What Is Calico And What Should We Use It For?

January 6, 2021

Calico is a widely used material that appears more often in our day to day lives than we would think. It is considered a good base for creativity due to its muted colours, which is why it is often used as canvas, for mock-up garments and many household accessories like curtains or furnishings.

How is Calico made?

This upholstery material is made from half-processed and unbleached cotton fibres in a plain-weave. This is where the lengthwise yards (the weft) pass over and under the crosswise yarns (the warp), alternating each row, to form the finished weave.

The process of making calico is essentially the same as cotton, however the material is finished before the cotton is fully processed. Textile mills ship in raw cotton in bales, which are then processed in stages. 

  1. First, they pull the fibres into a straight line and remove any impurities.
  2. They then smooth out the fibres so that they can be spun to strengthen them.
  3. Once strengthened the weaving of the calico can begin.

What is the origin of Calico?

The use of calico can be traced back to the 11th century, where it originated in Calicut in the southwest of India. This is the place where the name calico was derived from. During the 11th century, India was the biggest producer/exporter of cloth around the world, largely due to how cheap and easy the calico was to make there. 

Now it is sourced from around the world and is available in a variety of weights.

What can I use calico for?

Calico material is extremely versatile, making its uses extensive due to the large variety of types ranging from soft and sheer to strong and coarse. This could be the perfect material for you by choosing the type of calico that best suits your project.

If you are thinking about making a garment, then calico would be the perfect material for your toile or mock-up. This is what designers make before the garment is made using their chosen material, by making these first with calico they can make sure the fit is right before cutting into their other fabric. 

Often calico is used for items such as bags, aprons, curtains and furnishings because these items will see daily wear and tear so they need to be made with strong material that is durable. Calico is a blanket canvas that can be dyed and moulded so that it can be used for almost any clothing item or regular household items. 

Calico is not the only form of unfinished cotton:

  • Muslin – a plain weave cotton fabric, but very light and fine.
  • Gauze – a very soft, fine fabric created with a very open, plain weave.
  • Canvas – a plain woven, very durable cotton fabric.
  • Cheesecloth – a loosely woven cotton which resembles gauze, and comes in seven grades from extra-fine to open weave.

These fabrics are all half processed cotton that can be used for a wide variety of projects and make the perfect muted base to many upholstery projects.

Here at J A Milton, we stock a beautiful 50% cotton and 50% polyester cream calico that can be used as traditional upholstery lining. The calico helps to keep the dust out of the cushion pad and prolong the life of the upholstery. Lining with calico gives a better finish to your work.
For more information or advice, please contact our expert team at sales@jamiltonupholstery.co.uk