Fabric Tales: The History of Fabric

In this blog, we go on a journey through time to uncover the history of fabric and its rise to popularity that has left an indelible mark on interior design. Behind many fabrics lies a tale; an origin story that spans cultures and centuries. We also delve into the realm of care, sharing valuable tips and insights on how to preserve the beauty and longevity of these fabrics. Join us as we explore the artistry and heritage of iconic fabrics and discover the secrets to extending their useful life for as long as possible.

History of Chintz Fabric

Chintz is often described as a plain-woven fabric, usually cotton, either printed or dyed, with a glazed surface. Like many fabrics, the popularity of chintz fabric has ebbed and flowed over past centuries, but has apparently made a “cozy comeback” according to Better Homes & Gardens partly due to recent trends in maximalist décor. 

The true origin of the fabric dates back thousands of years ago in modern-day India and Pakistan. It made its way to Europe in the early 1500s, and its demand led to the creation of a significant trade route known as the “Chintz Route.” This marked the beginning of the ‘calico craze’, in which the fabric was coveted as one of the most expensive and high-class textiles in Europe, featuring exotic designs in colorful carpets, wallcoverings, and bedcovers. Chintz eventually made its way into clothing fashion in the mid-17th century. This would cause established European producers of silk, linen, and wool manufacturers to riot, leading to the ban of Chintz in France and Britain for nearly a century. Today, chintz continues to be cherished for its intricate designs and historical significance.

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Caring For Chintz

Caring for Chintz fabric should be left to professional cleaners. Though the durability of the fabric itself is extremely good, the durability of the glazed Chintz finish varies and can be easily damaged or removed with water or solvent-based chemicals. It is necessary to limit wear as much as possible to preserve the luster of the fabric. Turning and rotating cushions along with light vacuuming with lengthen the life of the fabric.

History of Bouclé Fabric
Modernized version of Saarinen's womb chair by Knoll

The term “bouclé” comes from the French word for “curled” or “buckled”. Its unusual texture and look have made it one of the most polarizing fabrics in modern fashion and furniture history. First introduced in the late 1940s, Bouclé was born when famous architect Eero Saarinen took interior designer Florence Knoll’s request for a furniture piece she could really “curl up in” quite literally. The naming of the fabric refers to the loops in the yarn that make up the fabric. The most common fiber to endure this construction is wool, though cotton, linen, and silk bouclé are also used. Saarinen’s famous bouclé Womb Chair became a staple of home décor in the 50s, with an ultra-soft coziness and an ahead-of-its-time look.

Just a few years after Saarinen’s bouclé chair found the limelight in interior furnishings, bouclé fabrics expanded their reach, becoming a staple of both midcentury furniture designers and clothing fashion designers alike. Coco Chanel’s bouclé jacket is still associated with the House of Chanel today. Her intention was to release women from the confining, uncomfortable pinched-waist silhouette that was ubiquitous in 1950s women’s fashion. The jacket’s popularity exploded in the early 60s when Jackie Kennedy began wearing it. Her pink Chanel bouclé jacket was forever ingrained in American history when she sported it on the day that JFK was assassinated.

Caring For Bouclé

Bouclé fabrics made up of wool, cotton, silk and synthetic fibers, typically clean up very well. However, as with any fabric, if your bouclé fabric contains rayon/viscose, even at a low percentage, you would need to be very careful using any cleaning method that contains water. Due to the yarn loops associated with the fabric, vacuuming should be done with caution. Some vacuums have an attachment that uses revolving beater brushes; these brushes should be avoided with bouclé to avoid damage to the fiber. You may want to keep pets with claws away from your bouclé furnishings as they can easily snag and pull the yarns of the fabric.

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History of Velvet Fabric

Velvet fabric, known for its softness and luxurious appearance, has a rich and ancient origin. According to SohoHome.com, its story can be traced back to ancient Egypt and China, where it was first woven using silk and linen fibers. The weaving process was so intricate and complex that it was reserved only for royalty and the ultra-wealthy. Velvet’s association with class and luxury continued through the Renaissance, where its production skyrocketed, particularly in the Italian cities of Florence and Venice. The fabric was utilized among the elite class in fashion, curtains, and upholstery, often embellished with intricate embroidery or gold and silver threadwork. The development of new weaving techniques in the 1700s, such as the Jacquard loom, brought greater efficiency to velvet production. However, it was the advent of advanced mechanical looms during the industrial revolution that made the fabric affordable and attainable for a much broader demographic. Throughout its history, velvet has retained its allure, evoking a sense of luxury, sophistication, and versatility. In interior design, it can be utilized in a multitude of ways, whether it be a contemporary space or a more traditional look.

Caring for Velvet

Velvet is a type of pile weave that makes up a large portion of the upholstery fabric market. Velvet can be made up of one of many fibers and is often constructed with a blend of multiple fiber types; the fiber makeup will dictate the methods and cleaning solutions needed to clean velvet upholstery. Cotton, rayon/viscose, and silk are prominent among high end velvets. Other fibers include mohair, linen, and synthetics. Among these, synthetics like nylon and polyester velvets, as well as protein fibers such as mohair and wool are the best options in terms of durability and cleanability. Pile distortion is among the biggest problems, being a negative phenomenon where the natural grain and consistency of the pile fibers have been unevenly altered, often leaving an irreversible shading effect. This is especially true when rayon/viscose is present. Full cleaning should be left to professional cleaners. If immediate DIY spot cleaning is needed, blot up all liquid spills, and never rub! Use a velvet brush or a toothbrush to gently brush out dry substances.

Fiber-Seal Can Help!

Fiber-Seal’s system of fabric care experts stands ready to help! We specialize in protecting and maintaining the finest of furnishings, including chintz, boucle and velvet upholstery fabric. Ensure that no step will be skipped with Fiber-Seal, such as carefully brushing out the velvet pile after cleaning so it will keep its luster and glow. Complimentary spot cleaning is provided for stubborn spots and spills when your furnishings are Fiber-Seal protected! Be sure to stay tuned for future iterations of Fabric Tales: The History of Fabric!

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