What is Chintz?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Chintz is a boldly patterned fabric originally produced in India. It became very popular in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries, and numerous European producers created their own facsimiles to take advantage of consumer demand. This bold, assertive fabric can be seen in many museum exhibitions from this period in European history, and chintz fabrics continue to be produced today in India and other nations. In the sense of cheap or common, “chintzy” was first used in 1851, in a reference to the then-abundant fabric.

Chintz was originally produced in India.
Chintz was originally produced in India.

Indian textiles have a long and colorful history, as any visit to a museum with a focus on Indian history will show. Chintz fabrics were traditionally produced from cotton with bright patterns like flowers, figures, and abstract geometrics. In India, these fabrics were known as cint in Hindi, a word derived from the Sanskrit word citra, which means “variegated.” One major center of production for these fabrics was Calicut, which loans its name to “calico,” a colorful fabric produced on cheap and often imperfectly finished cotton.

Europeans used chintz for drapes, tablecloths, clothing, bed curtains, wall coverings, and an assortment of other purposes. When England banned imports of Indian textiles in 1700 to prop up the British industry, several European textile producers started making their own versions to meet the demand for this popular fabric. Although the ban on Indian fabrics was repealed in 1774, these companies continued producing chintz, calico, and other popular Indian textiles.

Modern chintz is available in many fabric stores, and its patterns can be found on an assortment of textile products in department stores. Many people probably own this fabric and are unaware of it; textiles with light backgrounds and bright, bold patterns are all considered forms of it. The finish varies; some chintzes are very coarse and rough, while others are smoothed and almost glossy. These patterns are also replicated by some dinnerware companies on their porcelain.

This fabric also does not have to be cheap, although some people may associate it with cheapness due to the use of the word in slang. Some textile companies produce very fine examples of chintz on high quality, durable cotton; while others use the patterns on materials like silk for a distinctive look and feel. Chintz patterns are used by many interior designers, though usually as accent pieces rather than central themes.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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