material world

Until the mid 17th Century France imported printed calico from South Asia, known quite literally as Les Indiennes. Many of the fabric prints that we think of as traditionally French, from regions like Provence, are of South Asian and Persian origin.

Paisley gets its name in English from the Scottish town that produced most of this printed fabric in the early 19th Century. Other words for paisley include: boteh jegheh (Persian); palme (French); mankolam (Tamil); Persian pickles (USA); Welsh pears (Welsh). The Argyle pattern is the tartan of Clan Campbell from Argyll (also in western Scotland).

Textile terminology has evolved from myriad sources but often the etymology involves the name of a place or town.

Muslin comes from Mussolo, the Italian for Mosul, Iraq, where mussolina/muslin was produced. In other parts of Asia it was known as ‘daka’, named for Dhaka, Bangladesh (where it’s thought the fabric originated).

Liberty’s Tana Lawn fabric is named for Lake Tana in Ethiopia where the cotton for the fabric was grown, while lawn is a mis-rendering/anglicisation of Laon, a town in France where large amounts of fine linen
were made.

Angora wool takes its name from the capital of Turkey, Angora, now Ankara (from the Greek ankyra, ‘anchor’.)

Calico (from Kozhikode, India, known in English as Calicut), Denim (from the French serge de Nîmes), Organza (from a medieval form of Urgench, a town in Uzbekistan), Satin (from Zayton, Arabic for the Chinese port city of Quanzhou). The etymology of fabric names covers it all: trade, colonisation, and industrialisation.



(Images: featured image, detail of Madeline fabricMuslin dress piece with chikan embroidery, Lucknow, ca.1880 (V&A Collection); Desert Island Deliveries – Tana Lawn Cotton (Liberty London)