The History of Gingham:
***This post is a portion of the transcript from Stitched (our quilting podcast) Season 1 Episode 9 called: “Fabric, Gingham, and Quilts…OH MY!”
To listen to the full episode you can just click play:
And to find other episodes just search for STITCHED on Spotify or Apple Play!
And now….the history of gingham…with a side of Wizard of OZ:
When I was a little girl I fondly remember watching The Wizard of Oz. Each year during the holidays it would air on television and I remember that being such a big deal. I would go to my grandparents where my grandpa would wheel out their boxy television on a rickity cart into the front room and I would watch the movie sitting as close to the tv as I could get wrapped in a quilt and eating popcorn.
I loved that movie. My favorite part was always that transition from the world of black and white into a world of color. It always seemed so magical. And those ruby slippers paired with that blue and white gingham dress…against that yellow brick road. That primary color scheme seemed to my young eyes nothing short of genius.
And it wasn’t just the movie that I loved…it was the story. For as long as I remember I championed the idea that Dorothy had all the power she needed within her the entire time….she only needed to discover it.
At my grandparents house they had an abridged copy of The Wizard of Oz…one of those kinds that came with a cassette tape that would read the story aloud. I listened to that tape over and over again…and when it came up missing my grandma would read me the story over and over again…I wasn’t much more than 7 but the words sounded musical and I enjoyed how their sound woven together with their meaning made listening a joy….even if what I found joyful were phrases like: You clinking, clanking, clattering collection of kaligenous junk!”
But one day as my grandma read me the words I adored so much she…well…she dumbed it down for me. Instead of reading that wizard told that Dorothy and her crew that they should consider themselves lucky to be granted an audience with him she said that the wizard was going to let them come see him.
My elementary school self was incensed and I was quick to interrupt. Grandma, it says “grant them an audience”! I KNOW WHAT grant them an audience means read the book right!
My grandma laughed and although at the time I couldn’t even spell my own name correctly she never again dumbed down any words for me…rather she helped build my vocabulary and started me off on a path where I have found myself in a love affair with words…what they mean and how they sound.
It’s funny what touches our souls…and what themes seem to find their way woven back into our lives consistently..over and over again… like a pattern…family, words, colors, patterns, family, words, color, patterns…always there in the warp and the weft just like the shades of cobalt running through the gingham of Dorothy’s dress.
Easily recognized by it’s gridlike, alternating checked pattern gingham is a both a print and a fabric known the world over.
Gingham is traditionally a woven fabric made from cotton or linen and a true gingham has no right or wrong side. Rather it has the same appearance on both sides. This is due to the fact that the fibers were already colored before they were woven together. However, many of the ginghams you see today are just a pattern printed onto cloth and not a true gingham woven.
Likewise while gingham was originally printed in only blue and white or red and white tones today you can find them in any color imaginable. However…all ginghams…woven or printed limit themselves to a very strict, very simple color pallette. That being the combination of white plus only one other color.
Over the years Gingham fabric has been a popular go-to fabric for several reasons. One of which is because it is fairly durable and washes well…unless of course it is a lower textured gingham. In that case those ginghams have a tendency to shrink and should be prewashed before constructed into a final product.
Gingham is also strong, serviceable, and can be used for a wide variety of purposes such as shirting, trimming, bedding, kerchiefs, aprons, pillows, children’s wear, table cloths, and of course….in quilting!
Countries around the world all claim to be the the birthplace of gingham. Italy boasts its origins can be traced to Northern Italy, Germany claims it came from Bayern, while France argues it hails from the Vichy region. But that’s not all.
A tribe in Africa called the Masai has been using a checked fabric print for thousands of years and even their countries national costume includes a gingham check. In Indonesia gingham has for generation symbolized the battle between good and evil. And in Cambodia a similar print is used in everything from decorating to purposes more practical.
So where was the birthplace of gingham…we can’t say…but what we can tell you is where and when it was given the name we know it by today.
During the 16th century the majority of the worlds gingham was produced in Dutch colonized Malaysia. From there it was exported to Europe and later the United States. It was during this time period that the word gingham first appears in English in 1615 and historians agree that it seems to be derived from the Malaysian word genggang meaning ‘striped’. This term was then adopted by the Dutch were it was morphed into the word gingham that we use today.
In the 18th century the United States began establishing cotton mills and although gingham had been imported prior to this time the local mills made gingham easily accessible and starting a gingham craze across the country.
When we think of the American frontier we often think of gingham prints…but gingham also has enjoyed several other decades in the spotlight. During the second world war gingham was all the rage in fashion, in the 1960’s it enjoyed a revival during the “youthquake” movement, and again in the 80’s its bold graphic quality inspired everything from bedding to shoes.
Today gingham is once more stepping into the spotlight although one could argue that it never really went away. You can’t look through a home design magazine or step into a boutique without spotting a gingham pillow here or a gingham skirt there….and we couldn’t be more happy that it is making a comeback!
Readily available and consistently affordable gingham has become a part of American culture…from the picnic table to our kitchen curtains to Dorothy’s Gails iconic pinafore…fabric consumers here in the United States have long been fans of gingham and we don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Remember how I loved those ruby slippers and blue gingham dress set off by the yellow brick road in that famous scene introducing viewers into a world of color? Thinking about it….It really is fantastic. The white and black striped socks of the witch curl away and there stands Dorothy in a world of color. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that those colors…red, blue, and yellow were primary colors…the three colors from which all other colors are born.
I’m not sure if that color scheme was chosen on purpose or not but I like to think that it was….because as we all know Dorothy always had everything she needed to color her own world…and she was free to choose her own path…she just needed to realize it…as she stood there in her gingham dress.
Her gingham dress. Gingham…just one vibrant color winding its way through the warp and weft of a stark white. Adding interest and texture. Gingham a simple fabric that has had the power to transform a frontier cabin into a cheery home, a 60’s shift dress into a statement piece, and a character into a memory that has become an important block in the stitching together of the patchwork quilt that is my life.
***Note for more information (and to get the patterns) of the quilts shown in this post just click HERE.