A Complete Guide to Calico Fabric

A Complete Guide to Calico Fabric

Amongst all of the different fabrics that we supply at Fabrics Galore, calico fabric is one of the most misunderstood. Many don’t really know what calico fabric really is or what it is used for and it can sometimes be overlooked for sewing projects that it is actually ideally suited to. So, to make sure calico gets the recognition it deserves, we have put together a guide to this brilliant fabric, covering all of the basics you need to know.


What is calico fabric?

Calico Fabric 

Simply put, calico is a 100% cotton fabric that is unbleached and undyed. You will often hear calico fabric referred to as a ‘loomstate’ and this is because it hasn’t undergone any treatment or finishing since leaving the loom. You may also hear calico fabric referred to as ‘half-processed cotton’ for the same reasons.


Due to the fact that it is taken straight from the loom, calico fabric has a cream/grey tinge to it and its colouring is completely natural. This fabric is also a happy medium between soft and coarse, not as sturdy as denim but equally not as flimsy as muslin, making it quite unique. It isn’t uncommon for calico to be confused with other forms of cotton, like canvas and panama, but it is a completely different type of fabric and it has its own qualities.


The Origins and History of Calico Fabric


The word ‘calico’ is derived from the word ‘Calicut’ which is the English name for Kozhikode, a city in Kerala where the fabric was first found by Europeans. Calico has been a commonly used fabric since at least the 12th century and its origins trace back to Southwestern India where it was made by traditional weavers for centuries before anyone in Europe came across it. 


It may be hard to believe it of this unassuming material, but in the 18th century calico fabric became a political hot potato when cheaper calico prints imported by the East India Company started to gain popularity. This was seen as a direct threat to the highly profitable woollen industry in the North of England. An act of parliament in 1700 tried to protect this industry by banning imports of dyed or printed calicoes. In addition, The Woollen Manufacturers act of 1720 meant that anyone caught wearing printed or stained calico muslins would be fined.


However, undeterred, demand switched to what became known as “grey cloth” or untreated calico, neither dyed nor printed. By the 19th century enterprising English textile printing companies had developed their own techniques for printing calico and by the turn of the 20th century calico fabric accounted for almost half of Britain’s printing capacity.  These events are now viewed as a significant factor in transforming the Indian economy from sophisticated textile production to the mere supply of raw materials. 



Ever since this time, calico has become a go-to fabric amongst anyone who enjoys sewing. Not bad for an unassuming fabric.


The Uses of Calico Fabric


Cotton Calico Fabric     High quality cotton calico fabric

Shop for Basic and Premium Calico Fabrics


Whilst traditionally, calico fabric was used within the home to make things like tablecloths and napkins, this is no longer the case. As soon as European women started using the off-cuts of calico to make clothing, people began to explore the other possibilities of this fabric.


Many will agree that calico is one of the most versatile fabrics available and it really can be used in a number of different ways. You might not have noticed before, but calico is everywhere, frequently used by supermarkets for re-usable shopping bags and you will probably be surprised by just how many of your sewing projects can benefit from calico fabric. These days, calico is used to make things such as aprons, curtain linings and bags, and it is also used in a range of upholstery, quilting and crafting projects.


It is very common for calico fabric to be used by dressmakers too and it is the perfect ‘mock-up’ fabric. Many designers used calico to help them see how a final garment would look and fit before they make it with more expensive fabric.


How to Wash Calico Fabric


You should wash calico fabric on a cool or warm wash no greater than 30 degrees. Calico fabric does shrink, usually 10% on the first wash and up to 3% on subsequent washes so be sure to use a cooler wash and pre-wash before you sew. Washing also makes calico softer over time.


The Benefits of Using Calico Fabric


One of the biggest advantages of calico fabric is its inexpensive price tag and it really is a budget-friendly fabric. The fact that it is a loomstate has a huge impact on how much it costs to purchase, and you can pick up a cotton calico for as little as £2 per half meter at Fabrics Galore, so it won’t break the bank no matter how complicated your sewing project is.


Not only is calico affordable and versatile, but because it is completely natural and untreated, it absorbs dye really well too. This means you can transform a plain piece of calico fabric into something beautiful, whether you play around with tie-dye or printing, and creating a colourful or patterned piece of clothing or household accessory couldn’t be easier with this particular fabric.


It is worth pointing out that calico is also a strong and durable fabric and it is able to withstand general wear and tear much better than many other fabrics. This is why it is frequently used to make items such as bags and aprons which are used on a daily basis.


Purchasing calico fabric for your sewing projects


When searching for somewhere to purchase calico fabric for any of your upcoming sewing projects, be sure to visit the Fabrics Galore online store. We supply a brilliant selection of calico, from a basic cotton calico to posh cotton calico, and you will easily be able to find the perfect calico fabric for your project on our website.
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