Since the late nineteenth century, 'chintz' has come to mean any floral printed furnishing fabric, made of cotton or linen, and often glazed. It's origins as a hand-drawn, mordant and resist dyed cotton fabric from India are often forgotten.
The earlier chintz is defined as Indian cotton cloth on which a pattern has benn produced by hand drawing with a bamboo (kalam) and dyeing with mordants and resists. In some later examples, bloack printing was combined with hand drawn pen work (Kalamkari).
Chintz would usually have been burnished with a shell or beaten with wooden mallets to produce a shiny surface, but this finish has worn off almost all historic examples. Chintz textiles were used in Europe, especially in Britain and the Netherlands, from the early seventeenth century to early nineteenth, when the availability of mechanised copies ut an end to the trade in hand printed cloths from India.
The word chintz appeared originally in seventeenth century East India Company records and in English usage of the time as chint, with the plural chints (pronounced as chheenth). It seems to be derived from the north Indian word chint, meaning to sprinkle or spray. The Portuguese, who were the first to encounter these textiles called them pintado meaning, not painted but spotted.
Origin of Chintz
Most of the earlier chintz were made in south-east India, in the area that came to be known by Europeans as the Coromandel Coast. This name derives from Cholamandalam or realm of the CHolas, the dynasty that ruled what is now Tamil Nadu and parts of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, during the 10 to 13th centuries. Printed and painted cottons, often referred to as chintz by western observers and traders were also made in other parts of India, with the towns of Sironj and Burhanpur in Central India being mentioned as producing chintzes of good qulaity, but those from the northern part of the Coromandel Coastal area have always been acknowledged as being the best.
AS well as the centuries old skills of the local artists and dyers, this area was the source of the best red dye, called chay (Latin: Oldenlandia umbellata). The coastal areas of the krishna river delta were particularly well suited to the cultivation of chay and as a result there were many villages in the area producing what the East India Company called 'chay goods'- that is cloths that were dyed red, such as handkerchiefs and lungis, a tradition that has ended only recently, since Chirala was the last place making red dyed Telia rumals for export to the Middle East at the end of the 20th century.
The delta area also had abundant, flowing water for rinsing the dyed cloths, and was rich in calcium from decomposing seashells, which helped fix the dye. These factors combined to make reds of unsurpassed brilliance and fastness, ad this together with the finest indigo blue, brought from nearby areas of cultivation, captivated the western market and put chintz at the centre of a revolution in dress and furnishing in the 17th and 18th centuries.
There is very little information on which centres of cotton painting produced the finest chintzes: as with so many other trade goods, textiles were often associated witht he port from which they were exported rather than their place of actual production. Maulipatam (modern Machlipatnam) was the main point of export, being already established as a thriving port under the Golconda kingdom.
The Chintz process
The many processes that go towards making an elaborately patterned and many coloured chintz fabric could take several weeks to complete.
- First plain cotton cloth was procured that would have been woven in one of the many weaving villages in the Coromandel hinterland, although the yarn would probably have been brought from other parts of the Deccan plateau.
- The cloth was partially bleached and steeped in a solution of water, buffalo milk and myrabolan fruit.The fatty buffalo milk ensured that he mordants did not seep beyond the required areas and the astringent myrobolan reinforced the action of the mordant.
- The cloth was dried and beated with wooden mallets for smoothening.
- The design was drawn on the smoothed surface with charcoal.
- The outlines of the areas to be coloured red in the finished textile were then painted with alum mordant solution with a bamboo pen or kalam and those to be black with an iron mordant.
- The cloth was then boiled in a solution of chay root.
- The washing and bleaching was then repeated with dung, steeped in myrabolan and buffalo milk.
- Any white lines that were to be reserved against a red background were drawn in with wax.
The trade in Chintz
Indian Chintz in Britain
- Chintz: Indian Textiles for the West by Rosemary Crill, Mapin Publishing