Calico fabric: What exactly is it?

Calico fabric provides a natural, blank canvas, perfect for mocking up patterns, marking down adjustments whilst on the form, draping and even as a base natural textile for printing on. This versatile fabric is cheap and easy to work with, meaning that you can perfect your designs before cutting into an expensive or rare fabric! 

The raw and natural appearance of Calico cloth also means it’s a very popular choice for aesthetic reasons too, as well as being a very economical choice.

What is Calico fabric?

Calico material is made from woven, half-processed Cotton fibres, and is a completely natural fabric, often left in an unbleached and untreated state. This means it often has a grey or brown finish.

It is a more coarse fabric than a treated cotton, and comes in different weights. It is relatively inexpensive, so is excellent choice for making toiles, muslins or mock ups of sewing projects. Cotton calico fabric is a great choice for draping on the stand, and because of its untreated and unbleached surface, is ideal for printing or painting onto. 

Calico is produced using the same making process as Cotton cloth, but stops before the Cotton is processed. First raw Cotton is pulled into fibres, removing any major impurities. Then the fibres are smoothed out, spun to strengthen them into thicker strands, and then woven. Natural calico is made up using a plain weave, with the weft passing over and under the warp, alternating each row. 

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Preparing and Cutting Calico Cotton

As calico is often used for toiles/mockups, draping, accessories and homeware (especially tote bags and cushions, etc.), there is no need to prewash it at all, unless the final item you make will be frequently washed. You can press it on a high cotton setting with lots of steam. 

Natural Calico fabric is easy to cut, much like regular Cotton, and a pair of sharp scissors or shears, or rotary cutter and mat are both fine. 

Sewing and Handling Tips

Seam Finishes

Use a simple straight stitch to sew seams together. Generally, Calico does not fray excessively, so simply pinking the edges of seams with pinking shears works well, or a simple overlocked edge. You may also not want to finish or trim your seams if you are making a mockup/toile as you can use the seam allowance to adjust the size and shape, to smaller or bigger measurements to get the best fit. 

Calico is great for making project mock ups

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Project Ideas/Uses for Calico

  • Toiling/Mocking up a pattern to test and adjust the fit
  • Draping on the body/stand
  • Linings
  • Quilt Backing
  • Tote bags
  • Reusable produce bags 
  • Storage bags/boxes
  • For printing or painting on
  • Cushions
  • Sampling for dyes
  • Sampling for stitches/stitching methods like smocking
  • For painting on

Over on the website we have a great project made with Calico – check out our Crochet Storage Bag pattern

Calico Crochet Storage Project Bag

Where can I buy Calico?

At Plush Addict, we stock a wide range of Calico here at our UK warehouse based in Peterborough. We have a variety of weights available for all kinds of projects and some 235cm extra wide Calico. If you’re looking for natural textiles, we also have Osnaberg and Loomstate Calico, which means it has not had any treatment since leaving the loom.


We hope you’ve learned a lot about Calico from our fabric guide and we’re happy to answer any questions you may have in the comments. Happy sewing!

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