Dutch Chintz Blankets

24 May − 2 November 2003 – Dutch Textile Museum Tilburg Exhibition

From 24 May until 2 November 2003 the Dutch Textile Museum in Tilburg organised an exhibition of antique quilts used in the Netherlands, showing chintz blankets and patchwork quilts from the period between 1700 and 1835. During this period many chintzes, colourful hand-painted or hand-printed cotton fabrics, mostly from India, were used for blankets.

For this exhibition antique quilts were brought together from private and museum collections.

Chintz History and the VOC
The name chintz stands for hand-painted or hand-printed cotton with a glossy and smooth appearance.

During the seventeenth century the first hand-painted chintz was brought from India to Europe by the United East-Indian Company (VOC). At the time chintz created a real sensation and became very popular with the nobility and well-to-do citizens. It is not surprising, therefore, that the eighteenth-century pieces that are still in existence are from the regions that were most prosperous at the time, like the Zaan region, Friesland, Holland and Zeeland.

In comparison with the fabrics that were obtainable in Europe, like silk, wool and linen, chintz was practical and moreover colourfast. Because of its smooth surface it did not easily become dirty and through a dyeing technique that was completely unknown in Europe the colours remained intact during laundering.

The chintz multicoloured textiles were introduced into Europe and the size was not determined by the measures and techniques of a weaving loom.

It was used in the home as upper layer for blankets and during the eighteenth century also for clothing. Many of the oldest pieces however, can be found in blankets and especially children’s blankets, which perhaps because of their short usage, were able to withstand the ravages of time.

The VOC, which had become one of the largest importers of cotton fabrics in Europe, began to fulfil orders for Dutch designs to be copied in India. However, chintz was in such demand that very soon attempts were made to manufacture it in Europe.

In the Netherlands the first cotton printing mill was founded in 1679 and soon to be followed by others. It was only after a long time that one mill, was able to master the Indian reserve-technique and to equal its quality. When the production and technical development of cotton printing became seriously competitive, the import from India was discontinued. The V.O.C. ceased to exist in 1799.

Chintz Blankets and Patchwork Quilts
The hand-painted chintz was used as an upper layer for a blanket. For the rest the blanket consisted of a filling and a fabric, pretty or otherwise, at the back. The stitching through of the various layers, the actual quilting, could vary from a very elaborate to a sober line-pattern. The filling usually consisted of carded cotton fibres and was approximately 2 to 3 centimetres thick.

The chintzes often had beautifully printed and painted motifs, like the ‘tree of life’ and a variety of blooming trees or exotic flowers. Especially the motif of the ‘tree of life’ was popular and was much used for loose cloth, bedspreads and blankets. Sometimes chintz was mass-produced, in which case use was made of clear repetitive patterns.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, besides chintz was still in one piece, patchwork was also used as upper layer for a blanket. Chintz remnants were cut into symmetrical forms like squares or triangles. These were stitched together, sometimes in combination with printed cotton. In the course of the nineteenth century this patchwork technique became more and more popular. In the exhibition both types of blankets can be seen.

Chintz Process
It is not surprising that the magnificent chintzes caused a sensation when they were introduced in Europe. Up until then, designs in textiles were obtained by weaving patterns into them, or by applying a decoration onto the cloth by means of printing blocks and pigments. However, this did not result in a wash-proof product.

The light cotton chintzes were not only beautifully and colourfully designed but also proved to be colourfast and supple. In the Indian chintz the dye and the fabric formed a chemical compound. This was achieved by a combination of staining-techniques and reserve-techniques on the same cotton underground.
In short the process was as follows:

First the cotton cloth was prepared in a solution of myrobalan (comparable to our oak apples), buffalo milk and water, in order to enable it to absorb the dye. A treatment with rice water rendered the fabric smooth and ensured that the dyes did not merge. Next came the decorating process:

Black contours indicating the pattern were painted with a brush dipped in ‘iron salt’. The iron formed a compound with the prepared underground, producing a blue-black colour. The red sections were painted with alum-stain, the areas that were to remain white being covered with a thin layer of wax.

Once the preparation was completed, the cloth was submerged in the red dye, which was obtained by pulverizing roots of the saya wera ( a kind of madder). The stain caused the vegetable red dye to form a compound with the cotton fibre, producing a wash-proof colour.

Blue was the second colour to be applied. This could only be done by dying the cloth in the indigo tub. Patterns in the blue areas were achieved by means of a reserve-technique, a layer of wax covering those areas that were not to become blue.

Now the cloth had a design of red and blue colours in black contours on a white background. Various shades of red could be added by another composition of the stain, whilst yellow could be applied with the use of curcuma by direct dyeing. On blue this became green.

Finally, the cloth was treated with rice water, the glossy surface being achieved by calendaring or polishing.
(source: Katoendruk in Nederland)

Thanks to An Moonen
Brommer, B. (red.), Katoendruk in Nederland (Cotton printing in the Netherlands), Dutch Textile Museum/Municipal Museum Helmond 1989
Arnolli G. S. Wille-Engelsma, Sits, exotische textiel in Friesland (Chintz, exotic textiles in Friesland), Zwolle 1990
Moonen, A.,´t Is al Beddegoet, Nederlandse Antieke Quilts 1650-1900 (It is all bed clothes, Dutch
antique quilts 1650-1900), Warnsveld 1996
Moonen A., Quilts, een Nederlandse traditie (Quilts, a Dutch tradition), Arnhem 1992