Just as there are three different spellings for calico, the word can have an entirely different meaning, depending on where you live. In the United States calicoes are generally small, closely packed prints, while in Great Britain a calico is a plain, inexpensive muslin.
The unassuming calico print has become synonymous with quilting and has been used for centuries in everyday apparel and household items. For all of its humble uses, calico actually has an exotic and interesting history.
For more than a hundred years before roller-printing was used in Europe and America, colorful floral cottons were imported into England from India. The fabric name “Calico” was derived from the fabrics that came from the Indian port of Calicut. As trade with the English increased in the seventeenth century, the designs were adapted to the more conservative markets of the time.
By the mid-1830’s the US had become a world power in cotton production and processing. During these mid-century decades, the US produced over 120 million yards of calico each year. Over one thousand new fabric designs were created annually. The American market consumed a large percentage of these fabrics.
The era from 1920 to 1940 saw an even greater expansion of calico prints. The colors were especially fresh, in an array of appealing bright pastels. The print designs were varied — and sometimes humorous. Calicoes of this period sold for about nine to eighteen cents per yard.
Calico prints are defined as printed fabrics with multicolored and frequently floral designs. Small floral prints from the nineteenth century are often easily identifiable making it possible to date quilts from that era. However, many designs from that time continued to be printed into the twentieth century and others are still in production today.
Calicoes are wonderful fabrics for quiltmakers who wish to make reproduction quilts or for anyone who wants pretty fabrics steeped in tradition and history.
What use do you find for calicoes?