What is Chintz?


My first impressions of Chintz was heavy English floral furnishing fabric with a shiny satin finish. However – I was incorrect.
The word Chintz first appeared in the 17th century records of the East India Company. It could possibly have been derived from the plural north Indian word chimt ‘splattering, stain’
It seems an unusual description for such magnificent work. I haven’t observed ‘splattering; or even spotted designs. However, the designs are incredibly detailed.


Chintz fabrics were primarily produced in South East India in an area along the Coromandel Coast. It was known as the ‘realm of the Cholas’  A name derived from Cholamandalam. The area is now known as Tamil Nadu.
Chay root was a crucial element in the production of dye.
Indeed it was so important that it acquired an extraordinary economic value, even being frequently stolen.

The finest plain cotton was obtained from the weaving villages in the Coromandel hinterland. From my observation it is so fine that it is almost impossible to see the waft and weft of the fabric.Dsc03833

The locally grown cotton was not a high enough quality for the process.
Raw cotton was transported 300 miles by bullock cart from north of Hyderbad.

The cloth was dried and ‘beetled’
The beetle finish.-. The cloth is passed into a machine over wooden rollers and beaten by wooden hammers operated by the machine. The beetle finish gives to cotton or linen an appearance almost like satin and is very beautiful.
The beetling would have been performed by hand by beating the cloth with wooden mallets in this instance.

The design would have been drawn onto the cloth with charcoal.
The outlines of the images in many of the pieces I photographed are in red and were painted with an alum mortant with a bamboo pen. (Kalam) originating from the name Kalamarki.
Kalamkari is the traditional Indian craft of painting and printing on fabric.
The black images were painted with an iron mordant.


Illustration completed, the cloth was then boiled in a solution of chay root.

The myrabolan reacted with the iron mordant to set clean black lines on the image.

The chay reacted with alum to produce a deep red color.

The cloth needed to be washed to be prepared for the red dye bath.
It was washed many times with animal dung, then soaked again in a bath of myrabolan and buffalo milk.

Wax, used in a Kalam was used to prepare a resist for the white lines.
The cloth was once again soaked in a bath of very hot dye from the chay root and only the areas that had been inked with alum mordant would color.

The cloth was removed from the dye bath it was washed and bleached for four days at least in a dung bath.Dsc04020

Dried, and prepared it was covered in hot beeswax with the exception of the areas that are to be blue.
It was left in the hot sun for days to melt the wax, It was then given to an indigo dyer who soaked the fabric in a dye bath for about 1 1/2 hours.
The fabric was then boiled to remove the wax from the cloth.

The exciting part of this adventure for me was to be able to photograph these images..These hand illustrated fabrics are close to my heart and the inspiration for my Drapplique Method of quilt enhancement.

The photo at the top of this blog is spectacular.
It is hand embroidered over every illustrated image. The stitches are so small they are almost impossible to see.

The images were photographed at the Victoria and Albert Museum where I spent a couple of days in the Textile department.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. kathie says:

    what a beautiful piece of fabric.
    Wow I see lots of my favorite style of appliqué flowers in here 😉
    Hope there is a quilt in your future using some of these.
    Can’t wait to hear more about this quilt museum experience.
    My dream is to go there one day. Would love to see all the quilts there.

  2. naama says:

    I’m a Ph.D student at Bar Ilan University (Israel) with a doctorate regarding identification of dyes in old textiles
    Among other parts of my doctorate I reconstruct the dyeing process (we found in Israel India textile from the Roman period)
    I’m now looking for the india plant (for red color) and i want to ask if you can help me with chay root (oldenIndia umbellate L.)
    i need only a small amount (200gr~)
    Do you know this plant ? Will you be able to send it to Israel?
    I will of course pay for the expenses
    Many thanks

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