The growth of the factory from one building to a complex of eight buildings, each one housing a different department revealed the popularity of the product being produced by the Colonists.
The primary colorant in calico is indigo and is a “vat” dye so it didn’t dissolve in water. It was obtained from I.G. Farber Company in Germany. Once prepared, the dye bath has little blue color, and cloth dipped in it remains pale yellow/green until lifted into the air which then causes it to turn blue. Strange, right? And you might be interested to know that the dye was not totally colorfast. So what did this mean for folks? Well, the blue dresses, pants or shirts would fade onto undergarments, pine church pews if you sat long enough and even onto the hands of those who might weave strips of the cloth into rugs.
Wood blocks used for stamping were hand-carved of fruit woods, inked and stamped on the surface of the fabric to repeat designs. (That's a portion of a wood block stamp. The mitten has nothing to do with calico--it just happened to be a part of a display). Soon roller printing, with engraved copper rollers or cylinders replaced hand-carved blocks. Below is a picture of one of the copper rollers used in the Colonies.
During its prime in 1891, the calico factory was producing about 4,500 yards of material per day. Now that’s a lot of fabric! The mill also supplied the Amana General Stores with yard goods for clothing. The fabric sold from $.06-.25 a yard over the years of its production. Families from surrounding communities made many of their purchases at the village stores.
If you’ve visited Amana, you likely know that the original print factory was located on the site of the present Amana Furniture Shop, the smallest brick building being part of the original factory. Inside the furniture shop, you’ll discover information about the calico mill.
May you find joy as you explore the history of this great country of ours. ~Judy