Patches From the Past
Scraps of Fabric, Sewing & Quilting History

Glazed and Glorious: The Calamanco Quilt

by Dian Crayne ~ Textile Curator, Mendocino County Museum

Calamanco (also spelled calimanco) is a sturdy glazed fabric which was popular in Britain and America during the 18th and 19th Centuries, and which gave its name to quilts made from it. The name comes from a Spanish term for worsted (long fiber wool). The "Dictionary of Needlework," published in London in 1882, says that calamanco was used for womens' petticoats and "resembles Tammies and Durants." The same reference book explains that durant was a strong worsted cloth made to resemble buffed leather and that it was used for window blinds and to cover corset stays. Tammy, it goes on to say, was fabric woven from worsted and cotton, highly glazed and used in upholstery.

Despite these explanations about worsted and worsted-cotton blends, the cloth seen in surviving calamanco quilts is typically a lindsey-woolsey* weave. Whether there were once American quilts made of other glazed fabrics is impossible to say. There is no way of knowing what cloth was used to make the examples that didn't survive the years, and it may simply be that that the linen and woolen quilts which we see today survived because the cloth was stronger than other weaves in use at the same time.

For quilt enthusiasts, the primary characteristic of calamanco is its glaze, which was produced by rubbing the cloth with a stone, or by applying egg white or wax to the surface. Many surviving calamancos are whole cloth quilts, where the finely quilted patterns show to excellent advantage against the subtle sheen of the solid color surface, but pieced examples exist as well. Atkins and Tepper, in "New York Beauties," notes that calamanco, "frequently dyed in bright and lively colors, was the fabric of choice for bed furnishings in early colonial times."

thanks to Dian Crayne for sharing this picture

The above example shows a high-quality pieced calamanco quilt, probably made around 1810, in New England, and now in a private collection.

It's interesting to see that many modern commercial comforters are made from glossy whole cloth, which echoes the appeal of antique calamanco. Modern quilters who would like to replicate the look of old calamanco quilts might consider using glazed chintz, which has the surface appearance -- although not the weight -- of the antique fabric.

2003 Dian Crayne (Do not reproduce this article without permission from the author.)

* There is some confusion as to the definition of lindsey-woolsey. Although some define it as rough everyday cloth woven with wool and cotton or linen, others call this course cloth simply 'linsey'. Quilt historian, Merikay Waldvogel writes, "The Southern lindsey quilt is related in name only to linsey-woolsey quilt made during the colonial period. The whole cloth linsey-woolsey quilts are formal in their design and construction." She goes on to explain that linsey-woolsey is a cloth with a shiny surface that is usually thought to be woven with linen and wool but some of these quilts have been found to be 100% wool.

p123 Southern Linsey Quilts of the Nineteenth Century, "Quiltmakers in America: Beyond the Myths".

* Note added by Judy Anne

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