History and Origins of Chintz

The term chintz comes from a Hindu word ‘chint’, which means bright spots or variegated. It was also called chints and chittes at one time. Chintz is a kind of printed, glazed calico.

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Chintz has a colorful past. It originally reached Europe as the spice trade became fully developed between the East and the West. This material was first imported from India. It was outrageously popular during the 1600s. During this period, chintz was a favorite for bedrooms. It was used for curtains, bedspreads, and floor cloths. This was also made into loose-fitting slipcovers in the Colonial Era in America. At that time, Indian textiles were more affordable, washable, and colorfast than European materials.


Eventually, European and British textile mills began designing and printing their own chintz. However, the color choices were limited and the fabrics weren’t as colorfast as the Indian ones. According to textile historians, the quality of chintz prints gradually became inferior over time. The best designs were produced prior to the 1840s.

Changes in Chintz Over the Years

Chintz has changed much over the years for various reasons. The original Indian chintz featured imaginary fauna, flowers, and foliage. Later, European importers influenced the designs. They supplied Indian craftsmen with samples of European embroidery. The European flowers depicted in the embroidery appeared in the new chintz designs. The materials manufactured for European markets began to depict true-to-life blossoms, such as lilies, roses, parrot tulips, and wildflowers. In addition, they often featured birds and ribbons. The Tree of Life design was also very popular.

The size of the flowers in chintz designs has also been subject to change. Over time, they’ve become larger. The types of flowers were also affected. Now, many different kinds of blossoms are shown.

Bans on Chintz and Other Cotton

The ever-growing popularity of chintz and other cotton brought trouble to domestic textile mills. These consumer trends dismayed wool and silk manufacturers in Europe and England. As a result, they sought ways to reverse the trend. Due to their lobbying efforts, restrictive laws were passed in several countries.

English politicians took steps to protect the domestic wool market by banning the importation of chintz in 1701. In 1720, Parliament banned the use of cotton materials for clothing or in the home. This second law went further by banning cotton manufactured in England. France took similar action to protect its silk industry. It banned painted and plain cotton from India.

These bans failed to achieve the desired effect just as Prohibition in the U.S. was a failure. The scarcity did cause chintz to become more expensive. Smuggling fabric into the affected areas became a lucrative business. The English ban was revoked around fifty years later with the French taking similar action in 1759.

While prohibitive laws didn’t quell the demand for chintz, changes in consumer taste brought an end to the reign of this fabric. Eventually, as fashions changed, it became less popular