It is fascinating to observe how quilters from different parts of the world utilise the same methods and tools, but frequently explain them in terms that have distinct connotations. Calico is a noun that falls into this category.
A quilter in the United States most likely thinks of calico as a type of cotton fabric that has a print that covers the entire surface. In the United States, the term “calico” can refer to a variety of patterns, including those with small flowers and vines, dots, and so on.
Quilters in the UK, on the other hand, refer to the fabric itself rather than the design print on it. So there you have it; quilters may actually be referring to a plain white or cream coloured cloth, or even unbleached cotton, when they talk about calico. The weft and the warp of the fabric are both uniform, which contributes to the fabric’s sturdiness.
Nothing refers to the colors or prints that we associate with calico in the U.S.
Since the 11th century, people have been weaving calico. It was a cotton fabric that had equal amounts of weft and warp, and its origins can be traced back to Calicut in India. To give the cotton its distinctive hue, they either painted or stained it. Calico was first brought to the new world in the 17th century, when trade between India and Europe first got off.
The introduction of calico to England resulted in a commotion there. Wool was the primary material used in the production of English garments at the time. In the year 1700, Parliament enacted a legislation that forbade the importation of calicoes that had been dyed or printed in other countries. This was done to safeguard the domestic wool industry. However, a substantial amount of grey material was brought in. It is only calico that lacks the finishing touches of colour and designs. After the grey fabric had been brought in, the English began printing on 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!
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