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What is Calico Fabric? | Complete Guide

This image features a roll of cotton calico fabric, neatly rolled and displayed to showcase its texture. The fabric is tightly wound around a central cardboard tube, emphasizing its bulk and the multiple layers visible along the edge. Cotton calico is a plain-woven textile commonly used in crafting, garment creation, and as a base for painting or printing projects due to its versatility and absorbency. The fabric colour is Natural

We have created the ultimate fabric guide to calico fabric, compiling everything that you need to know in one easy to access place. When working with a new fabric for the first time, it’s important that you familiarise yourself with it, so that you can get the most out of it. Once you have the answers to important questions such as “what is calico fabric” and “what can you use calico fabric for”, you can use these to influence and direct your next project. 

At Discount Fabrics, we have a unique understanding of all kinds of fabrics, informed by our experience and expertise as a leading name in the fabric industry. This means that we are in the best possible position to collate and share information on one of our favourite materials. Calico fabrics are amongst our best selling products, and in this blog post you’ll find out why! 

What Is Calico Fabric?

Calico is a hugely versatile fabric, which makes it incredibly popular within the crafting and sewing community. Unfinished cotton is woven together, which means that it is entirely natural. The greyish white colour, often still flecked with cotton seeds, makes it both easily recognisable, and the perfect foundation fabric as it is really easy to alter and build upon. 

While calico was first used in India, it has become hugely popular across the globe, especially throughout Europe. What many people don’t know is that this fabric was actually first used in the 11th century. It has a deep political and cultural history, because of the British Empire and because of chintz, an early Indian painting technique used on calico fabric to create a beautiful flowered pattern. 

What Is The Difference Between Calico And Cotton?

As you have probably guessed, there is very little difference between calico and cotton. This is because calico fabric is, put simply, cotton that has not been fully processed. 

How Many Types Of Calico Fabric Are There?

There are four main types of calico fabric:

  • 100% Cotton Calico Fabric: This is calico in its most traditional sense: unbleached and undyed. It is highly receptive to printing, dying and other such processes, which is why it is most commonly incorporated in larger or more complex projects. 
  • Drill Calico Fabric: Drill calico employs a significantly tighter weave and so it is a much heavier fabric. This means that it is a great choice for upholstery. 
  • Fire Retardant Calico Fabric: The calico fabric is treated so that it is more resistant to fire. The most common type of treatment is with a substance called Proban
  • Extra Wide Fire Retardant Calico Fabric: The calico fabric is once again treated so that it is fire resistant; it is also significantly larger than ordinary lengths of the fabric, making it suitable for large projects (such as backdrops).

While the four main types of calico aren’t hugely different from each other, the slight variations in their capabilities and properties make them suitable for different projects.

What Are The Properties Of Calico?

  • Breathable
  • Non-Static
  • Biodegradable
  • Absorbent 
  • Abrasion-Resistant
  • Strong
  • Durable
  • Treatment potential
  • Dying potential

These properties are just some of the many advantages of calico fabric, making it a must-have addition to any craft basket, sewing bin or activities cupboard! 

Does Calico Fabric Come In Colours?

Calico fabric is naturally a greyish colour, because this is the colour of the cotton once it’s weaved. However the great thing about calico, and one of the reasons of its popularity, is that it is easily bleached, dyed and printed. This means that it can come in, quite literally, any shade or pattern that you desire.

When buying from an extensively stocked fabric store, such as ourselves, you can choose whether to purchase a coloured and patterned version of the fabric, or to purchase it in its original form. Purchasing a beautifully coloured and patterned calico fabric is great if you are able to quickly find what you are looking for, or if you have no specific material requirements. However, if you have a clear vision for your end-project, it can sometimes be just as easy, and twice as fun, to dye and pattern it yourself. 

How To Dye Calico Fabric

There are many methods that you can use to dye calico, both traditional and non-traditional. You can use natural dyes, which are more subtle and require a chemical to set them, or you can use cold water dyes, which involve soaking the fabric in diluted dye (although, warning, this one can get very messy). Other methods of dying calico include using machine-washable dyes or tie dye. 

The most important thing to remember when dying fabrics at home, is to stay safe. Make sure that your dying method of choice is suitable for your fabric. Follow instructions closely. Cover any surfaces with newspaper or old sheets. And most importantly, avoid touching any chemicals. 

What Can You Use Calico Fabric For?

As you can probably tell by now, calico fabric is suitable for all kinds of projects. From crafts to costumes to clothes to home furnishings, there are no limitations on what you can do. We’ve collected some of our favourite ideas, sectioned into different types for your convenience.

Craft Ideas

If you’ve spent any amount of time on Pinterest, you’ll know that there are so many crafts that you can incorporate calico fabric into. Maybe you already have a craft project in mind, or maybe you need some inspiration – which is why we’ve rounded up some of our favourite calico craft ideas. From fun seasonal projects to creations for everyday use, the diversity of the fabric means that there is so much you can make. 

  • Flags
  • Banners
  • Wreaths
  • Hand Puppets
  • Toys
  • Flowers

Home Furnishing Ideas

Due to the texture and natural colour of calico, it is a great fabric for those seeking to create a rustic, country effect in their homes. These furnishing ideas can be incorporated into any room of the house, from the living room to the bedroom to the home office! 

  • Lampshades
  • Stockings 
  • Pillow Covers
  • Upholstery
  • Throws
  • Napkins
  • Table Cloths

Bags And Apparel Ideas

Since calico is both eco-friendly and biodegradable, it is a hugely popular material for clothing and bags. Being sustainable has never been more trendy, and the only thing better than purchasing one of these is making it yourself. 

  • Aprons
  • Tote Bags
  • Book Bags
  • Scrunchies

Project Ideas

Do you have a large or long term project in mind? Or are you looking for a large or long term project that allows you to test your skills? Whether one of these questions applies to you, both or neither, there are so many craft projects that you can turn your attention to. 

  • Wedding Decorations
  • Christmas Decorations
  • Scrapbook Accessories 
  • Theatre Backdrops And Props

Purchasing Calico Fabric With Discount Fabrics

If you are looking to purchase calico fabric, then look no further than Discount Fabrics. Available in three colours, black, natural and white, our calico fabric. Perfect for dying and patterns at home to meet the demands of all latest idea or project. 

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions about the fabrics we have available. Or about calico fabric more generally. Contact us today by completing an online form, and a member of our friendly team will be happy to help in any way they can. 

And in the meantime, be sure to check out our other blog posts for more informative and inspiring content!