The fabric was originally from the city of Calicut in southwestern India. It was made by the traditional weavers called cāliyans. The raw fabric was dyed and printed in bright hues, and calico prints became popular in Europe.
It was mentioned in Indian literature by the 12th century when the writer Hēmacandra described calico fabric prints with a lotus design. By the 15th century calico from Gujǎrāt made its appearance in Egypt. Trade with Europe followed from the 17th century onwards.
In the 18th century, England was famous for its woollen and worsted cloth. That industry, centred in the east and south in towns such as Norwich, jealously protected their product. Cotton processing was tiny: in 1701 only 1,985,868 pounds (900,775 kg) of cottonwool was imported into England, and by 1730 this had fallen to 1,545,472 pounds (701,014 kg). This was due to commercial legislation to protect the woollen industry. Cheap calico prints, imported by the East India Company from Hindustān (India), had become popular. In 1700 an Act of Parliament passed to prevent the importation of dyed or printed calicoes from India, China or Persia. This caused demand to switch to imported grey cloth instead—calico that had not been finished—dyed or printed. These were printed with popular patterns in southern England. Also, Lancashire businessmen produced grey cloth with linen warp and cotton weft, known as fustian, which they sent to London for finishing. Cottonwool imports recovered though, and by 1720 were almost back to their 1701 levels. Again the woollen manufacturers, in true protectionist fashion, claimed that the imports were taking jobs away from workers in Coventry. A new law passed, enacting fines against anyone caught wearing printed or stained calico muslins. Neckcloths and fustians were exempted. The Lancashire manufacturers exploited this exemption; coloured cotton weft with linen warp were specifically permitted by the 1736 Manchester Act. There now was an artificial demand for woven cloth.