Imported India Fabrics – circa 1796

We forget I think, in these days of synthetics, that to the affluent in the US coastal cities, there were many fabric choices. Of course all were natural fabrics. And I say coastal cities since in the farming communities and certainly on the frontier families were dependent upon homespun for their clothing. Homespun that was usually home dyed as well. In Williamsburg these dyes would have been imported: the fustics, indigo (homegrown as well as imported from the Phillippines), and cochineal. But further from the coast, the thrifty housewife would have used many dyes collected from the garden and forest around her, as per previous posts.

Many of the imported fabrics are unfamiliar to us now. A search for definitions does not always turn up anything. Here are some of the fabrics imported into the new USA in the 1790s.

Nankeen – A yellow fabric made from a yellowish cotton. Later on, the cotton was the ordinary white and the fabric was dyed to achieve the yellow color.

Shalloon – A lightweight twill of wool or worsted usually used for the lining of coats e.g. The coats of the British Army.

Ticklenburg – a coarse mixed linen fabric (mixed with tow once assumes), to be sold in the West Indies. I suspect this cloth was destined for slave clothing.

Calimancoes – A variety of worsted.

Sprigged Mecklenburgs – a variety of cotton that looks like dotted swiss.

Calico, of course. Even the name is a corruption of Calicut, the town where this particular type of fabric was purchased. In India, the process for making printed cloth with wooden blocks and dye was developed in the 11th century. By changing the mordants, one dye would produce two colors0, usually red and black. By the 12th century, these printed fabrics were already exports to the Middle East.

In 1783, a process was developed in England for using copper printing. More on that in the next post.


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