There are many books on the history of textiles—but rarely does an index mentions ticking.
Every night our bodies come in close contact with this essential material, yet rarely have most people ever heard of it: MATTRESS TICKING. The purpose of this article is to provide insight into the rich history and the evolution of this important home textile that serves as the outer covering of every mattress made. There are many books on the history of textiles—but rarely does an index mentions ticking.
Having been a corporate purchasing manager of mattress ticking–I later became frustrated on my quest to discover the genesis of the term and the technical description. I contacted a professor of textiles I knew at Southern Polytechnic Institute in Marietta, Georgia; he didn’t know but gave me the names of two retired textile history professors from Clemson. Both men told me they did not know what original tickings were–and had never been asked! So, I’m sharing about 20 years of my own research–which may prove a bit technical but that is my purpose.
Specialty textiles, such as mattress ticking, were first engineered in Medieval Italy (1100-1400) and followed various guild prescriptions which covered the locations, loom types and mixture of materials. Mattress ticking were a tight weave fustian which had a linen warp and a cotton weft. These blended yarn products were called Union Weaves later in Europe. Simple black and white stripes of plain or tabby weaves were produced along with four heddle twills, checks, herringbones in heavier muslins and buckrams. Terlici were triple-twilled fabrics made with a combination of linen and hemp warp and cotton weft and were heavyweight sturdy mattress ticking. Plain, striped, and checked burdie were linen warp and cotton weft tickings. Milan offered an acordati which were single, double or triple ribbed cords mixing linen and cotton warp yarns in mixtures of twelve linen to 3 cotton or eight linen to produce a heavy grade cloth. Milan also produced banerie which were heavy 100% cotton cloths of which the steleta were graded as mattress ticking.1
Ticks/Ticking referring to the specialty type of textile as a mattress of bolster casing enters English in Fabyan’s Chnonicles 1305—other sources more common in 1365.2
“COTTON WOOL” INVADES ENGLAND
Various cotton cloths including ticking and the word cotton (from Arabic “qutun”) was imported into England in about 1507 because duties were quickly applied as the country tried to protect the domestic wool textile industry.3 “Cotton-wool” as it was referred to, continued to grow in demand in spite of British regulations to halt it. The 1660 Tonnage and Poundage Act applied 7-1/2 percent ad valorem duty on linens (including tickings) and additional duties followed so that by 1714, an example case of 500 ells of striped broad German linen valued at 400 pounds Sterling had an extra duty of 203 pounds.4
The first use of cotton in Lancashire, England appears to have been used by fustian weavers in 1601 (fustians were linen and cotton mixed blends)—this cloth possibly being “domestic” ticking grade.5
As has been explained, Italian guild specialty formulas abounded. Through migration due to religious reasons, a number of weavers left Italy to settle in Germany in the cities of Ulm and Augsburg—this new German cloth with linen warp and cotton weft known as barchent. Before the end of the 16th century these textile producers were in Nurnburg, Hof, Zwickau, Leipzig, and Chemintz and Germany advanced ahead of all European countries in cotton manufacture. In 1561, England allowed a mass migration of 406 persons from Flanders But the outbreak of the Thirty Years War, that cotton product had all but ceased. However, over the course of decades, many textile craftsmen experienced in cotton had settled in England and by mid-1700s thousands of home shops were producing goods including ticking and raw cotton imports had grown from 1,545,472 million pounds in 1730 to 3,870,392 pounds in 1764. After Richard Arkwright kicked off the Industrial Revolution with his Spinning Jenny and Water-frame, the amount of cotton imports in 1780 was 32 million pounds.6
British trade cards mention ticking as a product for sale. In 1750, William Witton of Southwark mentions Flanders & English Ticking for sale; Nathaniel Hewitt of Southwark also mentions Flanders & English Ticking for sale in 1768.
AMERICAN TEXTILE GIANT: AMOSKEAG MILLS
Between 1770-1820 Arkwright’s innovation created a textile giant in Manchester, England. By 1813, Boston Manufacturing Company became the largest textile producer in the United States. Amoskeag Mills was created in Manchester, New Hampshire on the Merrimack River and by mid-1850 the mighty factory had 24,000 looms and 662, 000 spindles in a complex of over 5 million square feet. Amoskeag Mills, which held the title of The World’s Largest Textile Mill up until 1910, introduced what is probably the world’s most popular mattress ticking: the ACA Stripe. This design was based off ancient Italian design of a thin and thick alternative stripe of black or navy blue color— but was manufactured with 100% cotton. ACA was the most desired for quality bedding and mattresses.
Between 1880-1900, mattress products were evolving and so were the tickings. Cotton, wool, and horse hair stuffings were used along with springs— so tickings began to include higher quality materials like jacquards including rayon damasks (rayon was artificial silk invented in the 1890s). By 1920, the old striped tickings including ACA were phased out and replaced by more decorative jacquards, prints, and planted warp stripes. Lurex threads appeared in tickings in the 1950s.
A British publication summarized mattress tickings used in 1947: “Flock ticks weighed 5.5 ounces per square yard having a linen warp count of 85 threads per inch and a cotton weft of 36-40 threads per inch; feather ticks weighed 7.7 ounces per square yard having a linen warp of 105 threads per inch and a cotton weft of 60 threads per inch; horse hair ticks weighed 8 ounces per square yard with a linen warp of 100 threads per inch and cotton weft of 60 threads per inch. The three grades were produced to encapsulate the respective materials cotton or wool, feathers, and horse hair”.7
FIRE RETARDANT SYNTHETICS
In 1967, the U.S. Congress amended the Flammable Fabrics Act to include home furnishings including mattresses. Subsequent to that, most mattress tickings morphed into using synthetic compositions of polyester, polypropylene, rayon, dacron, acetate yarns and others. Cotton tickings all but disappeared—even though they can be treated to be fire retardant they did not have the luster.
Ticking widths traditionally began in 36”-39” ranges but quickly expanded to 56” and 64” sizes. Due to king size beds, 81” tickings were produced beginning in the 1960s. The average roll lengths ranged from 90-100 yards for jacquards—but average roll size for all goods was probably between 75-100 yards.
In 1980, American mattress tickings were basically in four categories: jacquard damasks produced by Burlington Industries in 100-end and 150-end warps and Blumenthal Print Works 100-end warps; screen printed polyester backed coated cloths were produced by Solinger & Sons, Golding Brothers, Blumenthal Print Works, David Raider & Sons, and Culp; knit goods were printed by Golding Brothers, Solinger & Sons, and Tietex; woven stripes were manufactured by Southern Phoenix and Catlin-Farish (owned by Burlington). Many of those companies had been around for 100 years; today most are gone.
Over the years, famous designers like Oscar de la Renta designed ticking for Simmons Beautyrest and Diane Von Fustenburg designed for Sears, Roebuck & Company private labels. With the exception of printed tickings, generally speaking between 1960-1985 most tickings colors were soft sky blues, pale pinks, light golds, beiges, and floral prints. In 1985, driven by heat transfer printing and other factors, there was a seeming explosion of creativity and we saw dark, bold colors such as navy blue, black, crimson reds and anything imaginable.
THE ASTONISHING WHITE TICKING
It was a color revolution for mattresses—but it did not last long. In 1987, under the direction of a project conceived and orchestrated by Len Gaby, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Simmons utilized Kurt Salmon & Associates to conduct scientific consumer testing of the new ticking candidates for the 1988 Beautyrest lineup. As a last minute “hunch”, Len chose an all white jacquard from a trunk of goods Burlington had just previewed to the “Ticking Committee” before it was all repacked. Amongst the field of dark navy, reds, and full color assortment, the research came back with a distinct winner: the Burlington soft tone on tone, bridal white, 150 end “natural-eggshell” jacquard scored #1 in a diverse group of women and men taken from groups around the United States. This ticking was assigned to the Beautyrest Royalty—and the rest was history. Within years—white tickings were vogue and dark colors quickly disappeared.
During the mid-1980s, mattress companies phased in a more efficient quilting method: “railroad” quilting—which meant all the tickings needed to be 85”-90” widths so that the side dimension of the mattress quilt could be cut from the length going through the quilting machine. This eliminated smaller width tickings 41”, 56, and 64” as well as the respective polyurethane foam and polyester fillings and backings in those sizes. This was a big burden on the two big jacquard damask suppliers Burlington and Blumenthal—who had limited quantities of extra wide looms; this also slowed weave production rates as the shuttle had to cross a longer distance for each weft yarn. Railroading, in essence, killed striped patterns because the stripes would be running sideways.
In early 2000, the entire American industry, following Simmons lead, introduced the non-flip mattress, mostly manufactured with stretch knit fabrics and the progress from 1100-2000 in textile tickings was all but lost on this new mostly white product seen on beds today.
As a National Purchasing Manager of Simmons Company in 1980-1987, I guess that about 70% of Simmons textiles were damask jacquards distributed between Burlington Industries with a 70% share and Blumenthal with 30%. It was a skill to balance the supplier looms to have the adequate amount of yardage for the various products we made. Looms generally only produced about 60-70 yards per day until they upgraded to water-jet and air-jet shuttles that doubled capacity—but the greater demise of jacquards came with the non-flip mattress.
Maybe some company will return to a traditional linen-cotton ACA stripe some day—to appeal to the consumer who wants a “traditional and natural mattress”. Having just returned March 14, 2018 from the ISPA EXPO 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina–an exhibition where mattress industry suppliers exhibit their latest products–I was surprised to see that the “herd” of stretch knits have turned from whites to dark colors, some even black. A ticking industry veteran told me jacquards are coming back in fashion. That’s good in my opinion–jacquards will last longer and are better quality than knits.
1 The Italian Cotton Industry In The Later Middle Ages 1100-1600, 1982 Maureen Fennell Mauzzaoui, Cambridge University Press
2 Oxford English Dictionary
3 The Early English Custom System, Gras, 1918
4 Textile History and Economic History, Julia Mann, Manchester University Press
5 The Cotton Trade And Industrial Lancashire 1600-1780, Alfred Wadsworth, 1931
6 The Early English Cotton Industry, George Daniels, 1920, Manchester Press
7 The Craft of Mattress and Bedding Production, A.J. Ludlam, The Furniture Record Ltd. 1947