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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Pssst...they're called antimacassars.

My mother loved them. Whenever she had a piece of furniture reupholstered, she'd have several spares made, so she'd always have some to use when she sent a pair to be dry cleaned. We either were really messy kids, or she was unnaturally worried about soil. At any rate, we simply called them "arm and headrest covers," but the correct name is antimacassar.

Originally they were crocheted or knitted, but in the twentieth century, furniture manufacturers began offering them in matching upholstery fabric. They come in a fitted style, which goes around the end of the arm, or a napkin style, which lies across the arm or the back.

The name derives from the use of macassar oil in hair dressings during the Victorian era. Women wanted to protect their furniture from this oil, so the antimacassar was born. You could say that the antimacassar was the forerunner of Scotchgard™ and other chemical fabric treatments, which hadn't yet been developed.

I suppose the use of antimacassars is better than leaving your furniture encased in plastic, but having grown up with my mother's almost obsessive attachment to them, I now prefer to just lay in a good supply of foam upholstery cleaner and take my chances.


Milo Baughman sofa - webstersattic
Edward Wormley sofa (shipped by webstersattic)


  1. that so reminds me of my grandmother's apartment! she always had matching ones too
    I love my Bissel carpet and upholstery machine!

  2. @Periwinkle Dzyns: My grandmother had the crocheted ones on everything that would sit still...chairs, sofas, doilies on all the tables and dressers and chests. My mom graduated to the matching ones. I, on the other hand, have always liked to live dangerously. :)

  3. I didn't even know they had a name. ( :

  4. I used to hate the antimacassars on the furniture of my parents and various family members! First, they always came off either due to children or pets, or even some adults. Second, when my mother tried to temporarily attach them to the armrests with T-pins, the T-pins inevitably came out and poked you or got lost and then you were back to square one with your antimacassars on the floor. This is one element of design I am glad has gone by the wayside!

  5. @monogirl: Oh, yes...I remember the dreaded T-pins! Like your mother, mine tried everything. In choosing the photos for this post, I noticed how awful the antimacassars looked...crooked, wrinkled, just generally hideous...and I was reminded why my can of Resolve is so much better a solution to the grime problem.