This section is from the "A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods" book, by George S. Cole. Also available from Amazon: A complete dictionary of dry goods and history of silk, cotton, linen, wool and other fibrous substances,: Including a full explanation of the modern processes ... together with various useful tables.
Calico. The word "calico" has a queer origin. Many centuries ago the first monarch of the province of Malabar gave to one of his chiefs, as a reward for distinguished services, his sword and all the land within the limit of which a cock crowing at a certain temple could be heard. From this circumstance the little town which grew up in the center of this territory was called Calicoda, or the cock crowing. Afterward it was called Calicut, and from this place the first cotton goods were imported into England, bearing the name of calico.
The printing of calico has come to be a wonderful art-science. In this country there are two classes of calico printers - those who make the cloth, print it, and sell direct to jobbers, and those who merely print the cloth for jobbers or commission merchants at piece-price. "Grey" print cloth may be purchased in New York or Liverpool even by retail dealers, who in turn may take it to the calico printer and have the patterns put on. Ordinary grey cloth, 64x64, usually sells for 3 and a fraction cents per yard; and 56x60 cloth at 3 cents, or a fraction under 3 cents, per yard; while the cost of printing the same varies from one to two cents per yard. One pound of raw cotton will make 81/4 yards of 64x64 calico cloth. The tariff on imported calico is 41/2 cents per square yard. The following table shows the price of the best print cloth and standard sheeting in comparison with.the price of cotton for four years: 4
"Standard sheeting weighs 2.85 yards to the pound.
When the grey cloth is received, fresh from the hands of the weaver, it is put through a critical examination for flaws and imperfections in weaving. The webs of cloth that pass inspection are then handed over to a girl who stitches the ends of several together, forming a required continuous length, 300 yards being the minimum run a printer cares to accept to one coloring of a pattern. Upon each printing piece, of say 300 yards, are then placed certain marks for purposes of identification, and which will be visible and recognizable after printing.
The next process is singeing, the purpose of which is to remove all surface unevenness and fuzz, the existence of which after printing would leave a blotched and defective appearance, a completely smooth face being absolutely necessary. Singeing to the uninitiated is probably the most perplexing process through which the cloth passes ; at first sight it seems that nothing will save the cloth from destruction. The cloth passes over and in passing is pressed against semi-circular platinum plates heated to almost white heat by the passing through them of electric currents. Great caution is necessary in the folding of the cloth preparatory to its going through this fiery ordeal; if any hitch should occur to prevent its running freely and smoothly its ruin is inevitable. The rate at which it is made to travel, singes about 125 yards of cloth in one minute.
The next operation the cloth undergoes is that of bleaching, which is divided into two branches : 1st, "print-bleaching", in the case of which the goods are bleached as a preliminary process to being printed all over; and 2nd, "white-bleaching" which applies to goods to be finished "white", or unprinted, or merely lined or dotted as in the case of calico shirting or percales. In "white" bleaching it is only necessary to satisfy the eye, but in "print-bleaching" the cloth must be chemically pure, otherwise the colors in the subsequent printing process would be dull and blotchy, the colors refusing to combine evenly or perfectly.
The cloth next goes through the process technically known as "souring", a series of alternate and repeated acid treatments and washings. A solution of sulphuric or muriatic acid and one of chloride of lime are in turn used. None of these "souring" processes can be dispensed with, though their tendency is to weaken or rot the cloth. The chief cause of tender printed calico is carelessness at this point, too strong a solution of acid being used, or the boiling and washing-out afterward of the acid not being sufficiently thorough. The cloth is now as free from foreign matters as it is possible to get it, and contains only the identification marks referred to, and after being wound upon rollers is ready for starching.
Middling cotton .................................
11 1/4 c
8 3/8 C.
Standard Sheeting ..............................
7 1/4 c
6 1/2 c
Print cloths, 64x64
3 3/8 c
3 3/8 c.
The object of starching is to fill up the spaces between the threads in order that the pattern may be imprinted plainer. What ought to be, and by reputable factories really is used, is pure starch, either of corn or potatoes, made into a stiff mucilage and blued with indigo. The cloth passes ever a roller into a long trough of starch, and as it comes out is caught between a pair of rollers and the superfluous starch squeezed out and thrown back into the trough, the cloth passing on to the drying machine. Many factories use a great deal more starch or "sizing" than is necessary, in order to give light-weight cloth an appearance of heaviness. The cloth now being ready for printing, the design is selected and the rollers engraved. These rollers are of polished copper, cylindrical in form, the pattern being engraved around its entire circumference and from end to end, a different roller being required for each color or shade in the pattern. In establishments of any considerable extent many thousands of these copper cylinders are kept in stock, involving an enormous outlay of money. Colors as applied to cotton printing are of two kinds, substantive and adjective. The substantive or topical colors are such as will unite immediately with the cotton, and the printing of such colors on the cloth is called the steaming process. The adjective colors are those that will not unite with the cotton without the use of a mordant, it being a well known fact that cotton in itself has no affinity with dye, but must be induced to cling to it through a chemical medium. A mordant is the chemical medium or foundation over which the proper colors are to be printed. Alumnia and oxide of iron are the mordants most commonly used for fixing of the color in calico printing; mordants are liquid in form and almost colorless. As the mordant must be applied to the cloth through the medium of the engraved pattern on the roller, a quantity of fugitive color, (one that is easily washed out) is added that the outline of the pattern may be discernible, and this is called sightening color, because it enables the operator to see that his pattern is being properly produced. Pressing against each engraved roller is another roller of wood covered with cloth, called the "furnishing" roller, which transmits the color from a reservoir beneath it and in which it revolves. The mordants having been put into the reservoirs, a nice arrangement has to be made so that in fixing the engraved rollers the pattern may be exactly adjusted for the transmission of the color the cloth. This is done with mathematical precision and without a hairbreadth of variation; these printing machines are of various sizes according to the number of colors to be printed, some being capable of holding 16 sets of rollers. The cloth now begins its journey entering at the rear of the machine, where it is dealt with by the back-tenter, whose duty it is to see that it is carefully and evenly delivered. When it passes from the rollers upon which it is placed it travels along with a back cloth moving beneath it, and so finds its way to the blanket with which and the back cloth it moves until it is received between the drum and the engraved roller, in this part of the process receiving the mordant. When it has passed over the mordant rollers the cloth moves out in front of the machine in view of the printer, who watches to see that the pattern has been accurately rendered. The cloth has now to be dried, which is performed by means of steam heated cylinders. When in a dry condition, it is subjected to a process known as "ageing," which extracts from it to a great extent the acetic acid, leaving the pattern firmly fixed in the fibre of the cloth in what is called a free base, which is the true mordant stain or substructure upon which the final colors are to be built. The process following this is "dunging;" its object is to completely wash off the remainder of the acid, the sightening colors, and any other loose matter at the same time, leaving the mordant in its pure form in the fibre. The material that has been found most conducive to these ends, strange as it may seem, is cow's dung; its action is a subject of conjecture, and has never been defined in precise chemical terms. The final process prior to the reception of the coloring matter is a thorough washing in soft water. This leaves but a faint, scarcely distinguishable outline of the pattern, but upon this will be built up the desired color or colors. We will now visit the dye-beck and be introduced to a substance called alizarine which produces in its action an almost magical effect. Here may be seen the long piece of cloth that has gone through the process already described, with scarcely an outline of pattern visible plunged into a vessel contaning alizarine, (a yellowish-brown fluid) and after immersion brought out full fledged calico, displaying the different effects of colored patterns, reds, pinks, heliotropes, purples, etc., according to the various printings of the mordants.
This alizarine, the effect of which is here described, is a coal tar product, and to the uninformed observer the revelation of the results of the production of colors from coal tar, is remarkable. To return to the dye-beck, a bath of the alizarine is formed by the dyer, heated to boiling point; through this the cloth is passed, coming out of it the required color or colors. The next operation is called "clearing" and consists in boiling the cloth in soap and water; this has the effect of brightening the colors. When cleared, the cloth is taken to undergo certain finishing operations. It is first run over a machine to open it to its full width; it is then passed between cylinders for the purpose of calendering it; thence to the folding machine to be made up in piece form, when it is ready for market.
In the above description the pattern we are supposed to have followed, is printed on a white ground; to effect the production of a white pattern on a dark ground, the mordant is made to cover the whole surface of the cloth. The pattern, such as small leaves, sprigs, dots, etc., is printed with acid which discharges the mordant and leaves the pattern white; Simpson's mourning prints are good examples of this work. Such styles are known as acid discharges. Into these white spaces other colors may be printed if desired. This latter process is called "padding."
One requisite in fast-color printing is a plentiful supply of water as soft as possible, and free from iron and magnesia in undue proportions, which would prevent the proper action of the chemicals. In this respect the United States has been particularly favored by nature in the districts selected for calico-printing. The wealthy and enterprising corporations engaged in this trade, having the finest raw cotton in the world, possessing the newest and most perfect machinery invented, and an enormous and ever-increasing home market, are enabled to command the services of the most skillful operators, the most enthusiastic and devoted students of art and the most scientific investigators in the sphere of chemistry. Lancashire, England, was long regarded as the native home of calico-printer, but as is often the case, the child which has wandered to a far-off land has eclipsed the achievements of the parent, and thus to-day America stands unrivaled in this, the art-department of commerce.
Calico-Printing originated in India, where the abundance of dye-stuffs and the preference for cotton fabrics naturally lead to the development of this process. The name also originated in India from the port of Calicut, from which over a century ago the fabric was first imported to European countries. From about the year 1800 the United States has been familiar with these goods, through their production in England, and was almost entirely dependent upon the mother country for all our manufactures in this line. Up to 1840 English calico or prints covered in a great variety of printed styles, were produced by various distinct processes. Madderwork, [see Madder and Turkey Red] however, was the chief product, and through its durability deservedly has maintained to the present time its superiority. The nature of the process, however, prevents the variety of effects which the modern process of coloring has been brought to so high a degree of excellence. Indigo work [see Indigo Blue] also has been largely employed of late years, and holds rank with madders for fastness of color, but lacks variety the same as madders. Aniline colors date with the second half of the century and are coal tar, or petroleum extracts.
Within the memory of the older dry goods merchants, English prints were the chief goods of this class in dealers' stocks in this country. "Hoyles" purples, chocolate chintzes, "Potter's plate work," and other familiar English prints supplied the larger part of the goods consumed here. Among the early American printers who are high standard, were the Merrimack, Cocheco, Sprague, and Richmond companies. All these were producers of madder work, and every country woman before the Civil War was as pronounced in her preference for one or the other of these, as the women of to-day are for their favorite make of spool cotton. These printers adopted as high standard a cloth counting seventy-two threads warp and weft to the inch, width twenty-five inches; but later on when printers increased and the English article was driven out of the market, the standard became sixty-four threads both ways, to the inch, and twenty-four inches wide, and so remains to this day.
The so-called Chintzes of early days were English or French wide cal-coes, printed by hand-block processes, and ruled at prices so high that the dames of early days prized their chintz gowns more than those of today their silk dresses. The production of calicoes reached its greatest extent in the seventies. Since then the increase of colored woven cottons, such as ginghams and chambrays, and later satteens, have materially diminished the use of calico, (per capita) and many printeries are now stopped that then yielded their millions of yards to the annual product. The chief producers of today are the Merrimack, Cocheco, Manchester, Pacific, Simpson and Windsor, each of which produce fancy and staple work, while American, Arnold and Washington are the main producers of oil and indigo styles.