What is an Antimacassar?

Malcolm Tatum

Sometimes spelled as “antimacasser”, the antimacassar is a cloth device that serves the purpose of protecting furniture upholstery. Often, the antimacassar is associated with the Victorian or Edwardian era, when the typical furniture and room decorating were very formal. While the use of antimacassars has declined over the years, many people still enjoy using these decorative protectors in formal living rooms.

An antimacassar made of lace is known as a doily.
An antimacassar made of lace is known as a doily.

The antimacassar is often made of lace and is usually referred to as a doily. Doilies, in addition to adding a decorative touch to a room, once served a very important purpose. During the early years of the 19th century, the use of macassar oil as a means of grooming the hair became very common. Unfortunately, the oil would leave a stain when coming into contact with the fabric upholstery of the era. In order to minimize the stains on furniture, the antimacassar would be strategically placed on the backs of chairs, sofas, and fainting couches, making it possible for a guest to rest his or her head without leaving a stain. In like manner, the antimacassar would also appear on the arms of furniture.

One way an antimacassar was created was through hand crocheting.
One way an antimacassar was created was through hand crocheting.

The use of the antimacassar was not limited to the home. Public conveyance also made good use of this protective device. Trains and carriages of the day often employed the antimacassar as a way to protect the seating from oil stains from hair products. Usually, the material used for these types of antimacassar applications was made of material that was easily washed, and also relatively inexpensive. This made cleaning and replacement easy to accomplish, and would go a long way in keeping the seating area clean and inviting.

While an antimacassar may be a simple rectangle of cloth, they often are created with an intricate knitted or crocheted design. Lace patterns are common for more formal examples of the antimacassar, and since the latter part of the 19th century tend to be composed of wool or silk fiber. Even though day to day use of the antimacassar has declined a great deal, many people still enjoy using this decorative device as a means of adding seasonal or holiday touches to a room.

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