Fashion
Fascinating Textiles: the Origins of Chintz
11 December, 2013
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  • chintz
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  • fashion
  • centraal museum
  • chintz
  • tumblr
  • fashion

The costume collection of the Centraal Museum (Netherlands) covers a wide period of time, from 17th century shoes to conceptual 21st century fashion. This month, their 18th century collection takes center stage on our Tumblr, with special attention for a fabric with an international history: chintz. The Tumblr blog will feature at least ten items made out of this material, but what is chintz exactly?

europeana fashion centraal museum utrecht chintz tumblrRobe à l’anglaise made of chintz, c. 1780. Collection Centraal Museum, Utrecht, The Netherlands. Copyright: Centraal Museum.

The exotic textile arrived in Europe during the 17th and 18th century on the ships of the East India Companies, all the way from the Coromandel coast in South-East India. It concerned sturdy but shiny cotton fabrics splendidly decorated with floral patterns. It also hardly stained and resisted washing treatments. In English, this marvel was called chintz, a pluralized version of the Hindi word for ‘bright’. By 1680 chintz had become massively popular; more than a million pieces of chintz were being imported into England,France and The Netherlands per year. As chintz was considered a threat for the national textile industries, French and English citizens were prohibited to either produce, import or even wear it for over 70 years, respectively from 1686 and 1701.

europeana fashion centraal museum utrecht chintz tumblr east india trading companyThe Dutch East India Company was the main importer of chintz fabrics to Europe during the 17th and 18th century. This engraving shows the shipyard and warehouses of the company in Amsterdam, around 1750. Collection Fries Scheepvaart Museum, Sneek, The Netherlands.

In The Netherlands the sale of both original chintz and reproductions flourished; over the years chintz was used for fashionable and for regional dress. The country was happy to cater to its neighbors, to which the Dutch merchandise and the Indian originals were smuggled. Trying to reproduce Indian chintz, the Dutch entrepreneurs did not choose an easy option. Even though in India most of the designs were painted by hand, printing reproductions in the Low Countries remained time-consuming. Weeks if not months were involved in making the natural dyes, cleaning the fabric (beating it with wooden bats), preparing it with a tannin solution (retrieved from plants), submerging it in various baths, rinsing and drying.

europeana fashion centraal museum utrecht chintz tumblrCaraco made of mustard yellow chintz, blue checked linen lining, c. 1750-1775, combined with a silk satin ruby red matelassé skirt, c. 1740. Collection Centraal Museum, Utrecht, The Netherlands. Copyright: Centraal Museum.

Color dying always happened in the same order: black, red, blue, purple, yellow and green. Some of the colors appeared only when the fabric, hand painted or printed with a type of mordant, was plunged in a dye bath afterwards. Others could be applied to the fabric directly. The bleaching of the white background, which needed to be repeated several times, required a good amount of sun and goat or cow dung. Finishing happened with rice water, in order to make it sturdy; the shiny look was obtained by calendering or by waxing and polishing with a shell. Visit our Tumblr for some silhouettes made of this fascinating textile.