Tag Archives: cotton broadcloth

Glossary: Cotton Calico

In modern American use, the term “calico” generally refers specially to printed (often floral), mid-weight, plain-woven cotton fabric, primarily produced for quilters. In the UK and Australia, however, “calico” is used to refer to unbleached or white cheap cotton fabric that would be called “muslin” in the United States, in modern usage, and which I refer to as “utility muslin.” Both “muslin” and “calico” had different meanings historically than they do today. Muslin was a different type of fabric entirely, whereas calico simply had a broader definition, including a whole range of light- to mid-weight cotton fabrics in tabby weave. These fabrics were sometimes printed, but might also be plain white or colored. Some historical calicoes were lighter in weight and finer than most modern calicoes.

For more information about mid-weight plain-woven cotton fabrics, see the entry on cotton broadcloth. For information on cotton in general, see the entry on cotton fiber. For information on historical muslins, see the entries for cotton voile or cotton batiste.

Definitions of calico and other midweight cottons from a variety of print resources, each of which contains further information:

Several samples of cotton fabric of this type are included, but are known simply by their printed or woven design (for instance calico) or their intended use (for instance shirting), without specific names being applied. Three different light-mid-weight cotton prints are shown, on pages 9, 10, and 11, in addition to the calico sample shown under the heading “Calico” on page 25, which goes on to state that “Printed cotton fabrics are still called ‘calico’ today. In the nineteenth century, calico revolutionized women’s wardrobes. Previous to the Industrial Revolution, printed cottons were status symbols of wealthy American colonists, who purchased the expensive, hand-painted and block-printed cottons imported from India and, later, England and France. By the nineteenth century, with the invention of the cotton gin and water-powered spinning, weaving, and printing machines–along with slave labor in the cotton-growing southern states–cotton calicoes became affordable for all.”

Page 26 states that “‘Cambric’ as a term was used rather loosely in the early nineteenth century” and that in addition to being line white linen in a tabby weave, “it could be colored, it could be glazed, and it could be printed. Ackermann’s Repository, an early-nineteenth-century English periodical of literature and fashion, frequently uses the term ‘cambric’ to mean ‘calico.'”

Page 26 offers a sample of chambray, which is plain woven and light-to-mid-weight, but “generally has a colored warp and a white weft.” It is also stated that “It is likely that cotton chambray was generally considered under ‘shirting’ in store inventories, and not otherwise specified.”

Page 33 offers a sample of gingham, which is a mid-weight cotton. It states that “Rather than denoting a particular woven checked pattern, ‘gingham’ described a family of pattern-woven fabrics in the early nineteenth century, including all sorts of stripes, checks, and chambray, in cotton, linen, and even wool or silk.”

On page 175, “calico” is defined as “cotton cloth of various qualities, often applied to the coarser, printed cottons.” On page 176, “dimity” is defined as “a fine ribbed fabric, white or colored, sometimes prints.” On page 178, “muslin” is defined as “stout, light, open cotton fabric of varying fineness, used for summer dresses, plain, printed, dyed, dotted. A general term used for similar fabrics as lawn, mull, cambric.” On page 179, “poplin” is defined as “fine, smooth, strong fabric with a plain silk warp and coarse silk weft, or of all cotton.” Also on page 179, “print” is defined as ” a plain fabric, often cotton, with a figure stamped on one or both sides, sometimes called calico.”

Entry for “calico” on page 184: “Cotton cloth of many grades and varieties first made in India and later in the West. Thomas Sheraton gives a broad definition in his Encyclopedia, 1804-7:

“In commerce a sort of cloth resembling linens made of cotton. The name is taken from that of Calicut, the first place at which the Portuguese landed when they first discovered the Indian Trade. . . . Calicoes are of different kinds, plain, printed, stained, dyed, chintz, muslins, and the like, all included under the general denomination of calicoes.” (page 184)

Online Resources:

For more information about an individual fiber, fabric, or other material, select it on the right side menu for “Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials.” This will bring up all entries which have that tag, including (in most cases) a Glossary post like this one, which will offer a definition of that fiber, fabric, or material, and sometimes also offer useful links to outside sources on working with it. For more general information, visit the core entry for the Glossary: Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials. For a directory of all textile glossary posts, go to the Glossary Table of Contents.

Updated January 10, 2012

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Glossary: Cotton Utility Muslin

The short-staple, coarse-textured cotton fabric of modern days bears little resemblance to the range of textiles historically referred to as muslin. In order to be clear, I try to be very specific when referring to any textile which might in one century or another be called muslin. When referring to the modern fabric, I will throughout this site say “white cotton utility muslin” or “unbleached cotton utility muslin.” When referring to the fine, long-staple, sheer or semi sheer fabrics that were historically referred to as muslin, I will try to be as clear as possible, and will usually use specific a modern term for the fabric as well.

For more information on historical muslins, see the entries for cotton voile or cotton batiste. For more information on cotton in general, see the entry Glossary: Cotton Fiber.

For information on mid-weight to slightly lighter weight plain-woven cotton fabrics, including modern utility muslin, see the entry on cotton broadcloth; see also cotton calico. Note that like the term “muslin,” the terms “broadcloth” and to a lesser degree “calico” also had different meanings in the past. Also, in the UK and Australia, “calico” is the term used for the utilitarian fabric known as “muslin” in the US.

Modern utility muslin, in the bleached white version, can be useful for making inexpensive underclothing for 19th century reproduction garments, especially since it is readily available in 36″ widths, which would have been a more common width for 19th century fabrics than the 44″ and 60″ widths commonly available in fabrics today.

Online Resources:

For more information about an individual fiber, fabric, or other material, select it on the right side menu for “Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials.” This will bring up all entries which have that tag, including (in most cases) a Glossary post like this one, which will offer a definition of that fiber, fabric, or material, and sometimes also offer useful links to outside sources on working with it. For more general information, visit the core entry for the Glossary: Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials. For a directory of all textile glossary posts, go to the Glossary Table of Contents.

Updated January 10, 2012

Glossary: Cotton Broadcloth

Broadcloth is a general term for mid-weight and slightly lighter weight, plain-woven (tabby) cotton fabrics. Cotton is a natural fiber made from a plant; for more information, see the entry Glossary: Cotton Fiber. Cotton broadcloth weights and qualities cover a wide range, and may be woven from short- or long-staple fibers, at least as the term is generally used. Historically, broadcloth is more likely to refer to a particular type of wool fabric, very different from modern cotton broadcloth. Light- to mid-weight, non-sheer, plain-woven cotton fabrics have been known by a variety of names, including some whose meanings have changed, or overlap with other types of fabric, such as calico and cambric.

In the interest of clarity, I will throughout this site refer to cotton fabrics of this type generally as broadcloth. When speaking of printed cotton fabrics similar to historical calicoes, I will use the term calico specifically. When speaking of the material that is now referred to as “muslin” but which bears almost no resemblance to the fine sheer cloth known as muslin in the 18th and 19th centuries, I will use the terms “white cotton utility muslin” or “unbleached cotton utility muslin.” (For more information on historical muslins, see the entries for cotton voile or cotton batiste.)

Definitions of broadcloth and other midweight cottons from a variety of print resources, each of which contains further information:

Several samples of cotton fabric of this type are included, but are known simply by their printed or woven design (for instance calico) or their intended use (for instance shirting), without specific names being applied. Page 26 states that “‘Cambric’ as a term was used rather loosely in the early nineteenth century” and that in addition to being line white linen in a tabby weave, “it could be colored, it could be glazed, and it could be printed. Ackermann’s Repository, an early-nineteenth-century English periodical of literature and fashion, frequently uses the term ‘cambric’ to mean ‘calico.'”

Page 26 offers a sample of chambray, which is plain woven and light-to-mid-weight, but “generally has a colored warp and a white weft.” It is also stated that “It is likely that cotton chambray was generally considered under ‘shirting’ in store inventories, and not otherwise specified.”

Page 33 offers a sample of gingham, which is a mid-weight cotton. It states that “Rather than denoting a particular woven checked pattern, ‘gingham’ described a family of pattern-woven fabrics in the early nineteenth century, including all sorts of stripes, checks, and chambray, in cotton, linen, and even wool or silk.”

On page 175, “broadcloth” is defined as “fine, stout, smooth-faced wool cloth, felted or given a nap finish to avoid raveling, much used for men’s clothes” and no mention is made of cotton. Also on page 175, “calico” is defined as “cotton cloth of various qualities, often applied to the coarser, printed cottons.” On page 176, “dimity” is defined as “a fine ribbed fabric, white or colored, sometimes prints.”

On page 178, “muslin” is defined as “stout, light, open cotton fabric of varying fineness, used for summer dresses, plain, printed, dyed, dotted. A general term used for similar fabrics as lawn, mull, cambric.” On page 179, “poplin” is defined as “fine, smooth, strong fabric with a plain silk warp and coarse silk weft, or of all cotton.” Also on page 179, “print” is defined as ” a plain fabric, often cotton, with a figure stamped on one or both sides, sometimes called calico.”

Entry for “calico” on page 184: “Cotton cloth of many grades and varieties first made in India and later in the West. Thomas Sheraton gives a broad definition in his Encyclopedia, 1804-7:

“In commerce a sort of cloth resembling linens made of cotton. The name is taken from that of Calicut, the first place at which the Portuguese landed when they first discovered the Indian Trade. . . . Calicoes are of different kinds, plain, printed, stained, dyed, chintz, muslins, and the like, all included under the general denomination of calicoes.” (page 184)

Entry for “broadcloth” on page 177: “Made of carded wool in plain weave and fulled after weaving” and no reference is made to cotton.

Online Resources:

For more information about an individual fiber, fabric, or other material, select it on the right side menu for “Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials.” This will bring up all entries which have that tag, including (in most cases) a Glossary post like this one, which will offer a definition of that fiber, fabric, or material, and sometimes also offer useful links to outside sources on working with it. For more general information, visit the core entry for the Glossary: Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials. For a directory of all textile glossary posts, go to the Glossary Table of Contents.

Glossary: Cotton Fiber

Cotton is a natural fiber which comes from a plant. Many different fabrics are made from cotton fiber, including voile, batiste, organdy, calico, sateen, flannel, jean, and a wide variety of other fabrics.

“Cotton is a vegetable seed fiber. Botanically, the fibers are the protective covering of the seeds in the cotton plant, a shrub that grows from four to six feet high. Dry cotton fiber is from 88 percent to 96 percent cellulosic.” (Ingham and Covey, The Costume Technician’s Handbook, page 62)

“Under magnification, cotton (a staple fiber) appears like a twisted ribbon. This twist is what makes cotton easy to spin. Cotton is weaker than flax, but its ease of manufacture quickly overcame that deficiency. Cotton is absorbent and thus comfortable to wear in hot weather.” (Bassett, Textiles for Regency Clothing 1800-1850, page 14)

“Extremely versatile in weight, texture, and construction. Found in fabric such as organdy, broadcloth, poplin, terry, corduroy, seersucker, denim, tweed. Used widely for summer wear, work clothes, and in heavier weights, for warm transitional garments.” (Butterick, Vogue Sewing, page 50)

“Cotton is cool, washable, appropriate to nearly all [mid 19th century living history] impressions in some way, and comes in a wide variety of colors and well-researched prints. Cottons fade with laundering and sun exposure, and tend to wear out more quickly than other fibers. It’s an economical choice for everyday or ‘wash’ garments.” (Clark, The Dressmaker’s Guide, 2nd ed., page 54)

For more information about an individual fiber, fabric, or other material, select it on the right side menu for “Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials.” This will bring up all entries which have that tag, including (in most cases) a Glossary post which will offer a definition of that fiber, fabric, or material, and sometimes also offer useful links to outside sources on working with it. For more general information, visit the core entry for the Glossary: Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials. For a directory of all textile glossary posts, go to the Glossary Table of Contents.

Glossary Entries for Cotton Fabrics:

Online Resources:

Print Resources: See the article Glossary: Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials for a list of print resources.

Updated January 10, 2012

1860s plain petticoat of white cotton with a very deep hem

Garment

1860s covered crinoline of red Kona cotton

Garment

1860s round belt drawers of white Kona cotton

Garment