Charvet corsage in pink cambric (1898).

Cambric (US /ˈkmbrɪk/,[1] UK /ˈkmbrɪk/ or /ˈkæmbrɪk/),[2][3][4] or batiste, one of the finest and most dense kinds of cloth,[5] is a lightweight plain-weave cloth, originally from the French commune of Cambrai, woven in greige, then bleached, piece-dyed and often glazed or calendered. Initially it was made of linen; later, the term came to be applied to cotton fabrics as well. Cambric is used as fabric for linens, shirts, handkerchieves, ruffs, lace and needlework.[6][7]


Cambric was originally a kind of fine white plain-weave linen cloth made at or near Cambrai.[8][9] The word comes from Kameryk or Kamerijk, the Flemish name of Cambrai,[8][9] which became part of France in 1677. The word is attested since 1530.[8] It is a synonym of the French word batiste,[8] itself attested since 1590.[10] Batiste itself comes from the Picard batiche, attested since 1401 and derived from the old French battre for bowing wool. The modern form batiste or baptiste comes from a popular merge with the surname Baptiste, pronounced Batisse, as indicated by the use of the expressions thoile batiche (1499) and toile de baptiste (1536) for the same fabric.[10] The alleged[11] invention of the fabric, around 1300, by a weaver called Baptiste or Jean-Baptiste Cambray or Chambray, from the village of Castaing in the peerage of Marcoing, near Cambrai, has no historic ground.[10][12][13][14] Cambric was a finer quality and more expensive[15] than lawn (from the French laune, initially a plain-weave linen fabric from the city of Laon in France[16]). Denoting a geographic origin from the city of Cambrai or its surroundings (Cambresis in French), cambric is an exact equivalent[17] of the French cambrésine (/kɑ̃.bʁe.zin/),[8] a very fine, almost sheer white linen plain-weave fabric,[18] to be distinguished[19] from cambrasine, a fabric comparable to the French lawn despite its foreign origin.[20] Cambric is also close to chambray (/ˈʃɒmbreɪ/ from a French regional variant of "Cambrai",[8] a name which "also comes from Cambrai, the French city, where the material was originally made of linen yarn".[21] Chambray (also spelled "chambrai") appears in North American English in the early 19th century.[8] Though the term generally refers to a cotton plain weave with a colored warp and a white weft, close to gingham, "silk chambray" seems to have coexisted.[22] Chambray was often produced during this period by the same weavers producing gingham.[23]

White linen cambric or batiste from Cambrai, noted for its weight and luster,[24] was "preferred for ecclesiastical wear, fine shirts, underwear, shirt frills, cravats, collars and cuffs, handkerchiefs, and infant wear".[25] Technical use sometime introduced a difference between cambric and batiste, the latter being of a lighter weight and a finer thread count. Chambray, though the same type of fabric, had a coloured warp and a white weft, though it could be "made from any colour as you may wish, in the warp, and also in the filling; only have them differ from each other.[26]

In the 18th century, after the prohibition of imports into England of French cambrics,[27] with the development of the import of Indian cotton fabrics, similar[6] cotton fabrics, such as nainsook, from the Hindi nainsukh ("eyes' delight"),[8] became popular. These fabrics, initially called Scotch cambrics to distinguish them from the original French cambrics,[28] came to be referred to as cotton cambrics or batistes.[25] Some authors increased the confusion with the assumption the word batiste could come from the Indian fabric bastas.[29]

In the 19th century, the terms cambric and batiste gradually lost their association with linen, implying only different kind of fine plain-weave fabrics with a glossy finish.[30][31] In 1907, a fine cotton batist had 100 ends per inch in the finished fabric, while a cheap-grade, less than 60.[32] At the same time, with development of an interest in coloured shirts, cambric was also woven in colours, such as the pink fabric used by Charvet for a corsage, reducing the difference between cambric and chambray. Moreover, the development and rationalization of mechanical weaving led to the replacement, for chambray, of coloured warp and white weft by the opposite, white warp and coloured weft, which allowed for longer warps.[33]

The English folk song ballad "Scarborough Fair" has the lyric in the second verse "Tell her to make me a cambric shirt, / Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme / Sewn without seams or fine needlework, / Then he'll be a true love of mine." It also appears in the David Bowie song, "Come And Buy My Toys" in the lyrics "You shall own a cambric shirt, you shall work your father's land."

See also


  1. "Cambric". Merriam Webster.
  2. Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English
  3. Definition of "cambric" at Collins Dictionary
  4. Definition of "cambric" at Oxford Dictionaries
  5. Sir David Brewster (1814). Second American edition of the new Edinburgh encyclopædia. Published by Samuel Whiting and John L. Tiffany [and others]. pp. 189–190. Retrieved 11 October 2011.
  6. 1 2 Elisabeth Hardouin-Fugier; Bernard Berthod; Martine Chavent-Fusaro (1994). Les étoffes: dictionnaire historique (in French). Editions de l'amateur. p. 120. Retrieved 10 October 2011.
  7. Westman, Hab'k O. (1844). Transactions of the Society of Literary & Scientific Chiffoniers. New York: Harper & Brothers. p. 58. Retrieved 6 February 2016.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Oxford English Dictionary
  9. 1 2  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Cambric". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  10. 1 2 3 Le Robert: Dictionnaire historique de la langue française (in French). 1. Dictionnaires Le Robert. 2000. p. 352. ISBN 2-85036-532-7.
  11. Archives historiques et littéraires du nord de la France, et du midi de la Belgique (in French). Au Bureau des Archives. 1829. pp. 341–. Retrieved 9 October 2011.
  12. France. Comité des travaux historiques et scientifiques. Section d'histoire et de philologie (1898). Bulletin historique et philologique du Comité des travaux historiques et scientifiques (in French). Impr. nationale. Retrieved 9 October 2011. Pas plus une réalité historique que l'étymologique brasseur Cambrinus.
  13. Société d'émulation de Cambrai (1859). Séance publique [afterw.] Mémoires (in French). pp. 1–. Retrieved 9 October 2011. On ignore complètement le siècle où a vécu Jean-Baptiste Cambrai.
  14. Max Pfister (1980). Einführung in die romanische Etymologie (in German). Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, [Abt. Verl.] ISBN 978-3-534-07834-9. Retrieved 9 October 2011. Obschon Cambrai fûr die mittelalterliche Leinenindustrie bekannt ist und Baptiste sogar mit einem Denkmal geehrt wurde, dürfte dieser Fabrikant historisch nicht nachweisbar sein, da batiste etymologisch auf battre zurück geht.
  15. Belfast Literary Society (1808). Select papers. p. 32. Retrieved 11 October 2011. Cloth of this fabrick, lower than 5s. per yard, is called Lawn, above 5s., Cambrick.
  16. Société des amis de la Romania (1900). Romania. 29. Société des amis de la Romania. p. 182. Retrieved 11 October 2011.
  17. Revue de l'enseignement des langues vivantes (in French). 1902. p. 304. Retrieved 11 October 2011.
  18. Bernardini, Michele (2004). "The Illustrations of a Manuscript of the Travel Account of François de la Boullaye le Gouz in the Library of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei in Rome". Muqarnas. 21: 64. doi:10.1163/22118993-90000054. Elle a une pièce de cambrésine sur son corps tellement fine que l'on voit à travers.
  19. Académie française (1836). Dictionnaire de l'Académie française (in French). Firmin Didot frères. p. 135. Retrieved 11 October 2011.
  20. Guillaumin (Gilbert-Urbain, M.) (1839). Dictionnaire universel théorique et practique du commerce et de la navigation (in French). Guillaumin et Cie. p. 493. Retrieved 11 October 2011. On a donné ce nom à des toiles fines d'Egypte, à cause de leur ressemblance avec la toile de Cambrai. Il y a aussi des cambrasines, que l'on tire de Smyrne; elles sont de deux sortes : celles qui viennent de la Perse, et celles apportées de la Mecque. Les premières conservent la dénomination de cambrasinbes; les secondes se nomment mamoudis.
  21. Eliza Bailey Thompson (1917). The cotton and linen departments. Ronald press company. p. 63. Retrieved 9 October 2011.
  22. Bassett, Lynne Z. (2001). Textiles for Regency clothing 1800-1850: a workbook of swatches and information. Q Graphics Production Co. p. 28. Retrieved 11 October 2011.
  23. Fowler Mohanty, Gail (Summer 1989). "Putting up with Putting-Out: Power-Loom Diffusion and Outwork for Rhode Island Mills, 1821-1829". Journal of the Early Republic. 9. pp. 204, 206, 214.
  24. Savary des Bruslons, Jacques (1741). Dictionnaire universel de commerce (in French). 1. Paris: Vve Estienne. p. 902. Sorte de toile de lin, très fine, & très blanche
  25. 1 2 Greene, Susan W. (2005). Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion. 1. Charles Scribner's sons. p. 217.
  26. Bronson, J. and R. (1977) [First published in 1817]. Early American Weaving and Dyeing: The Domestic Manufacturer's Assistant and Family Directory in the Arts of Weaving and Dyeing. New York: Dover Publications. p. 21.
  27. The Gentleman's magazine. F. Jefferies. 1759. pp. 241–. Retrieved 10 October 2011.
  28. Official descriptive and illustrated catalogue: Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations, 1851. By Authority of the Royal Commission. In 3 volumes. Spicer Brothers. 1851. p. 516. Retrieved 11 October 2011.
  29. George Ripley; Charles Anderson Dana (1859). The new American cyclopaedia: a popular dictionary of general knowledge. D. Appleton and Co. pp. 738–. Retrieved 9 October 2011.
  30. Denny, Grace Goldena (1923). Fabrics and How to Know Them. Lippincott. OCLC 2231068. In this century, [nainsook] is described as a soft-finished white cotton fabric with a polish on one side ... not so closely woven as cambric but heavier than batiste.
  31. Philippine magazine. 1922. p. 382. Retrieved 9 October 2011. Cambric is a fine calendered cotton or linen cloth of plain weave characterised by the smooth glossy surface.
  32. Frank P. Bennett & Co (1914). A cotton fabrics glossary. Frank P. Bennett & co., inc. p. 125. Retrieved 12 October 2011.
  33. David Page Coffin (1 October 1998). Shirtmaking: developing skills for fine sewing. Taunton Press. pp. 7–. ISBN 978-1-56158-264-8. Retrieved 9 October 2011.
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