An antimacassar is a small cloth placed over the backs or arms of chairs, or the head or cushions of a sofa, to prevent soiling of the permanent fabric. The name is attributable to macassar oil, an unguent for the hair commonly used in the early 19th century. The fashion for oiled hair became so widespread in the Victorian and the Edwardian period that housewives began to cover the arms and backs of their chairs with washable crochet chair set cloths to preserve the fabric coverings from being soiled. Around 1850, these started to be known as antimacassars.
They came to have elaborate patterns, often in matching crochet chair sets for the various items of parlor furniture; many were made at home using a variety of techniques such as crochet or tatting. The original antimacassars were usually made of stiff white crochet-work, but in the third quarter of the 19th century they became simpler and softer, usually fabric embroidered with a simple pattern in wool or silk.
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