Calico (textile)

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Calico is a plain-woven textile made from unbleached, and often not fully processed, cotton. It may contain unseparated husk parts, for example. The fabric is less coarse and thick than canvas or denim, but owing to its unfinished and undyed appearance, it is still very cheap. Originally from the city of Kozhikode, Kerala, India (known by Europeans as Calicut in the 11th century). The fabric was made by the traditional weavers called chaliyans. The raw fabric was dyed and printed in bright hues and calico prints became popular in Europe. In 1700, Britain banned importation of printed calicos from India, in an effort to support the British woollen and worsted industry. The ban failed, and was strengthened in 1720 when it weakened the Indian textile industry, and India was forced to buy British textiles.



Calico originated in Kozhikode, India (also known as Calicut) during the 11th century.[1] It was mentioned in Indian literature by the 12th century when the writer Hemacandra described calico fabric prints with a lotus design.[1] By the 15th century calico from Gujarat made its appearance in Egypt.[1] Trade with Europe followed from the 17th century onwards.[1] Calico was woven using Surat cotton for both the warp and weft.

The politics of cotton

In the seventeenth century, England was famous for its woollen and worsted cloth. That industry, centred in the east and south in towns such as Norwich, jealously protected their product. Cotton processing was tiny: in 1701 only 1,985,868 pounds (900,775 kg) of cotton-wool was imported into England, and by 1730 this had fallen to 1,545,472 pounds (701,014 kg). This was due to commercial legislation to protect the woollen industry.[2] Cheap calico prints, imported by the East India Company from "Hindustan", had become popular. In 1700 an Act of Parliament was passed to prevent the importation of dyed or printed calicoes from India, China or Persia. This caused grey cloth ( calico that hadn't be finished - dyed or printed) to be imported instead, and these were printed in Southern England with the popular patterns. Also, Lancashire businessmen produced grey cloth with linen warp and cotton weft, known as fustian which they sent to London to be finished.[2] Cotton-wool imports recovered and by 1720 were almost back to their 1701 levels. Again the woollen manufacturers, in true protectionist style claimed that this was taking away jobs from workers in Coventry.[3] Another law was passed, to fine anyone caught wearing any printed or stained calico; muslins, neckcloths and fustians were exempted. It was this exemption that the Lancashire Manufactures exploited. The use of coloured cotton weft, with linen warp was permitted in 1736 Manchester Act. There now was a artificial demand for woven cloth. In 1764, 3,870,392 pounds (1,755,580 kg) of cotton-wool was imported.[4]

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