5.22.08

We got back late late last night…the plane was delayed, so it was about 2 am Denver time before we got home, meaning it felt like 4 am to us. It was nice to be home even though I was exhausted. I peeked at the sleeping boys, who had all made us “welcome home” cards, and petted the cats. We saw precious few creatures while we were in NY–some birds, one black squirrel, a few dogs. Lots of babies, though.

This pattern was inspired by some of the tiny calico prints that were featured in the Cooper’s sample exhibit. There were beautiful little Japanese prints done for kimono fabric. I believe they were produced using indigo dye and a rice paste resist. The actual prints were much smaller than what I’ve done here, but if they get too small on the computer screen they disappear.

diamond calico

diamond calico light

Another thing I learned from the sample show is that calico fabric originated in India. The informational blurb at the museum said the fabric was from Calcutta, but I’ve since discovered that it’s from the city of Calicut. (Oops, Cooper-Hewitt). Indian pattern designers typically used motifs from nature, of trees, flowers, birds, etc. Then the Europeans started making calico fabric with motifs based on the traditional Indian motifs. I’ve always associated calico fabric with Little House on the Prairie, so I did a little research to find out how it got to America. Here’s a brief synopsis:

In 1700, England banned import (and the use and wear) of cotton cloth from India, in an effort to prop up the English textile industry (known as the ‘Calico Act’, it was repealed in 1774). Printed calicos were especially popular among women who were termed the ‘Calico Madams’. The ban almost destroyed the Indian textile industry, and India was forced to buy from the British textiles. (thanks Wikipedia)

A fellow named John Hewson, the son of a London woolen draper, came to America in 1774 with Benjamin Franklin to escape King George’s rule. Hewson was trained as a printer of calico fabrics and had worked for Talwin & Foster, a leading London textile printworks. He opened a calico printing factory in 1774 in Pennsylvania. According to the Pennsylvania Historical Society website,

Not only was Hewson the first calico fabric printer in the colonies, his work was also of the highest quality. According to scholars of textile history, Hewson’s textiles were unmatched in America at that time, and rivaled those of Europe. His chintz fabrics made him famous and were printed with wood blocks; a different one was used for each of the seven colors in his palette; pink, red, blue, yellow, black and brown. Green colors were added by “pencilling” in blue and yellow dyes. Hewson’s textiles were expensive and highly sought after for dresses, furnishing fabrics and handkerchiefs. He is most known for his realistic and finely detailed classical urns of flowers, which were printed as medallion panels for bedcovers, it is believed.

There you have it…the history of calico, in a nutshell.

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