Idea flows

CHINTZ 

1600 – 1800 CE

Chintz were also known as INDIAN PAINTED CALICO, Indiennes in French (but all Indian fabric was Indiennes), Pintado in Portuguese, Kowatari in Japanese. The word Chintz is a derivative of ‘chint’ meaning spots.

            

Indian Chintz was plain weave cotton fabric that was mordant dyed, resist-dyed and hand-painted or block printed with natural dyes in India. Chintz had brilliantly coloured patterns of plants and animals and were first exported to East Asia. In East Asian countries like Indonesia, Japan, today's Malaysia chintz was valued as much as gold.

About the 17th Century, Chintz was used by the Europeans as barter for spices with South East Asia. In a 3-way trade, Europeans would pay in gold for Chintz in India, barter Indian Chintz with East and South East Asia (e.g.: Indonesia, Japan) for spice. Sell the spices in Europe, bring gold from Europe to India. Left over fabric from this 3-way trade found its way to Europe as a low cost, exotically patterned and brilliantly coloured fabric. In the initial stages Chintz was used as Quilts, Carpets, Bed covers & Hangings (Palangposh miss-pronounced as Palampore). 

Indian chintz was introduced to the Americans by Europeans was too expensive for American pockets. American's fascination for Chintz patterns and colours was as deep as that of the Europeans and they imported European copies of Indian Chintz.

 

The Portuguese imported Chintz fabric into Europe in the late 16th century from coastal East India. The Dutch, the English and French also imported Chintz as they took control of coastal East India. Late 16th century to early 19th century, Europeans could not resist the exotic patterns in bright colours that did not fade with light or washing. Nothing in Europe could compare to the intensity, brilliance(brightness) and durability of Indian colours. The Portuguese and especially the Dutch prized their Indian Chintz possessions. The Dutch had resorted to putting together every scrap and bit of Indian Chintz they could find, to make clothing for children or adults. See Chintz page of this site for garment styles made with Chintz fabric.

Europeans were used to fabric made of Wool, Linen or Silk which at that time were usually made in solid colours or in multi coloured woven designs. Embroidery was the other alternative to decorate fabric surfaces. Wool/Linen/Silk fabric could be dyed in very few available colour. Colours would fade easily. Indian Chintz fabric was brightly coloured, had patterns in a riot of colours and most importantly the colours stayed good for longer in comparison.

Initially when Indian Chintz fabric was introduced, it was used as decorative coverings for walls, floor, beds and windows. People from lower strata of European society made clothing out of the discarded wall/floor/bed/window coverings. Later these people started making their clothing out of the new Indian Chintz fabric lengths. Due to the exuberance of colours and cheap, easy availability Indian Chintz was considered gaudy / of low taste. CHINTZY was a new term coined by the upper strata of European society to mean CHEAP / GAUDY / INFERIOR. Chintzy was used in a derogatory way.

Eventually, a few European Aristocrats and Upper class were fascinated by Indian Chintz and led to it's popularity. There were a few key people who helped in popularising Indian Chintz, they were

  • September 1663, English diarist Samuel Pepys and his wife, Elizabeth
  • 1764, Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of King Louis XV of France

Critics, like Daniel Defoe, complained about “persons of quality dress'd in Indian carpets”. 

Indian Chintz came to be used as Bed Hangings & Coverings, Household Textiles(place mats for tables, hand kerchiefs, chair covers etc), Gowns, Dresses, Lounging Jackets, Robes, Children’s clothing or Linings, wherever fabric was used, Indian Chintz was used. By 1660's, the East India Company was suggesting paler backgrounds to Indian chintz makers. East India Company had started to send English patterns and family crests to India to be printed. Indian interpretation of the European traditional patterns produced some wildly exotic blooms; still, they were hugely successful in England.


By late 17th century, Indian Chintz was considered a threat for national textile industries of France and England. First France (1686) and later England (1720) brought in laws to prohibit their citizens to produce, import or even wear Indian Chintz or use it as covers or hangings.  As people in these countries still had cravings for this fabric, Indian Chintz was smuggled in from the Dutch and Portuguese. English and French mills had developed technology to make copies of Indian Chintz by the time the ban was lifted in 1759.

 

To compete with imported chintz, British fabric makers started to copy Indian Chintz. The first cottons were printed in England 1676. (Anderson's History of Commerce, Vol. II. p. 154). In 1677 reference is made by Sir Josiah Child to imported cottons being printed in England in imitation of Indian chintz. 

Espionage?

Efforts were being made to understand the process of making Indian Chintz. Antoine de Beaulieu worked for the French East India Company and compiled detailed notes in 1734; a Jesuit priest, Gaston-Laurent Coeurdoux, wrote a series of letters between 1742 and 1747 with details of the processes. English entrepreneur John Holker was a source of much information on dying and mordants. This information led to development of industrial fabric printing technology and development of synthetic dyes in Europe.

 

Contemporary chintz, or glazed chintz, is a firm, medium to heavyweight, balanced plain weave fabric made of spun-yarn and finished with friction calendaring. Chintz is usually all cotton or a cotton/polyester blend. Usually the patterns are floral on light ground. Contemporary chintz are still brilliantly coloured, but the patterns lack the meticulous detailing found on the Original chintz.