Learn all about what is calico? Did you know there is a calico cat? Not a fabric one, but a real type of cat called calico! It is mostly white with patches of ebony and orange. It is the flaws and the variation that give it a special character - the calico character. Calico fabric is just like that. It is made of cotton, but in its rough state has pieces of cotton seed in the fabric. It is not pure, but rough and full of character.
What is Calico Fabric?
Calico is an unbleached and not fully processed fabric made from cotton fibers. It is created using a plain weave with the lengthwise yarn known as the weft and passing over and under the crosswise thread known as the warp. Most calico is a cream or beige color and you will see it sprinkled with little black dots which are the cotton seed remnants.
Calico has been labeled one of the most versatile fabrics in the world. It is used for artists' canvas, trials for fashion designers, curtains, soft furnishings and bags. The beauty of calico is it is completely natural and offers the perfect base to be dyed or printed on. Calico is cheap to buy because it is unfinished and in its raw state it is not dyed.
Calico is a cheap option for designers to test their designs through trial garments or muslins. The natural strength of calico lends itself to sturdy items like aprons, curtains and bags. Calico bags are a popular choice for reusable grocery bags and are often printed with logos or pictures. Calico can just about be made into anything and because it is so cheap it just about is!
Calico originated in India and gets its name from the word ‘Calicut’ which is the European name of a city in southwestern India called Kozhikode. The city of Calicut become well known for the production of calico as early as the 12th century. In the nineteenth century, and with the industrial revolution in Britain, cotton was produced in Britain and calico became available worldwide.
What is Calico - Types
There are four main types of calico fabric - 100% cotton calico fabric, drill calico, fire retardant calico, and extra-wide fire retardant calico.
100% Cotton Calico
This calico comes directly off the loom. It is unbleached, not dyed and not pre-shrunk. The weave has a fabric weight of 115gm per square meter. This weave of calico has many practical uses. It is used to wrap cheeses and make country-style furnishings. It is completely biodegradable and an environmentally friendly fabric. Calico is easy to cut and sew. Natural cotton calico is very easy to dye different colors.
Drill calico is a heavier weight fabric than natural calico. It has a weight of 240gm per square meter and has a close weave. Drill calico has the typical fine lines of a drill fabric and the speckled effect of calico.
Fire Retardant Calico
Fire retardant calico is pre-treated with a chemical called Proban. This chemical is used on fabric that is durable and will meet the requirements of the Proban registered trademark. The Proban chemical is part of the finishing process. After the chemical treatment of Proban, the fabric is ready for industrial purposes and safety workwear.
Extra Wide Fire Retardant Calico
The extra-wide fire retardant calico has a width of 118 inches (300cm). This extra wide fabric is useful for large scale projects and must have the Proban coat for safety standards. It is put through numerous durability tests before being ready for the Proban application. The strength, durability and extra-large width make this a useful fabric for large projects.
What is Calico - Uses
Calico is used most often for making a test version or muslin of a new pattern. This is known as a toile, which is a French term. Toile means linen cloth or canvas in French and has been used in the rag trade for years to describe a trial version of a new pattern. The muslin allows the designer to make sure the garment fits the model and the pattern does not need any changes. (Sewing a Muslin)
Calico finds its way into crafts and quilts. In quilting, calico makes an interesting backdrop for the quilt. Calico makes great inexpensive curtains and can be bought in different colors.
Calico accessorizes well in the bedroom with pillow slips and the outer cover for down duvet covers. The lack of expense attached to calico makes it a popular choice for any item that may have a more expensive cover later.
What is Calico - Sewing
Because calico is a cotton fabric, it is very easy to sew.
- NEEDLES - Use a universal sewing needle in an appropriate thickness.
- THREAD - Use an all-purpose polyester thread
- SEWING - Because calico is a light to medium weight woven fabric, straight seams are the easiest to sew. Finer calico can be sewn with a French seam.
- FINISHING - Serging is the easiest seam finish, but if you just have a regular sewing machine then consider a wide zig-zag stitch.
Further Reading: Sewing Cotton Fabric
What is Calico - Treatments
Calico is a natural, unbleached fabric and this qulity lends itself to a fabric dying process. Calico absorbs pigments of dyes and easily accepts both natural dyes and synthetic ones.
Calico is a natural fabric derived from plant material and therefore absorbs natural plant dyes very easily. Dyes made from plant materials give the fabric a subtle color variation.
Calico absorbs both cold water dyes and machine washable dyes. One of the best methods of hand-dying calico is to try some tie-dye. Tying up the fabric with elastic bands in different areas and then submerging the calico in the dye solution creates very interesting patterns on the calico. The tie-dyed results make up into interesting cushions and casual beachwear.
What is Calico - Laundry care
As always, check the laundry symbols on your fabric or calico item before you start washing. Being a natural fabric, calico is best hand or machine washed in cold or warm water with a gentle detergent. Calico is prone to a large amount of shrinkage so pre-washing before sewing projects is always recommended.
A tumble dryer can be used but be aware that this is likely to cause further shrinkage. Calico will always shrink the largest amount in the first wash. Subsequent washes will result in smaller amounts of shrinkage.
Most calico has finishing chemicals in it when on the bolt, so washing will result in a softer fabric. Washing some calico fabrics can result in a small amount of pilling.
Calico can be ironed on a hot setting. Stubborn wrinkles may need the addition of a water spray.
What is Calico - In Conclusion
Calico in spite of its natural flaws, is a very useful and popular fabric. This inexpensive cotton is a good starting point for a new project because it is so easy to work with. Like the calico cat, the fabric may have a few flaws, but these flaws are part of its charm and distinctive character.