Cambric, or batiste, is a plain-weave cloth made of cotton. It is named after the French city of Cambrai where the fabric was first introduced. It is one of the finest, and densest cloth available. It is not heavy and can be woven in greige, bleached, and dyed.
It is a plain weave fabric which has been used extensively to make garments and lacy attires for a long time. Cambric is called batiste when the fabric is used for handiwork. Its production has gone down due to other available fabrics, which makes it impossible to find pure cambric. And, even if people do find it, they had to compromise on its quality. Authentic, good quality cambric is still available in vintage stores.
So, how did it become popular? In the following sections, we shall learn about the history, characteristics, and uses of cambric.
► Initially, cambric was only a plain white woven linen cloth introduced at Cambrai in the late 1500. The word Cambric is said to be derived from the Flemish name of Cambrai.
► Earlier, cambric was known to possess high quality, and the fabric was really expensive. Cambric was known for its light weight, and stiff, glossy appearance which was obtained through the process called "calendaring".
► However, the situation changed in the 18th century when the English banned imports from France, and started importing linen from India. A similar fabric called nainsook (delight to the eyes) became famous. It was named Scotch cambric to distinguish it from the primary French cambric. But later, it was renamed as cotton cambric.
► In the 19th century, when colored shirts came in vogue and their demand grew, cambric was also woven in different color shades to keep up with the market demand. It started losing its popularity, when other textiles were produced using modern techniques.
► As mentioned earlier, the fabric derives its firm and glossy texture due to a process called calendaring, which involves application of heat and pressure to the fabric by passing it under heated rollers.
► It adapts well to laundering, hence it never loses its soft texture and shine even after several washes.
► It is identified by its smooth surface and dense weave.
► Since it is a slightly stiffer material, it can be folded easily, and retains the shape for quite a long time.
► It is a very easy fabric to sew on; however, it is difficult to pass a needle through it due to its thickness.
► In a vintage store, you will find cambric being used to make handkerchiefs, shirts, undergarments, and cuffs.
► Low quality cambric is frequently used to produce soft T-shirts, tablecloths, etc. It is also used as an under layer in garments.
► It is also used to make temporary garments like costumes, wedding gowns, which are not worn daily.
► It is seldom used for linings. It can be utilized to make dust covers and bandages too.
► In the past, stiff neck ruffs popular during the Elizabethan era were made from cambric, not to forget curtains and wall hangings.
► It is an ideal fabric for baby clothes, nightwear, collars, and cuffs.
► Other uses of cambric include manufacture of book-bindings, artificial flowers, etc. It is also popular a fabric for all your lace and needle work.
How is it Made
► For weaving this fabric, a manufacturer uses American cotton, or Egyptian cotton; sometimes, linen may also be used. The cotton or linen is woven securely so that the fabric has a smooth and even-grain texture.
► Next, the woven fabric is passed through hot rollers that help tighten the fabric, and align the weave for a neat look. This method is known as calendaring, which lends a shiny look and makes the fabric stiff.
► High quality cambric will retain its stiffness, even after several washes, but low quality cambric tends to lose its stiffness quickly, and has to be treated again to regain its original properties.
► Sometimes, the fabric is also bleached and piece-dyed.
How to Identify
Since cambric is made of cotton fiber, wash it with cold water to maintain shine and stiffness for a longer period. It is light weight and perfect for summer wear due to its ability to absorb sweat. Due to its ability to adapt well to sewing and laundry, cambric is a favorite fabric among designers.