner rocking chair has one.

But they have changed since the 1940s or so. They were needed but did change because other things changed as well. One of the changes was simple. Men took more baths with the advent of indoor plumbing and another way was devised for them.

The name Antimacassar alone gives a hint to what it accomplishes. Anti gives the idea that it is against something. And the Macassar is what it is against or preventing problems with it.

How is that for a basis for a riddle?

The Antimacassar is a head rest cover for the back of seat. It keeps the permanent fabric of the chair or couches from getting dirty or soiled from men’s hair. Men being the culprit here with the hair product they used to give them style and better looks.

Now Macassar was a hair product used by men to give them the sleek and well groomed look.

Wikipedia states, quote, “The fashion for oiled hair became so widespread in the Victorian and the Edwardian period that housewives began to cover the arms and backs of their chairs with washable cloths to preserve the fabric coverings from being soiled. Around 1850, these started to be known as antimacassars. They were also installed in theatres, from 1865.”

Imagine that you are attending a theatre in the 1860s and sitting in a theatre seat you laid your head back against the seat cushion. Whatever was on the last patron’s head would now be part of what you would wear. Yuk!

Placing an Antimacassar on the back of the seat at the place where the head rested would protect the upholstery and the next person sitting there.

Reference was also made to the fact that the large shoulder covering as part of the sailor’s uniform was also called a Antimacassar and performs the same function to catch drips of Macassar oil from the hair. Sailors before that time apparently didn’t have that feature on their uniforms. And even more oddly sailors today still maintain that feature on some rank and file uniforms – even though they shave their heads.

With my Tatted Lace and the presentations that I do, I am often asked the question why Tatting has dropped off the seen.

After the turn of the century from the 1800s to the 1900s Macassar was being used less and less. New hair products were being developed. As well, the movies that became more and more popular suggested that the male style would be changing as well.

However men still didn’t bath often. They were dirty critters up until about the end of the Second World War.

Tatting had been a valuable Antimacassar up to that time. This form of lace made a great Antimacassar. It was durable and easily washable in a pot of boiling water. The hair oil would come free of the Antimacassar quickly and it was ready for reuse.

With the end of the war it seemed that a new era was coming into vogue. More and more modern homes had indoor plumbing and the bathtub was more available than ever. Men took more baths within the city limits. Out in the country a bath a week was still common… but in the city more people were cleaner.

Along with that the different hair styles came along and there was less and less need for the Antimacassar. The only reason that some would keep it and use it regularly was for the style that had been established for the couch. It was not complete unless the Antimacassar was in place.

Add to that Antimacassars were being well made by newer machinery that could produce it much faster than the handmade lace. That change added to less and less time to do such intricate work as Tatting, there was less and less need for it.

I can’t even imagine a person sitting each night to make more and more Antimacassars for their chairs and couch in 2011. There certainly is no need for Tatting in this respect.

Crochet and knitting on the other hand were able to adapt to new uses.

Crocheting could rival some knitting with its usefulness in the production of clothing. Tatting couldn’t do that change over. It would take forever to make a Tatted Sweater. But a crocheted one was quickly done – compared to Tatting

After the period in time about 1947 to 1950 you will find less and less patterns for Tatting. It was not something that people wanted anymore.

Now add to that less and less people used doilies to protect their table tops, tatting simply was not needed any more. The new and better protective surfaces being applied at the furniture factories made less and less need for protection.

As I sit at the presentation/show table each week, demonstrating the tatting that I do, the reactions are very comical at times. They wonder why I would do such a craft – let alone that a man is doing this! Though they admire the work that I do, they cannot understand the fact that I would take time to do something that has passed into history and virtual uselessness.

But what if we found a new way to use tatting? What if it became a part of Christmas – which is our biggest celebration of the year? After all Coca Cola did just that and established what we all think Santa Claus is all about. The Santa we see in 2011, with the pot belly, white beard, twinkle in his eye and the black boots and belt… was a Coca Cola advertisement to sell more Coke at that time of year.

Antimacassars perhaps are almost gone. Tatting for sure has almost gone as well. But the idea, the memory and the purpose will never be gone altogether.

~ Murray Lincoln ~


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