It is interesting how quilters all over the world use the same techniques and tools but often refer to different meanings when discussing them. Calico is one of those terms.
In the United States, a quilter probably thinks of calico as cotton fabric that features an all over print. Small flowers, vines, dots, etc., all fall under the category of calico as we know it in the U.S.
But in the UK, quilters refer to the cloth rather than the print. So there, quilters discussing calico may actually be talking about simple white or cream colored fabric or even unbleached cotton. The fabric, however, is consistent in both weft and warp, making it sturdy.
Nothing refers to the colors or prints that we associate with calico in the U.S.
Calico has been made since the 11th century. It originated in Calicut, India and was cotton fabric made of equal weft and warp. They painted or stained the cotton to give it color. When India began trading with Europe in the 17th Century, calico was introduced to new worlds.
The introduction of calico caused a ruckus in England. English fabrics of the era were wool based. To protect their own wool industry, Parliament passed a law in 1700 to prevent dyed and printed calicoes from being imported. Plenty of gray cloth, however, was imported. It is simply calico that was not finished with color and prints. Once the gray cloth was imported, the English printed it there.
Researchers believe they have traced the difference in meaning between the two countries back to the 1780s. At that time, they say calico was imported to the U.S. from England. England and the rest of Europe referred to the cloth weave as calico, but the people in the U.S. referred to the design as calico.
Other differences you might hear between quilters from the U.S. and the U.K. include a linguistic discrepancy over muslin. In the U.K., muslin is a light, plain weave cotton fabric. It has a very fine texture. In the United States, however, muslin is a cheap fabric in white, cream or unbleached cotton. The texture is even because the weft and warp are equal.
We also tend to use cheesecloth and gauze interchangeably. In the United States, we refer to very soft fine cotton sheeting with an open, yet plain weave as cheesecloth. That same description is known as gauze in the U.K.
What does cheesecloth matter to quilters? If you have ever tried to wash loose wool batting, you probably know. You can use cheesecloth to wrap loose batting in when prewashing. This will help keep your batting from bearding.
Muslin is used quite a lot in quilting. Sometimes it is incorporated into quilt tops as backing in the blocks. Some quilters like to use it as backing for the entire quilt.
You might not ever need to use gauze in your quilting unless you are working on a specialized art quilt. You could use it in appliques or to add texture and depth to thread painting projects. And don’t forget it makes great mummies in Halloween quilts!
By Penny Halgren of http://www.How-To-Quilt.com