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I’ve been thinking a lot about antimacassars lately. “Why?” you might ask. Because I dreamed that someone mailed me a whole box of them. “Why?” you might ask again. I have no idea. I don’t know who sent the box in my dream or what made me dream about antimacassars, which I haven’t thought about in years.
In case you aren’t familiar with the word, it means a piece of cloth put on the back of a chair to protect it from grease and dirt, or as an ornament. The word originally came from macassar which was a hair oil used by men in the early 19th century, so it literally means anti-macassar, as the coverings were used to protect furniture from stains.
The ones I remember from my childhood, when they were still in use, were crocheted. I have some of those in my studio to press into clay to make lovely patterns. I suspect potters and airlines are about the only users of antimacassars today and I’m not even sure they still use those little cloth covers on the backs of airplane seats. I haven’t flown lately and didn’t notice one way or the other last time I did.
In addition to being used to protect the backs and arms of furniture, they were often used on dressers or tables to keep them from being scratched. That’s probably where you’re most likely to see them now, if you see them at all. Vintage shops usually have a nice supply of the fabric, lace-edged variety as well as the crocheted ones, which are often called doilies instead of antimacassars.
But back to my ridiculous dream. There has been publicity lately about people having COVID-19 dreams and I guess that’s what it was because I turned those antimacassars into some mighty fancy face masks. The crocheted ones probably weren’t very effective, but they were popular with brides.
Jean McCamy is a Wake Forest artist.