Sunday, May 31, 2015

Wild Speculation

I'm going to veer off from my regularly-scheduled posts to indulge in a moment of pure conjecture. I thought about including this portrait in my post on Pre-1700 cotton printing, but decided it was too speculative. I'll share it here, and perhaps someone out there with more 17th century clothing expertise will be able to disprove my theory (which seems too good to be true) - that this is actually a printed fabric.

This is a detail of a painting in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts by Floris van Schooten, ca. 1620. I can't find it on the museum's website, so I'm using the image I found via Pinterest.

My question to early 17th century embroidery experts: Does this look like a typical pattern to you? It instantly reminded me of a printed pattern, Though they are a hundred years later, lattice style patterns seemed to be popular in 18th century printed cottons. I couldn't find anything quite like this type of pattern when I looked at 17th century embroidered jackets. If you look very closely (by clicking the link to the Verte Adelie blog), you'll see that there are red dots interspersed with the black(?). I even wondered if the dots were something applied, like spangles. I would have expected them to appear shiny, though.

I wonder too, if the "fading" of some of the motifs was done intentionally by the painter or if it just represents the aging of the painting. If the fabric was an early European attempt at printing, it could just be oil paint on the textile, which wouldn't be very durable.

Embroidered? Painted/printed? The world may never know. Unless you comment with an answer, of course.

Printed Cotton Bans

* See here for an overview and an explanation of my citation system


Starting in 1686, France prohibited both the importation of Indian printed fabric as well as the printing of cottons. The combination of this ban with the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes drove Huguenot printers out of France (8, 37), taking their knowledge and experience to other countries such as England, Sweden, and Switzerland. Though some printers relocated to the free areas of Alsace and Marseille or rural areas away from the reach of the law(8, 38), the French printing industry was largely crippled.

People caught with printed cottons faced confiscation, fines, or imprisonment. In 1717, the government added the option of condemning people to life on a French galley (10.3, 224). Despite the threat of punishment, it was estimated in 1701 that 12 million livres of calicos changed hands in France, mostly smuggled from Amsterdam or London, or smuggled directly from India by the French East India Company. Generally only the most flagrant (merchant) offenders were harshly punished. However, hundreds of women were publicly stripped of their clothes, which were then burned. On the whole, enforcement of the ban was infrequent (8, 38).

In 1759, in the face of failure of enforcement and loss of technological advantage, the ban was finally lifted. Within a year, Christophe-Phillippe Oberkampf had established his print works at Jouy and soon gained fame for his “Toiles de Jouy.”


English silk and wool weavers began to complain about the increased competition in the 1670s (9, 25). The government's initial response was to increase duties on imported fabrics from 20% in the early 1690s to 35% in 1700 (12, 119). The Calico Act of 1701 stated that “all calicoes of China, Persia or the East Indies that are painted, dyed or printed or stained there... shall not be worn or otherwise used in Great Britain” (7, 157). This Act still allowed re-exportation of Indian printed cottons as well as the importation of plain white cottons, which could legally be printed for domestic consumption (10.6, 338). The re-exportation loophole led to much smuggling as ships ostensibly left for colonial markets, but actually doubled back to other British ports (9, 25).

Domestic printers were buoyed by the ban on imports, since they could import white cottons and print perfectly legal imitations of Indian fabrics. This led to an increase in the number of print works (10.3, 223). As domestic production ramped up, dissatisfaction among the silk and wool weavers began to boil over again. One wrote in 1702:

Though it was hoped that this prohibition would have discouraged the consumption of those goods, we find that allowing calicoes unstained to be brought in, has occasioned such an increase of the printing and staining calicoes here, and the printers and painters have brought that art to such perfection, that it is more prejudicial to us than it was before the passing of that Act. (11, 112)

Violence began to break out in 1720, with women being assaulted and stripped naked in London if they were found by the mob to be wearing the prohibited cloth. Some even had acid thrown at them (12, 119).

The government issued the Calico Act of 1721 which no longer exempted white Indian cottons. It also forbade printing on domestically produced all cotton fabrics. However, Indian handkerchiefs and muslins were still allowed, as was printing on fustians (cotton/linen blend fabrics) (10.6, 338). To further confuse matters, the Act also exempted any Indian fabrics that were already in the country – a fact difficult to prove or disprove (9, 25). Smuggling continued and cotton fabrics continued to be available (12, 127).

As British weavers refined their fustians, the quality approached that of all-cottons (8, 83). For a third time, the silk and wool weavers protested. This time, however, the government merely reenforced their previous decision by issuing the 1736 Manchester Act. This new act reaffirmed that as long as the printing was done on fustian, it was allowed (5, 17). The Acts stood thus until all-cotton fabrics were finally allowed in 1774 (11, 127).

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Pre-1700 Printed Cottons

Notes: I use the word “cottons” to refer to cotton-blend fabrics as well as pure cotton fabrics. I apologize in advance for my monotonous use of the phrase “printed cottons,” but “calico” referred in the period to both printed fabrics and white goods, while “chintz” suggests to me a complex design of many colors and some of the early fabrics used only one or two colors. 

My citing system is simple: (Source as numbered in the Bibliography, page number)


Cotton Production

1673 illustration of a cotton plant - Library at The Mariners' Museum

Cheap cottons, including printed textiles had been available to Europe since the Roman Empire via Arab and Levantine traders (8, 33).

European cotton production began in Spain after its introduction by the Moors. By the 9th century the Spanish were producing cotton textiles. It wasn't until around 1150 AD that cotton weaving spread to Italy where fustian, a cloth with a linen warp and cotton weft began to be produced. This primarily cheap cloth was exported to Spain, France, Northern Europe and beyond until the mid 14th century when competition from Switzerland and southern Germany increased. In 1320 Ulm, Germany was a center of cotton production (12, 73) and by the early 1400s southern Germany in general became dominant in producing cotton-blend fabrics. Cheap German cottons flooded into Spain, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands, deterring local cotton industries. (10.2, 75)

By the late 14th and 15th centuries, some parts of France and Flanders had developed cotton industries. Most of Europe was hampered by a lack of raw cotton, which did not grow well there (12, 49). Southern Italy and western Mediterranean regions grew a type of short-staple cotton which was generally used in the more rural areas, while Syrian, Egyptian and Cypriot cotton was in demand in larger towns. (16, 315)

Trade with India and the Levant

India, who had long traded to central Asia, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, began trade with newcomer Portugal after Vasco de Gama discovered a sea route to India. The Portuguese began to import indigo among other exotic products. Until East India Companies (EICs) were formed by the English and the Dutch in 1600 and 1602 respectively, most of Europe was only peripherally linked to Asian trade (12, 35). Despite this, enough indigo was flowing through Europe to prompt Germany to ban indigo in 1577 to protect domestic woad-growers (woad being a plant which also produced blue dye. France followed suit in 1609. The tide was impossible to stem; 500,000 pounds of indigo entered Amsterdam in 1631 alone (6, 31). In the early 1600s, Spain required Central American Indians to pay taxes in the form of indigo; first collected in the wild and later grown on plantations to the tune of nearly half a million pounds a year (C., para. 8).

Prior to Europe's direct trade with India, Asian products were available in the Mediterranean via overland routes through Persia and the Levant. Fragments of Indian printed cottons from between ca. 1000 to 1450 AD found in Egypt reside in the Ashmolean Museum. The range of trade in Indian cottons was vast, even seven centuries before our period of interest. Venetians had been trading with the Levant since at least the 1370s, and before them, the Genoese had traded there (18, 115). The French had been trading in the east Mediterranean since at least 1400 AD (18, 146) and an English chartered company, the Levant Company, was formed in 1581 (B, para. 1&2). In the region, Persian and Levantine fabrics were sold along with Indian cottons. In the early 1600s, Levantine fabrics were being marketed in Marseilles, London, and Flanders (12, 112).

One of the early imports by the Portuguese were “pintados”, which means “spotteds” in Portuguese (9, 9). These were cotton textiles printed or painted with bright, fast colors. Lisbon merchants traded these pintados “as far as southern England before 1550” (10.3, 212). These printed fabrics eventually came to be known by other names: chintz (chints, chittes) and calico (calacow).

In 1609, EIC agent William Finch wrote home to England that they might be able to sell “pintadoes of all sorts”, and by 1613 both fine and coarse pintados were available in London (9, 14), though they don't appear to have been imported by the EIC until 1631 (7, 157). These early printed fabric imports were generally used for furnishing purposes: as bed covers, hangings, etc. They were celebrated for their bright colors and fastness, which enabled them to be laundered, as well as their exotic style. It seems that at this point, printed cottons were not generally viewed as clothing fabrics. This may have been due to the fact that many of the cloths imported were palampores, pieces as large as 8.5 x 11.5 feet whose pattern included a wide border around the edge and a large central motif such as the “tree of life.”

The majority of the fabric imported by the English EIC in the 1630s was plain, checked or striped cotton; only one-fourth was painted or printed. (9, 11). The Dutch imported Indian cottons as well, but the majority of their trade in cloth was intra-Asian as a means to acquire spices and other luxury goods (as Indian cloth was used as currency in Southeast Asia). Since the Dutch were already dominant in this market, the English EIC came to focus on exporting textiles back to Europe. (12, 91-2) All European buyers tended to eschew the cheapest types of cloth which were worn by working people in India and Southeast Asia (10.1, 33).

In 1662, the English EIC began to send “musters” or designs to be copied in India for a more saleable product (9, 15). By the mid-1660s cottons accounted for approximately three quarters of the English EIC imports by value, increasing to 83% in the mid-1680s which represented 1.5 million pieces of fabric (13.1, 86). Though all of the EIC's were importing large amounts of Indian cottons, much of it was reexported (11, 110) to other European countries, to Africa, and to their American colonies.

Throughout the 17th century, material niceties and fashion trends spread even to the rural areas of England where people could now afford small luxuries like buttons, ribbons or lace (10.3, 221). In the 1670s, printed cottons began to be used as clothing fabrics in England and Holland; however, a quote from 1683 explains that only “the meaner sort” were wearing them in Britain (13.1, 91). After some promotion and strategic importation of very fine textiles, it was reported in 1687 that “ladies of the greatest quality” were wearing printed cottons (9, 16) and in 1694 the English EIC wrote to one of their agents in India that “you can never make or send us too many of them.” (9, 18)

European Printing

As the demand for printed cottons increased, many entrepreneurial Europeans began to try to reproduce the brightly-colored fabrics. The first efforts used familiar technology, such as copperplate printing which was already used for books and sometimes souvenir silk handkerchiefs. The earliest efforts seem to have used existing pigments and inks (which were not fast) and did not utilize the methods for printing mordants on fabric. Karel Davids says in <u>The Rise and Decline of Dutch Technological Leadership</u> that textile printing began “in the Dutch Republic from at least the 1610s onwards” and that print works decorated camlets and linen using copperplates and ink and oil paint. It wasn't until the 1670s however, that the Dutch printers began to use mordants and dye (pp. 156-157). In many ways, European printers were reinventing the wheel because information on Indian printing processes was fragmentary and hands-on training was almost required to learn the trade. France received a bit of a head start when Armenian printers settled in Marseilles in the 1660s, bringing with them their know-how. (8, 37)

The first known printer in England was William Sherwin in 1676 whose patent claimed “A way for printing broad calicoes and Scotch cloth with a double-necked rolling press [copperplate press] which is the only true way of East Indian printing and staining goods.” (7, 65) In Holland in 1678, printers were already achieving up to 8 colors, and by the 1680s, the Germans had established a printing center in Berlin and the Swiss a center in Neuchâtel (7, 75).

Setting up a print works was a huge undertaking that required a lot of capital and a steady supply of cloth, dyestuffs, mordants, running water and labor. Still, they continued to spring up and Indian printed cottons continued to flow, much to the dismay of the established wool, silk, and linen producers. They complained vociferously and petitioned their governments to ban these textiles. France complied in 1686 by banning the production, importing, and wearing of all printed fabrics – essentially giving up their early advantage. Britain would soon issue their own prohibitions in the early 18th century.

Friday, May 29, 2015

18th Century Printed Cotton Research


I want to share the results of my research, such as it is, into the history of printed cottons. Rather than create one long dissertation-like post, I will break it down by subject. My goal is to clarify - if possible - the quanities and types of printed cottons used for clothing, especially for the middle- and lower-classes in the colonies in the years leading up to the American Revolutionary War. This will be a fluid set of posts until I am finished.

Hopefully these posts will contribute to the general understanding of printed fabric without spreading too much speculation or misinformation. If anyone has any questions, comments or criticisms, please feel free to comment. I'll gladly correct anything I have wrong.

My citation system is simple: (Source as numbered in the bibliography, page number)

(Links will be added as I post the entries)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Bibliography for Printed Cotton Research

*I will update this bibliography as my research evolves*



1. Printed Textiles 1760-1860 – In the Collection of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum
    1987 – Lisa Taylor & Gillian Moss

2. English Printed Textiles, 1720-1836
    1960 – Peter Floud, V&A

3. Patterns in a Revolution – French Printed Textiles, 1759-1821
    1990 – Anita Jones

4. Colour and the Calico Printer
    1982 – Deryn O'Connor & Hero Granger-Taylor

5. Printed Textiles – English & American Cottons & Linens 1700-1850
    1970 – Florence M. Montgomery

6. America's Indigo Blues – Resist-Printed & Dyed Textiles of the Eighteenth Century
    1974 – Florence H. Pettit

7. America's Printed & Painted Fabrics 1600-1900
    1970 – Florence H. Pettit

8. Wearable Prints, 1760-1860
    2014 – Susan W. Greene

9. Chintz – Indian Textiles for the West
    2008 – Rosemary Crill

10. The Spinning World – A Global history of Cotton Textiles, 1200-1850
      2009 – Edited by Giorgio Riello & Prasannan Parthasarathi

      10.1 – Prasannan Parthasarathi – Cotton Textiles in the Indian Subcontinent
      10.2 – Maureen Fennell Mazzaoui – The First European Cotton Industry
      10.3 – Beverly Lemire – India, Europe, & the Cotton Trade
      10.4 – Robert S. DuPlessis – Cottons Consumption in the 17th- & 18th- Century North 
      10.5 – John Styles – Cottons in the Industrial Revolution
      10.6 – Pat Hudson – The Limits of Wool & the Potential of Cotton in the 
                  Eighteenth & Early Nineteenth Centuries
      10.7 – Prasannan Parthasarathi & Ian Wendt – Decline in Three Keys

11. The Dress of the People – Everyday Fashion in Eighteenth-Century England
      2007 – John Styles

12. Cotton: The Fabric that Made the Modern World
      2013 – Giorgio Riello

13. Interwoven Globe
      2013 – Edited by Amelia Peck

      13.1 – Melinda Watt - “Whims & Fancies” - Europeans Respond to Textiles
                  from the East
      13.2 – Amelia Peck - “India Chints” and “China Taffaty” - East India Company Textiles
                 for the North American Market
      13.3 – Elena Phipps – Global Colors – Dyes and the Dye Trade

14. Printed Textiles: British and American Cottons and Linens 1700-1850
      2014 – Linda Eaton

15. Natural Dyes and Home Dyeing
      1971 – Rita J. Adrosko

16. An Economic History of Medieval Europe
      2014 – N. J. G. Pounds

17. Consumption and Gender in the Early 17th Century Household: The World of
       Alice Le Strange
      2012 – Jane Whittle, Elizabeth Griffiths

18. Levant Trade in the Middle Ages
      2014 – Eliyahu Ashtor

19. The Rise and Decline of Dutch Technological Leadership (2 vols)
       2008 -- Karel Davids

Pamphlets & Websites:

A. Identifying Printed Textiles in Dress 1740-1890
     2007 – Philip A. Sykas -

B. Levant Company. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved May 26, 2015, from

C. Indigo - The Early Modern Period
     June 2008 (last update) - Kate Long