History of Italian Wedding Blankets

These amazing textiles have been around for centuries and were made of heavy velvet with muslin backing or heavy embroidered silk from the Italian village of San Leucio. Often presented as wedding gifts, they were known as Italian Wedding Blankets and became especially popular during the Second World War, when soldiers stationed in Italy sent them home to their sweethearts. Many were brought to the States from the Old Country when families emigrated to Pittsburgh and other Rust Belt cities to work in the mills, so I often find them at local estate sales.

The pristine specimens hold enormous mystery and longing for me: why was it never used? Did our soldier fall in battle? Did his sweetheart fall for another and tuck the blanket away in secret? Did all go well, but the piece felt too precious to be brought out and used? When I find the ones with fading, spots, worn tuft and missing fringe, I feel relief. While they won't fetch as high a price, I imagine our boy made it home, and the blanket was used and tacked up on a wall or in a doorway to keep out drafts (as I use them today) or perhaps tossed about among children and grandchildren and pets and kitchen smells and ashy hearths, and I am uplifted. Therein lies the magic of old things.