You are currently viewing Are Calico Prints Named after Calico Cats?

Calico prints pop up as a fashion trend once in a while. Some of you may know that I adopted a Calico cat from the shelter. Read what I found about this popular feline, and its unusual naming after a printed fabric.


  1. What Are Calico Prints in Textiles?
  2. What Is the Relation Between Calico Cats and Prints?
  3. Are Calico Cats an Official Breed?
  4. What Is the Difference between Calicos and Tortoiseshells?
  5. Fun Facts
  6. In a Nutshell


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What Are Calico Prints in Textiles?

Typically, Calico (/ˈkælɪkoʊ/) refers to a plain-woven textile made from unbleached, unfinished and undyed cotton fabric. Such fabric can contain husk pieces from the cotton seeds that remained in the yarn. The weave consists of one set of warp threads woven one-over and one-under with one set of weft threads. The resulting fabric is coarser than muslin. However, it is not so thick as canvas or denim. The raw fabric (gray state) receives a small, all-over floral print, in bright hues.

Making printed fabrics from unprocessed yarns serves to keep the fabric price low.


example of a calico block print
Example of a 1787 Calico print showing Tropical flowers and palm trees on an unprocessed weft wrap weave. This fabric stems from the Oberkampf Manufactory that operated in France from 1760–1843. Source: Met Museum open source



A Brief History of Calico Textiles

Originally, this fabric stemmed from Calicut, India. The oldest reference goes back to the 11th century mentioning a lotus pattern. While in the beginning the pattern were hand-painted, later wood blocks served to apply them. In the Mediterranean region, production of these textiles started in 1505. It took until the 17th century before these textiles became popular in Europe too.

In the 20th century, block prints became popular among Hippies as part of the floral power fashion. Today, block print textiles are a key element of Bohemian style. The small print is also a favorite in gamine style dresses (see first photo) and blouses.


What Is the Relation between Calico Cats and Prints?

These cats got this name because their colorful patterns all-over their fur remind of the colorful printed Calico fabrics. Doesn’t my cat’s back fur look like an abstract floral print?


collage showing the different front and back pattern of the cat fur
Front and back views of our kitty’s coat. The back reminds me of an abstract floral print.


A calico cat is a domestic cat with a tri-color fur. Typically, the coat is 25% to 75% white with large orange and black patches. The patches can have pattern in various shades, tints, tones, and hues. Occasionally, you find so-called muted calicos with cream and grey patches. Except under very rare genetic conditions, all Calico cats are female.



my calico cat
My calico cat resting on our small floral print bedding



Are Calico Cats an Official Breed?

Various breeds can get the tri-color fur. These breeds include, for instance, American Shorthair, Arabian Mau, British Shorthair, Exotic Shorthair, Japanese Bobtail, Maine Coon, Manx cat, Norwegian Forest cat, Persian cat, Siberian cat, Turkish Van, and Turkish Angora. The reason for the tri-color coat are unpredictable processes in genes and chromosomes occurring during cell-multiplication in the fetus.

Learn about some of the world’s most popular cat breeds, and the most popular type of cats that aren’t recognized as official breeds.




What Is the Difference between Calicos and Tortoiseshells?

From a genetic point of view, calico cats differ from tortoiseshells only with respect to their undercoat. Their undercoat is white while tortoiseshells have a black undercoat.


Fun Facts

Interestingly, calico cats are called Glückskatze (lucky cat). In Japan, sailors took a Calico cat on board to prevent misfortune. Maryland’s state cat is the Calico cat.

You may also like to read about Alaska fun facts.

In a Nutshell

Calico prints are not animal prints.


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