Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Hailstone muslin - what is it?

The wedding dress exhibition at Expressions featured a simple depression-era dress in a fabric that the bride called 'hailstone muslin.'

1933 hailstone muslin wedding dress

A close-up of the bride's mitts and the dress fabric

I've never heard of hailstone muslin, and was quite intrigued.

My first impression was to call the fabric dotted swiss, but I did notice that the dots seemed to be constructed differently than I would expect for a true dotted swiss


In the fabric of the hailstone muslin dress, the dots were woven into the fabric, and then the extra threads cut away on the back of the fabric.

The true dotted swisses that I am familiar with have the threads for the dots wrapped from front to back, as occurs with the needle and bobbin threads of a sewing machine, or in hand embroidery.

The modern usage of 'dotted swiss' covers any light, crisp fabric with raised dots. The dots may be applied in any fashion. Does this mean that hailstone muslin is just another name for a slight variant on dotted swiss? I decided to research.

The 1930s wedding dress display at Expressions

The only references to hailstone muslin that I can find online or in reference books are from Australian and New Zealand sources.

The Brisbane Courier notes that on Thursday 4 Feb 1892 "Miss L Blakeney [wore] white hailstone muslin with pale blue and pink sprigs, black turned up sailor hat and pink sprigs" to a reception at Government House.

The fabric is mentioned in the same paper again on 16 Sep 1895 when "Mrs. L. Miller wore a dainty white frock of hailstone muslin, and a large Tuscan hat with upstanding bows and rosettes of white silk" to a race meeting.

On Feb 24 1899 the society pages of The Perth Courier mentions a wedding in which "[The bride's] little niece Alta Genevieve Hughes acted as maid of honor and carried on a pretty little tray the wedding ring. She was dressed in white hailstone mull trimmed with lace and wore a heavy silk sash caught up with a dainty buckle."

Is hailstone mull the same as hailstone muslin? This is the only mention of hailstone mull that I can find at all.

The Sydney Mail, on Jan 7 1909 features an illustration of a charming house gown in hailstone muslin

The Powerhouse Museum, in Sydney, has a baby's hailstone muslin short frock, ca 1900, a child's hailstone muslin dress with double cape, ca 1910, and a little girl's dress of hailstone muslin from 1950.

The New Zealand Railways Magazine has a number of mentions of hailstone muslin in its fashion section.

Volume 8, Issue 7 (November 1, 1933) gushes "The sight of dainty frocks in flowery prints, linens, hailstone muslins and zephers, with sunbonnets to match, makes one long for a little girl to dress."

Volume 10, Issue 8 (November 1, 1935) suggests in its 'Timely Notes and Useful Hints from Helen' "For a frilly summer dance frock what could be more charming than hailstone muslin with contrasting ribbons."

More mentions are made in Robin Hyde's semi-autobiographical account of being raised middle class in working class turn-of-the-century New Zealand, The Godwits Fly.
A Robin Hyde quote on the Wellington waterfront.

The book mentions her mother "… peeling potatoes, or making the old hand-machine whirr as she ran up hailstone muslin for Sandra's new best dress…". Later, Robin's own character, Eliza, now grown up, pregnant, and unmarried, decides, "...to go out shopping and buy things for her baby—lovely things, lace and hailstone muslin and little absurd caps".

Based on all of this information, I believe that hailstone muslin (or hail-stone muslin) is an Australian and New Zealand term for a fabric which is identical to, or at least very similar to, dotted swiss. It appears to have been used mainly for children's attire, and for summer frocks for young ladies, and was popular from at least the 1880s through the 1950s.

Any more information on hailstone muslin would be much appreciated!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A honiton lace table mat

This beautiful table mat is made of Honiton lace, one of the most famous varieties of English lace.


Honiton lace is a bobbin lace, usually characterised by floral and natural motifs held together by net and a fine network of thread. Honiton lace is one of the finest and most delicate of laces, making it particularly fragile, but also particularly beautiful and suitable for wedding veils and delicate tea dresses.

A 1920s bride in a stunning Honiton lace veil

Lace making may have been introduced into the Honiton region by Flemish immigrants to England during the Elizabethan era. Like many Elizabethan immigrants to England, they came seeking religious freedom, and were welcomed for their skills. England's technology and arts, particularly in textile design and manufacture, benefited greatly from the country's willingness to accept religious refugees in the 16th century.

Whether Flemish lacemakers settled in Elizabethan Honiton, or whether a resident of Honiton brought the new skill back from other parts of England, by the beginning of the 17th century most houses in the Honiton region had at least one member who made lace, and in 1696 is was estimated that at least half of the residents of Honiton made their living as lacemakers. Lace making, in Honiton as well as in other regions around England and the rest of Europe, has traditionally been a craft that women and older members of a household could do around their other chores as a means of supplementing the household's income.

Honiton lace was one of the most desired and valuable laces throughout the 17th, and early 18th century, particularly in France, but the late 18th century saw the introduction of machine-made Honiton lace substitutes, and the industry went into a massive decline. Queen Victoria attempted to revive the lace industry by commissioning an enormous piece of Honiton lace for her wedding dress.

Queen Victoria in Honiton lace

As a result of the young and popular Queen's choice, Honiton became the most desired and sought after lace of the 19th century. Every bride hoped to have at least one set of handkerchiefs or a table mat such as this of fine linen trimmed with handmade Honiton lace in her hope chest.


Today table mats are rather unfashionable and superfluous, but in the 18th, 19th and early 20th century they were an elegant, decorative, and practical means of protecting a valuable table from water stains or scratches from ornaments, vases, candlesticks, tablewear and epegernes that might damage the delicate varnish of the table.


My table mat is probably late 19th or early 20th century Honiton lace. It appears to be entirely handmade.