What is Calico Fabric? Properties, Characteristics [A to Z Guide]

After hearing the name ‘’calico’’, many of us think of cats. Calico is one of the most popular breeds of domesticated cats known for its beautiful tri-color coat. However, the calico I will talk about is not a fabulous feline, even though it does share the exquisiteness of a calico cat. So, what is calico material?

What is Calico Fabric

Calico is a fabric made from cotton that has not been bleached or otherwise treated. This natural, un-dyed coarse fabric is unbelievably inexpensive, long-lasting, and versatile. From making household accessories and DIY craft projects to high-end fashion designers creating mockup dresses, calico has a diverse range of applications.

Is calico the most multi-purpose fabric known to us? Can it fit into any of your projects? If you are here, I assume you have lots of questions about calico fabrics. In this article, I will cover everything you need to know about calico fabrics. If you want a proper lowdown on calico fabrics, stay with us patiently for the next few minutes or so.

What is Calico Fabric?

Calico is a plain-weave or tabby-weave fabric made of 100% cotton fiber. So, what makes it different from regular cotton? Unlike other cotton fabrics, calico comes completely untreated. It does not come in contact with bleach or any other chemicals during its production. For this reason, calico is also known as ‘half-processed cotton.’

Calico Fabric

Due to its unprocessed nature, it has a natural beige or gray hue and may visibly contain the tiniest cotton seeds. The beige or gray tint of calico fabrics makes it an ideal surface to print on. This fabric has a distinct feel and texture and is typically printed with simple one- or multicolor patterns.

What is Calico Made of?

The main ingredient of making calico fabric is cotton fibers which are 100% natural. Cotton fibers are collected from matured cotton seed bolls of a cotton plant by separating the seeds from the fibers.

What is Calico Fabric Made of

These fibers go through some production stages and get weaved into calico fabric.

How is Calico Fabric Made?

Calico and cotton have the same production procedure other than one key detail. In the case of the calico, the process is finished after the weaving of the cotton fibers is done. On the other hand, cotton fibers are bleached, processed, and dyed after the weaving process to make different types of cotton fabrics.

How is Calico Fabric Made

Now let’s break down the calico production process:

  • Stage 1: Cotton fibers are harvested from cotton seed bolls and separated from the seeds. Any other substances are also removed. This process is called ginning. Then the raw cotton is compressed into lint and shipped to spinning mills.
  • Stage 2: The next stage is combing or carding. Here cotton fibers are untangled from one another and then aligned and gotten rid of impurities.
  • Stage 3: Then, they smooth out the fiber by combing. This process ensures that the fiber is high quality, uniform, and ready to be transformed into cotton yarn with the help of a spinning machine.
  • Stage 4: The spinning machines spin the fibers, turning them into thicker and stronger yarns.
  • Stage 5: The last stage of calico production is the weaving stage. One distinguishing feature of the natural calico is its plain weave construction, in which the weft (the lengthwise yards) alternates between going over and under the warp (the crosswise yarns). This process is done while preserving the raw undyed natural color of the cotton.

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Calico Fabric Properties

Calcio Fabric Properties


The calico fabric has a natural capacity for airflow. So, it’s breathable and keeps you cool in the scorching heat. However, thicker calico fabrics show less breathability.


This fabric is inherently non-static and doesn’t irritate the skin. So, if you have sensitive skin, calico is a great choice of fabric for you.

Extremely Hygroscopic

Absorbs up to ten times its weight in water without leaking. That’s why it’s Slow to dry. But it will also keep your skin dry by quickly absorbing sweat in hot weather.

Strong and Durable

This fabric is very sturdy and durable because of its high-quality yarn and balanced weaving process.

Can Be Treated

Treatments, such as boiling, can be done to get rid of the roughness of the calico fabrics. Washing several times also makes the calico softer.

Biodegradable and Recyclable

Since calico fabrics are made from natural cotton fibers, it is 100% biodegradable and recyclable. Hence, it’s an eco-friendly fabric.

Easy to Wash and Dye

This fabric is easy to wash with cold or warm water. Because of its undyed raw nature, you can dye this fabric in any color you wish without breaking a sweat.

Fire Retardant

Proban-processed calico fabrics have fire-retardance quality. So, probation-treated calico is used to make firefighter uniforms.

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Calico Fabric Characteristics:

Calico Fabric Characteristics

Natural Fabric:

Calico is a natural fabric made from natural cotton fibers. No additives are used while making calico fabrics.

Natural Color:

There is no added color in this fabric. It only has the natural beige or gray hue of the cotton fibers. But it can be dyed with natural dyes.

Soft Texture But High Sturdiness:

In comparison to other cotton mixes, this material has a much rougher and coarser texture and is much more robust. Calico isn’t as sturdy as denim or canvas.

On the other hand, silk has a considerably softer texture compared to calico. However, 100% cotton calico is smoother to the touch than other types of calico fabric.

Low Thread Count:

It has a low thread count, which makes the fabric comfortable to wear. Lower thread count allows for more air permeability, which makes calico the perfect summer wear.

Size and Weight:

It is an excellent choice of high-quality cotton because of its availability in various sizes and weights.

Abrasion Resistant:

Calico is highly abrasion resistant which makes it wear and tear proof. Therefore, calico is often used to make heavy-duty protective apparel.

Poor Elasticity:

It has low elasticity, so it creases easily, and you need to iron it frequently. However, calico’s low elasticity makes it easier to sew on.

Types of Calico Fabric

There are four types of calico fabrics. These variants differ in weight, width, and weave.

  • 100% Cotton Calico: It’s the original loom state calico. It is undyed and weighs 115 gm per square meter. They are typically used for making cheesecloths, upholstery, outfits, etc. It is completely biodegradable.
  • Drill Calico: The drill calico weighs more than its natural calico counterpart. It’s neatly woven and weighs 240 grams per square meter. The drill calico combines the drill’s precision with the calico’s splotchy aesthetic. 
  • Fire-Retardant Calico: This variety of calico is also 100% cotton with a weight of 115 gm per square meter. But there is a slight difference. As its name suggests, the fire-retardant calico is fireproof. Proban, a fire-retardant chemical, is used in the finishing procedures of this fabric to make it fire-resistant. It’s mostly used to make personal protection wear.
  • Extra Wide Fire-Retardant Calico: It is the widest of the other calico fabrics. This 118-inch width calico is also processed with the fire-retardant probation, which makes it extra durable. Due to its security features, sturdiness, longevity, and extra-wide breadth, it is the best choice for prominent event designers to make covers, backdrops, etc.

What is Calico Used for?

What is Calico Used for

Fashion Designing and Sewing Projects

The most common use of calico fabric is in the fashion industry. Designers use it to make their garments’ prototypes, also known as ‘toils’. They do this to try out different designs with cheap calicos before making them with the final fabric. 

You can incorporate this idea in your fashion designing or sewing projects, for example, making clothing samples to present your designs of blouses, dresses, or gowns. It can also be used as a lining material and for Sampling dyes, stitches, etc.

Crafting Projects

If you’re into DIYs, then the calico fabric can help you make some excellent items like wreaths, puppets, quilts, banners, and so on. 

Outfits and Fashion Accessories

Because of its durability, calico can be used for producing long-wear and heavy-use costumes and accessories like aprons, belts, bags, storage boxes, etc.

Interior Decoration and Household Items

Want to revamp your interior decor? Or do you need some easy-to-maintain produce bags and carriers? If your answer is yes, then calico should be your first choice. With this inexpensive fabric, you can make beautiful wall hangings, colorful curtains, cushions, lampshades, throws, reusable bags, and covers. Doing this will notably improve the appearance of your home.

Art Projects

Calico fabric is an excellent choice for artists since it takes dyes effortlessly. It is a great alternative to painting on canvases; any design can be printed on this fabric.

Festive Decoration

Whether it’s a festival, wedding, or talent show, you can charm the guests with your creativity by decorating the venue with some handmade pieces like wreaths, backdrops, props for the theatre or photo booth, gift bags, and even accessories for creating memory albums. You can use calico fabrics to create any of these items. 

Industrial Use

There are several industrial applications for calico. For example, fire retardant calico is used in the construction industry, public events, and uniforms for safety workers.

Calico Fabric Advantages

Calico Fabric Advantages

Varieties of Application

You can make a variety of things using this fabric. The possibilities are endless, ranging from DIY decorations and costumes to garments and furniture.

Easy to Sew and Decorate

This fabric is effortless to sew with a universal machine needle and a cotton or polyester all-purpose thread. Since this fabric doesn’t fray much, decorating is much easier.

Great as Drapes

Calico fabric is a great choice for draping on the stand or even curtains to give the house a country look.
Ideal Printing Or Painting Material

Calico is typically undyed. So, it’s easier to alter its color, add a pattern, or print on it. If you’re into painting, this fabric can be an excellent substitute for canvas.

Sturdy and Durable

If you’re looking for a durable and sturdy material for your bag or apron, calico is the best choice. It can withstand heavy usage.


Calico is an excellent choice for making toiles, muslins, or mockup sewing projects and lining your sewing creations without coughing up a lot of money.

Environmentally Friendly

Calico is a natural fabric; thus, it is kind to the planet. Since it can be easily recycled and broken down into harmless substances, it is good for the earth.

Disadvantages of Calico Fabric

Disadvantages of Calico Fabric

Wrinkles Quickly

Calico’s lack of elasticity makes it particularly prone to wrinkles. Ironing this fabric is also quite a task. Synthetic additives can fix this issue.

Prone to Shrinkage

Cotton calico is prone to shrinking; the first wash will reduce it by around 10%, and subsequent washing will reduce it by another 3%.

How to Clean and Care for Calico Fabric

Now let’s talk about how you can clean and take care of your calico fabric collection.

How to Clean and Care for Calico Fabric

Most of the time, you’ll find the maintenance guidelines written on a care tag attached to your fabric. Follow them for the best results. 


You can either wash this fabric by hand or throw it in the machine. Just make sure that the water temperature is not above 30 degrees. Don’t use any stiff brush for cleaning to prevent the fabric from weakening.


It is best to let them air dry because machine drying can cause shrinkage of the fabric. However, avoid leaving them under direct sun for an extended period if you don’t want to fade your dyed calicos. Take the calicos indoors as soon as they lose moisture.

Ironing and Steaming

It’s best to iron the calico fabric at high heat when the fabric is still wet. This keeps the fabric from wrinkling. Don’t douse the fabric with water, though. Just spray some water on the fabric with a spray bottle before ironing. Calico is safe for steaming as well.

Final Words

Now that you know all the nitty-gritty of this versatile fabric, I bet you have some excellent projects in mind incorporating calico. Anyone who appreciates sewing, crafting, or painting should add calico to their fabric arsenal.

Hi, I'm Robert Jameson. I'm a textile engineer. As a textile engineer, I design & create fabric. When I'm not busy with my family members, I research, write, and edit content for Fabric Fits.

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