Calico making was part of the economic activity of the Inspirationists when they lived in Ebenezer, New York. Calico was originally a cotton cloth from India, and eventually denoted several kinds of cotton cloth. In the United States it usually refers to coarse and printed cloth. Several Inspirationists had been employed in the cloth industry in Germany, and brought their skills with them to the United States.
Built in 1861, the Amana Calico Mill grew from one to eight buildings at its height of production in the 1890s. Fine white cotton fabric from the south and east coasts moved from building to building for washing, drying, dyeing, printing, trimming, inspecting, packing, and shipping. Calico printing was a big industry. White muslin was acid-proofed and dyed in vats a story high, then starched and pressed on rollers powered by water from the Mill Race. In one printing process, wooden pegs protruded from the roller surface in patterns. The pegs were constantly bathed in acid, which removed the dye, leaving the acid-proofed cloth with its pattern in white. It took seven yards to make a dress, but the price for calico around the turn of the century was only about six cents a yard. The factory produced up to 4500 yards per day at its peak, and the railroads running through Homestead and Amana took the material to a national market, providing a substantial income to the community. Local women made clothes out of the material and, when those wore out, the rug makers wove the rags into rugs.
William Rufus Perkins, in his 1891 book History of the Amana Society or Community of True Inspiration, wrote, "The Calico Print Mills were erected in old Amana. They color and print from 3,000 to 4,000 yards daily. The heavy cotton goods are manufactured in the South for the Society. These are called "blue print" and have a good reputation throughout the country."
The factory produced calico for nearly 60 years, until the British naval blockade during World War I interrupted their imports of German dyes. Without the dyes they could no longer produce the quality of product they wanted and the factory closed down.
The two remaining buildings, the fire and printing houses, are used today by the Amana Furniture Shop. They have added on extensively to the east and north of their buildings for work and showroom space. Furniture made in the Amana Colonies continues with the tradition of being individually handcrafted by a skilled artisan. Traditional furniture pieces, such as tables, chests, beds, chairs, and clocks are popular.
The Amana Furniture Shop is located at 740 48th Ave.,in Amana. It is open Monday-Saturday 9:00am to 5:00pm and Sunday 11:00am to 5:00pm. Free guided tours of the furniture workshop are offered year round. Call 319-622-3291 or visit their website for further information.