What is Gingham?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Gingham is a printed or dyed fabric that is known for its checked patterns of white and a bold color. The size of the checks can vary, and although it typically is found with the checks appearing in horizontal rows and vertical columns, the checks also can appear to be arranged diagonally. Originally, this fabric was intended to be woven into stripes. Its name comes from the word genggang, which means "striped" in the Malay language spoken in places such as Malaysia and Indonesia, where it is believed to have originated.

Gingham is a fabric that has been printed or dyed to have a checked pattern of white and  bold colors.
Gingham is a fabric that has been printed or dyed to have a checked pattern of white and bold colors.


This fabric dates to at least the 17th century, when it was imported to Europe and later to the American colonies. Its production was a major economic boon in many places, including Manchester, England, and the colonies in what is now the southeastern United States. Originally, two differently colored fibers were used to produce a striping effect. As time passed, gingham fabrics began to appear with a checked pattern, as well as plaids. Blue and white was the color combination of choice for many years, although it can now be found in virtually any bold color paired with white.

Cotton, which is often used to make gingham.
Cotton, which is often used to make gingham.


Gingham is produced in cotton, synthetic fiber blends and even man-made olefin fibers. The appearance of gingham, especially when made as an all-cotton fabric, is that of a flat luster. Many manufactures will treat the fabric to make it resistant to wrinkles because it normally tends to wrinkle very easily. It is, however, a midweave fabric that wears well and is easy to clean.


This fabric is used in many applications. Gingham curtains are found in many kitchens, and gingham handkerchiefs are found in many back pockets. It is a favorite for lightweight shirts and blouses, as well as summer dresses for women. Many barbecue aprons are made with gingham checks, and even pajamas and bedspreads can be created with this fabric.

Gingham typically is considered to provide a youthful, whimsical or relaxed feel. This might be because it frequently is used in children's clothing and décor, or that feel might be why it is used for those purposes. It can be found virtually anywhere, but it most often is found in informal settings. As a lightweight and easy-to-clean fabric option, it is considered to be a great choice for many household linens as well as comfortable clothing.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


Gingham is the traditional pattern of picnic tablecloths. I have seen vinyl versions for sale that are disposable, but I also have a cotton one that is washable.

Every time I go to the park, I see at least one family eating on a gingham tablecloth. Some people prefer to use them as picnic blankets on the grass, while others just spread them over the tables.

I would hate to have a picnic without a gingham cloth of some kind. It just wouldn't feel authentic.


@lighth0se33 – I think that is the reason I like gingham today. I grew up with a lot of it in my home, and once I moved out, any time I would see a gingham pattern somewhere, I felt comforted.

I have a green gingham throw on my sofa and some matching gingham curtains in the living room. The walls are painted the same shade of green to match, because I knew that I would never want to part with my gingham items.


I have some black gingham flats that are so comfortable. They are made from a canvas material, and they just slip right on.

A black bow sits on top of the toes. These shoes go great with anything black or red, and I have a lot of both in my wardrobe.


I usually picture red and white when I think of gingham. This is probably because of the old bedspread at my grandmother's house.

She used to make a lot of clothing, curtains, and bedclothes. Back then, she couldn't afford to buy premade items, and it was normal for everyone to know how to sew.

So, I associate gingham with a time when things were simpler. It denotes purity, and it comforts me.


@ GlassAxe- Gingham and plaid are different, but they share some similarities. Plaid has its roots in the Scottish Highlands, and traditionally was made form wool. The cross pattern of plaid can also be very intricate, with different families or regions often claiming a pattern as their own.

Gingham tends to be lighter, usually made of cotton, and comprised of simple patterns. Gingham is often made with a white background, causing colors to become more intense when they are woven over each other. For example, when a vertical pink gingham weave crosses over a horizontal weave, the result is an intense pink at the intersection.

Furthermore, ginghams are always woven while plaid patterns can be dyed after the fabric is woven.


What is the difference between Gingham and Plaid? I see the descriptions on clothes as gingham and to me they look like plaid, but I have been told they are not the same. It also seems like gingham is more expensive than plaid. Is this just a marketing trick or is there really a difference?


I have a pair of jeans with yellow gingham on the back pockets. There are a few other colors woven in (red, blue, white and green I think) as well.

The jeans are stylish, but I always have trouble finding clothes to match the pattern. I usually end up wearing a simple white tee shirt or sport shirt and a pair of white sneakers.

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