Grand New Look For Humble Ticking
By SUZANNE SLESIN
The New York Times Archives
IT was the stuff of brewers’ and waiters’ aprons, ladies’ stays, an emperor’s battle tent and feather-filled bedding: rough-hewn blue and white linen twill.
But these days, mattress ticking, a striped fabric with a checkered past, is being put to more urbane uses.
Ticking is making starring appearances in the living room, as slipcovers on Regency sofas and Louis XV chairs, and is being made up into trendy neck rolls and throw pillows. When edged in bright red welting, it looks great adorning nicely worn metal garden furniture.
“Sister, I think, was the originator of making ticking what it is today,” said Keith Irvine, a partner in the decorating firm Irvine & Fleming in New York.
He was referring to Sister Parish, a decorator who often works for New York society, and one of the first designers to take ticking out of the bedroom.
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“In the 40’s, she was already using mattress ticking as upholstery,” Mr. Irvine said.
Mattress ticking has been abandoned by some bedding manufacturers who prefer the more luxurious look of damask and brocade for their customers.
“Never mind that those fabrics were more suitable for an Ungaro cocktail suit,” Mr. Irvine, a member in good standing of the English country house school of decorating and a believer in reverse chic, said of the more luxurious fabrics.
Price can be a consideration in choosing between the look of ticking and damask. “The cost of 100 percent cotton can be three and four times the damask cloth,” said Ted Marschke, president of the 75-year-old Charles Beckley Company, a custom bedding concern based in the Bronx. Mr. Marschke noted that 75 percent of his mattresses ended up by being covered with a solid tan ticking.
“People don’t want it to clash with their sheets or dust ruffles,” he said.
Then there are Mr. Marschke’s other customers: “Don’t ask me why, but they insist on the classic government-issue ticking. They love it.”
At the Conran’s Habitat chain of home furnishings stores, the new collection of mattresses that will be paraded onto selling floors this spring will be covered with that tried and true blue-and-white cotton ticking.
“The only mattresses we’ll be offering,” said Felicia Stingone, the publicity director of the company. The key to decorating with ticking, Mr. Irvine said, is to play off the fabric’s humble beginnings.
He explained that the English decorator John Fowler used it for just those “perverse” reasons.
And anyway, Mr. Irvine added, it is still one of the cheapest decorating fabrics around.
In New York, Beckenstein Home Fabrics at 130 Orchard Street, at Delancey Street, has 54-inch wide cotton ticking in eight colors for $12.95 a yard.
“It’s like the most beautiful simple cotton dress,” said Mr. Irvine, who favors the black and white combination stripe. “We once did a whole room in it. It’s sort of playing down, using the maid’s room fabric up front.”
For summer, in the drawing room of a country house in Rye, N.Y., Irvine & Fleming, removed the carpets and outfitted the French fauteuils and bare-legged sofa with gray and white mattress ticking, demurely pleated.
Information about the history of the once ubiquitous fabric is limited. “Textiles in America, 1650-1870” by Florence M. Montgomery, published by W. W. Norton in 1984, states that “linen twill was the material of choice for distillers’ and brewers’ aprons” and that army tents were made of the same fabric.
“Like so may other linen textiles,” Ms. Montgomery wrote, “these were later made of cotton.”
In the 1940’s ticking appeared in decorating books as fitted bedspreads and cafe curtains. It was homey rather than avant-garde.
The interior decorator Robert Metzger likes to do things in a sweeping, lavish way, so when he uses mattress ticking, he needs lots of it.
“I love to tent rooms with it,” said Mr. Metzger, who bemoaned the times when it was hard to get because, the cotton was “all being dyed for bluejeans and jackets.”
“I’m so happy it’s back,” he said.
The Ralph Lauren Home Collection emphasizes the homespun qualities of ticking to bolster its country look. A 56-inch-wide fabric called Ryan, available only in the classic blue and cream combination, is $40 a yard at the Polo/Ralph Lauren shop on Madison Avenue (72d Street).
Textile firms whose showrooms serve only architects and decorators now have collections of ticking. For example, Sonia’s Place, at 979 Third Avenue (59th Street) has Ralph Lauren ticking in particular, and Brunschwig & Fils, also at 979 Third Avenue, offers a wide-ranging selection of ticking and ticking look-alikes.
Brunschwig’s “Riga Woven Stripe” ($42 to $48.50 list a yard) and “Danzig Woven Stripe,”($52 to $58.50 list a yard) even have an imperial pedigree.
The two-tone 55-inch wide fabrics are reproductions of the canvas in traditional stripes that was originally woven for Napoleon’s battle campaign tent in the early 1800’s.
Mattress ticking is also a current best seller at Mattawan, a home furnishings shop at 491 Broadway (Broome Street) in the SoHo section of Manhattan. Ticking is transformed into duvet covers ($160) and futons (full size, $289). It is made into laundry bags ($15) throw pillows ($36) and neck rolls ($25). The child-size garden chair with its custom-made pillow is $150.
“This is the real thing, woven not printed,” said Dan Krueger, the store’s manager. “It’s definitely back.
Ticking And History
A 1940s USDA circular promoting home production of cotton mattresses. The ticking is shown most clearly in the lower left corner of the photograph.
An antique settee reupholstered in ticking fabric
Ticking is a cotton or linen textile that is tightly woven for durability and to prevent down feathers from poking through the fabric, and used to cover mattresses and bed pillows. It commonly has a striped design, in muted colors such as brown, grey or blue, and occasionally red or yellow, against a plain, neutral background.
Although traditionally used for mattresses and pillows, the material has found other uses, such as serving as a backing for quilts, coverlets, and other bedding. It is sometimes woven with a twill weave.
Ticking is no longer restricted to a utility fabric and has found uses in interior decorating styles intending to evoke a homespun or industrial aesthetic. Modern uses for ticking include furniture upholstery, cushion covers, tablecloths, decorative basket liners, and curtains. Occasionally, lighter weight percale cloth is printed with a striped pattern made to resemble ticking fabric, and used to make garments.