(click on pictures for a larger view)
Osnaburg tablecloth from Sears 1943 catalog; copen/ royal blue, green/gold, red/wine,[shown], royal/ red; handscreened design on ivory; 89¢ to $2.18
– Courtesy Betty Wilson
A leftover from Part 1-a colorful 1940s feedsack quilt is an osnaburg show-off – Courtesy Sharon Stark Osnaburg as osnaburg As you read in Part 1, osnaburg fuels many fabrics and uses in both its grey and finished states and is quite respectable by its given name as a utility or sturdy household fabric. However, when turned over to converters, osnaburg can become several fabrics of appealing and exquisite durable beauty.
Generally, textile mills do not include converting departments as part of their operations. Instead, they sell grey goods to converters which specialize in decorating these cloths by dyeing, printing and applying various finishes. Converters will style fabrics per specific manufacturers’ orders or create their own designs based on fashion trends and sell to manufacturers and cutters.
It is the cutting edge of the textile industry, profits in large part resting on accurate estimates of public taste – not so different than the futures stockmarket. Some of the grey goods converters buy will be osnaburgs of various weights, construction, quality and thread count and which will be translated into the following fabrics described here. This is important to keep in mind because the same fabric does change through fashion seasons, loom technology and need or usefulness.
Thus in tracking each of the following fabrics – or any fabric for that matter — through the decades, many definitions occur, often creating confusion as to what a fabric really is. This makes it equally important to realize that if you want to know about a fabric from a specific time period, you should use a glossary written during that time as it will capture the essence and use of fabric within that period. And if you want to know what a fabric is in general, then be prepared to accept many versions of its appearance and properties throughout its manufacturing history.
Only some of the more prominent osnaburg fabrics are listed here, space having its limitations. But the door is opened to encourage readers to research their specific areas of interest for further illumination and personal knowledge. To keep text with minimal interruptions, a photo gallery at the end of column features the range and depth of osnaburg’s favorite children.
A note about cretonne, chintz and crash As we all discover at one time or another, things are not always what they seem to be in the textile world. It should be noted that while osnaburg serves as the base for the Three Cs, cretonne and chintz designs appear on other grey converted goods which are used for drapery, slipcover and general home decorating fabrics. Sateen, print cloth [carded but not combed], sheeting, jean, rep, twill and mohair are among the more common.
So often persons will ask, for instance, why some barkcloth is smooth or certain chintzes have a slightly roughish feel. The use of other fabrics explains the differences in texture and touch of a surface that is generally recognized as traditional chintz or cretonne domain and why cretonne and chintz fabrics have zigzagged and crossed paths so often, sometimes a different fabric, other times the same. In effect, the designs have given name to the fabric in much the same way calico prints became an adopted fabric name. And even though those designs are transferred to different fabrics, consumer perception most often doesn’t make the transition.
It is particularly confusing when talking about chintzes, cretonnes and barkcloth to separate design from fabric as the three are so interlinked. Thus a general timeline is given for each fabric as well as crash in an attempt to present a brief but clearer picture of relationships between fabrics and designs throughout their manufacture. Focus will be osnaburg but other fabrics will be noted to give a comprehensive view of the times.
Inextricably linked – cretonne is the umbrella fabric in this 1943 Sears catalog which features chintz, crash and cretonne as a family. Except for one novelty chintz, patterns are traditional, mostly in the Americana vein. Printed on other fabrics, consumers would still regard them as the three Cs.
– Courtesy Betty Wilson
Large, gay floral prints which first gave an identity to cretonne and then were transferred to other home décor fabrics such as these Glo-Tone sateen drapes at $3.95/ pr in Sears 1943 catalog.
– Courtesy Betty Wilson *Cretonne There are several versions of the origins of this name.* A creditable source comes directly from France — the village of Vimoutiers [Orne, lower Normandy] which became famous in the 17th century for the “fine cretonne cloth or toile cretonne or Vimoutiers cloth its weavers produced and which had been invented around 1640 by Paul Creton who was born in that village.” It was a famous linen weaving center with at one time with 5,000 weavers listed in the regional 1867census.
Other variations from The American Heritage Dictionary and textile references are that fabric was named for Creton [Eure, upper Normandy], a village where linen was manufactured. In the beginning cretonne was a strong white fabric with hempen warp and linen weft in plain and twill weaves used for cloaks, garments and utility. It is not certain that this variation of cretonne was a converted bleached osnaburg or cretonne as a grey good from osnaburg and then bleached.
But in its bleached state cretonne would become a preferred decorating fabric, a strong, printed cotton cloth, stouter than chintz with a surface range from slightly coarse to smooth. Often foreign matter is seen in cretonne; this is not detrimental but adds to appearance and finished tone. Modern cretonne has finer warp count than filling which is loose and soft. Cretonne is the chief use of osnaburg today.
Fabric can be cotton, linen, rayon or blends, usually printed with large floral patterns, sometimes on both sides using different patterns and sometimes combined with dobby weave to produce fancy patterns to enhance printed designs. Glazed it can become glazed chintz; textured it can become barkcloth or pebble cloth and on occasion will be the base print for upholstery sateen. It is ideal for drapery, slipcovers and table linens.
Vimoutiers in Orne, Basse [lower] Normandy, is adjacent to Eure, where Creton is said to be located.
Cretonne in grey and finished states.
– Cotton from Field to Fabric
Closeup of shadow or printed warp – Staple Cotton Fabrics One type of cretonne is shadow or printed warp. It is expensive to manufacture as all yarns, two ply, in sheet form are run through roller printing machines to print the required colors before being woven into fabric. An even tension is critical so not to distort pattern. Printed warp is then woven with white filling to modify for a softer design or pattern colors. Colored filling is sometimes used to further modify.
Production is limited and mostly made in England. An imitation is called a warp print where both sides of fabric are printed with white warp and colored filling. Design is registered so that pattern appears in same position on both sides.
Early on, cretonne would be referred to first as a drapery or upholstery fabric and then by its name. Catalogs in the late 1880s-early 1900s listed it under drapery fabrics, calling attention to its dull surface and bright flowered patterns. This possibly was to make a distinction between similar prints used on glazed or unglazed chintz prints on other fabrics. By the early 1920s textile glossaries and catalogs featured cretonne first, then its use, noting it a drapery fabric with larger prints than chintz and of any heavy yarn and made in a variety of weaves including sateen and finishes.
This description probably refers both to fabric and cretonne as a design. There were corded effects called rep cretonne and the shadow and warp prints mentioned above. In 1923 it was quite fashionable to cut out prints and applique them on aprons, dresses, hats, bedspreads and table and dresser scarves, a revival of sorts of the broderie perse quiltmaking technique in the late 18th C- early 19th C. Stores often used chintz and cretonne interchangeably although unglazed chintz fabric, usually cretonne, referred to drapery fabric of small gay figures, and glazed chintz referred to closely woven fabrics other than cretonne which had a paraffin or calendered finish.
From the 1920s on cretonne was also popular as a general home decorating fabric for many household uses ranging from pillows to mattress covers to garment bags to decorative, protective covers for hiding sewing machine cabinets and other small furniture. In the post-war 1940s the emphasis was on unglazed cretonne but by 1962 it was noted that cretonne was a term seldom used.
Possibly this was due to the many synthetic fibers and blends such as Fiberglas® and the textured cretonnes which went by a variety of names as will be noted in the photo gallery. However, in or out of fashion, cretonne has given its name to certain designs which seem destined to always remain stylish and popular.
*Chintz – glazed and unglazed A term which has been modified over time due the confusion of its finish and designs and linkage with cretonne and calico. The word is said to be derived from the Hindu cheita or Sanskrit citra meaning spotted, variegated or coloured or Asian Indian chint [plural chintes] meaning fabric and given to a kind of stained or painted calico produced in India. China is also credited with developing a type of similar hand-painted fabric.
Indian chint was a broad, gaudily printed plain weave cloth of floral hand-blocked prints, usually plants and animals, glazed with waxes and starch. It was used for dresses and household and soon caught the attention of Europe and later America. The fabric was imported to England by the East Indian Co. in the 17th C. This earlier chintz meant any lavishly printed fabric and the term was used interchangeably for any glazed or unglazed Indian painted and printed cotton fabrics (calicos) achieved by processes of resist-dyeing and mordant-dyeing during the 16c and 17c.
The design quickly became popular in England and France; however, neither country was able to compete with the cheap labor of the Indian hand blocks and began printing on their own cloths. Later the making of patterns by this process became an art in itself. In England these printed upholstery materials were called chintzes, while in France they were given the name of cretonne. Chintz became so popular in England by the early 18thC that in 1722 Parliament legislated against importation and manufacture of chintz in order to protect the British silk and wool industries.
Legislation against manufacture was repealed in 1744.
Lovely chintz prints from the past T to B – cotton & linen toile, 1789; blue glazed chintz c1820; brown unglazed chintz c1830; glazed floral chintz c1830.
– Courtesy Laurette Carroll collection During this colonial period chintz also referred to unglazed cretonne of similar patterns including large flower designs and birds.
Late 18th C-early 19th C seamstresses would cut out chintz designs to use them as appliques for quilts and which were known as broderie perse. The French still preserve their origin of manufacture by calling their own printed papers and cloths papiers peints and toiles peints. Eventually the term glazed chintz would be created as a separate term to denote the difference and to clear up confusing terminology.
By 1850 chintz also referred to a glazed cotton printed with large polychrome designs of flowers and blossoming branches. Unglazed chintz was superseded by a stronger fabric, cretonne, but became popular again as a style for soft furnishings with the advent of the arts and craft movement and William Morris chintz designs. Glazed cotton also returned to fashion in the early 1900s for upholstery. Later in that decade sewing books described chintz as a print suitable for dresses and its larger floral designs for curtains and draperies.
During the 1920s chintz was categorized the same as calico, a printed cotton and defined as a lighter fabric with smaller prints than cretonne. Glazing was by the paraffin method with England being considered the finest manufacturer of chintz and often glazed its chintzes.. By 1942 chintz came to mean any lightweight cotton or rayon drapery fabric with either small or large gay figures or designs and of embossed or quilted texture, glazed or unglazed. This would denote the linkage to cretonne and the crossover of cretonne prints to chintz and vice versa.
A 1950s glazed chintz with durable Everglaze® finish developed by Joseph Bancroft & Sons in the early 1940s. New vinyl resins were developed during the late 1930s-early 40s which provided a durable, permanent finish glaze that withstood washing and drycleaning. Everglaze® is one brandname for this type glaze. These resins impart a subtle dimensional and wet look to designs and a satin feel to fabric.
Cheap chintzes did and still more than likely have a starch glaze produced by friction or glazing calendars and this finish will wash out within the first several launderings. Today consumers think of chintz as a glazed fabric in solids and various type prints, especially the lush, large floral patterns identified with English country house style popularized by the famed designer Mario Buatta, the Prince of Chintz, and as a print found on Royal Winton Chintz China and other pottery.
But antique quilt collectors pay close attention to both terms as both types of chintz were used in colonial and subsequent quiltmaking and have significant meanings when being discussed. Interior decorators usually recommend that in decorating with chintz to be aware that it does not wear nor drape well, crushes easily and is more suitable when lined for curtains and for small upholstery items such as pillows. Antique chintz should be treated according to condition and is best used for panels and borders or in quilts.
*Textured Cretonnes – Barkcloth, bark crepe, pebble cloth and a host of other barks The Real Bark Cloth True bark cloth is made without spinning or weaving from the inner bark of certain tropical trees in the South Sea Islands.
Bark is soaked, then beaten with a wooden mallet into a paperlike fabric, sometimes as thin as fine muslin and then bleached, dyed , painted or printed. Tapa or kapa [Hawaii] or masi [Fiji] are types of bark cloths used as decorative wall hangings or for clothing as it is strong and cool to wear. Cloth is valued for its excellent printed designs applied by primitive means. With the popularity of barkcloth at an all-time high, history repeats itself. This cretonne began as another import from France – a soft, textured fabric which arrived in this country during the 1920s.
It quickly became popular and American manufacturers would later rename it barkcloth after its nubby bark-like texture. From the mid-1930s on when Art Deco style was combined with large floral prints and became the de rigueur fabric for movie sets – visualize all those bay windows with crisscrossed sheer priscillas flanked by large floral panels and soft sunlight streaming through to create a cozy, comfortable retreat – barkcloth became the all-American universal decorating choice.
1940s brilliant tropical textured cloth typical of Hollywood movie sets and later the Florida Room look.
– Courtesy Sharon Stark collection
An example of textured cretonne, showing a pebblish surface.
– Cotton from Field to Fabric Ironically it was seldom listed in textile glossaries by that term, the listing and definition given as bark cloth or tree bark or cedar bark, a kind of crepe construction in wool goods which produced the effect of rough bark on trees.
At best estimate the modern term barkcloth began appearing around the early 1950s in glossaries and catalogs although catalogs featured this fabric as early as 1930s as textured cretonne or textured drapery cloth. It is interesting to note the progression of barkcloth from the 1930s on as established fibers and patterns gave way to new fabrics and designs on many textured designs — starting in the 1920s in traditional lovely, large garden floral patterns on ecru or light blue or green heavy cotton with bark-like striations, then as gay tropical prints in the 1940s and often blended with rayon or of all rayon or acetate with pebble-like effects, then switching to Danish modern and other free-form designs in the 1950s with nubby Fiberglas® and often incorporating metallic threads, and lasting into the early 60s until antique satin drapes and café curtains became vogue and ended the barkcloth reign.
In essence barkcloth serves as an umbrella name for a variety of bark-like and decorator textures – from 1920s to 1940s textured cretonne, textured florals, birchbark, nubby textures, novelty textures and texture prints to 1950s-60s barkcloth, bark cloth, bark crepe [an exaggerated creping using warp of one fiber, filler of another fiber], bark fabric, bark texture, decorator bark, rayon bark, acetate bark, cotton pebble, pebble cloth, textured Fiberglas®, folkstone and novelty weaves.
And who knows how many more generic and brand names there are to be discovered! *Crash Probably of Russian origin from the word krashenina meaning colored linen. Also called Russian crash or linen crash. Tone crash is a term for heavy flax cloth which was put down to cover a carpet for protection. This is rough lineny-textured cloth made with uneven, knotted or slubby yarns in plain or twill weave and loosely woven. Originally yarns were tow and/or grey flax or flax and jute. More modern crash uses flax and cotton or all cotton, sometimes boiled yarns and other fibers.
Crash in its grey state and finished state as a drapery fabric.
– Standard Cotton Cloths
Grey toweling crash and finished crash with yarn-dyed striped edge. Coarse, uneven yarns get desired absorbency. Cloth also used for kitchen towels, curtains and kitchen sets.
– Grey cloth from Cotton from Field to Fabric While crash is generally regarded by the unenlightened buyer as a narrow cloth for towels and art linen for needlework, it is a fabric not given its proper due, consumer awareness not always cognizant of its greater qualities.
Crash is made in a variety weights, types, finishes, weave construction and yarn types. In a softer weave of wool or spun rayon or blends, it is used widely for fashion suitings. In heavier cotton weights it remains a popular linen-textured drapery fabric. In the 1920s-40s crash was a popular linen substitute being combined with rayon for brandnames such as Linene or Linon or generic names like butcher linen for dresses and suits or catalog house names such as Lin-Tung, Linen of Rayon and Lacy Ruff.
In finer grade cottons it was and is used for fine suitings and dresses often woven of colored slub yarns or mock or novelty yarns, and also popular for toweling, dress runners, novelty wools and fine draperies. At that time Russian crash was very scarce due to the 1917 revolution and never made a full comeback; it disappeared from the market following WWII. By 1953 crash contained Orlon® or nylon fibers. Modern crash is largely used for toweling and home decorating fabrics but makes its appearance every so often as a fashion clothing statement.
Closeup of crash suiting.
– Cotton Staple Fabrics
Linene, a popular crashing suiting and dress fabric in the 1930s; bermuda green, golden maize, navy, orchid, peach, queen blue, rose, tan, white.
– Sears 1933 summer sale catalog.
My thanks to the following for opening up their collections to provide information and graphics and who didn’t mind my persistent nagging for more — Thelma Bernard, Laurette Carroll, Paula Hammer, Linda Learn, Nira Leitzke, Shirley McElderry, Joan Northen, Sharon Stark, Betty Wilson and Kimberly Wulfert.
Websites for Sharon and Betty are listed in Part 1; Kimberly’s is antiquequiltdating.com * Cretonne Origins As of this writing, officials of Vimoutiers have not replied to a query to provide more details about its manufacture of and origins for the name of cretonne and definition of “invent” as described on its website.
No map as of this date could be found which shows a location for the village of Creton in the Normandy area or in France. A sole reference to an airfield in Eure during WWII was cited on the internet. However officials in that Department have not as yet replied to a query about the existence or location of this town. No listing nor site could be found for Creton in world atlases and European roadmaps including Hammond, Rand-McNally, National Geographic and Time, nor any airfield or other site in the West Point Military Atlas for Second WWII.
Towns in several books of antique and historical maps were to illegible to read. A few suppositions are that  village never existed,  village or locale existed but later absorbed into another town,  Creton, being a somewhat common French surname, could have given name to or been taken from a field, farm, estate or other unofficial geographic locale. It would seem logical that the name was derived according to the Vimoutiers website as it gives credence to a definite site and source.
However, readers should reach their own conclusions about how the name originated. Some may have more definitive resources. Research is still continuing for this author. Sources for all fabrics: America’s Fabrics, Bendure & Pfeiffer, 1947 Cotton from Field to Fabric, National Cotton Council, 1951 Fabrics, Grace Denny, 1923, 26, 28, 36, 42, 47, 52, 62 Fairchild’s Dictionary of Textiles, 1999 The Modern Textile and Apparel Dictionary, George Linton, 1973 Standard Cotton Cloths & Their Construction, Nichols & Broomhead, 1927 Textile Fabrics, Elizabeth Dyer, 1923 Sources for specific fabric information: Cretonne 1911 Encylopedia website British Council website – britishcouncil.org/studies RT Wear Co.
Staple Cotton Fabrics, John Hoye, 1942 Village of Vimoutiers website – camembert-country.com/vimoutiers Chintz 1911 Encyclopedia British Council website The Fabric Catalog, Martin Hardingham, 1978 Lippincott’s Home Manuals: Clothing for Women, Laura Baldt, 1916 School of Interior Design’s 1926 Home Study Course for Interior Decoration Textiles and Clothing, McGowan and Waite, 1919 Barkcloth and Crash 1911 Encyclopedia The Fabric Catalog The arbitrary cut-off date for this Vintage Fabric column is 1960.
To stay within the scope of this timeframe, reference materials published up to that date are the prime source of information to more accurately capture actual thoughts of the time.
Joan Kiplinger is an antique doll costumer and vintage fabric addict who learned to sew on her grandmother’s treadle and has been peddling fabrications ever since.