August 13, 2017

Live Love Lawn

Time to play catch up on the CoBloWriMo (Costume Blog Writing Month) challenges with a three-in-one entry!  Dedicated to my favorite fabric from day 11, which is all things cotton lawn, this post also covers a garment from day 12, and day 13 with a pro tip for working with such fine fabric.  

Live & love cotton LAWN!

Prompt 11 - Fave Friday: Favorite Fabric

In case you haven't already guessed from the the title or introduction above, my favorite fabric is cotton lawn!  (Silk, oh yummy silk, is definitely up there too!)

Ruffles, ruffles and more ruffles!

What is cotton lawn?  According to the online Textile Glossary, lawn is a "light, fine cloth made using carded or combed linen or cotton yarns in a plain weave...It is light weight, sheer, soft, and washable.  It is crispier than voile but not as crisp as organdy."  Cotton lawn is breathable, easy to whip-roll-gather and hem, and makes the best ruffles out there - what's not to love about lawn?!

Where do you find cotton lawn?  Lawn comes in a variety of colors and prints, but I prefer just plain, white cotton lawn for my historical projects.  My go-to source is usually Dharma Trading Co., which offers both a high quality white cotton lawn and a beautiful combed cotton lawn.  I have also ordered lawn from Fashion Fabric Club in several colors.

Five yards of combed cotton lawn from Dharma Trading Co.

When do you use cotton lawn?  From undergarments to accessories, shirtwaists to dresses, lawn can be used for a variety of historical and modern sewing projects.  I have made many a caps and chemisettes from the fine fabric, but can also see all sorts of embroidered kerchiefs, collars and cuffs.

Cap & chemisette of cotton lawn.

Double ruffle cap of cotton lawn, and ties of silk.

Double ruffle chemisette also constructed from cotton lawn.

Other recommended uses include for light undergarments like chemises, corset covers and ruffles on petticoats, Regency to Bustle and Edwardian dresses, and even as breathable linings under summer garments.  As for more modern uses, lawn is the perfect fabric for christening gowns, summery blouses and flowing dresses.

Cotton lawn dress & single ruffle chemisette. 

Prompt 12 - Garment

Now that you know all about cotton lawn, where to find it and how to use it, here's an extant garment constructed of cotton lawn that I documented from the Point Park University Costume Collection.

19th Century Cap of Cotton Lawn
Point Park University Costume Collection

Based on the cut and style, I thought that this beautiful cap may have been from the 1820s-1840s (experts, please feel free chime in here!).  Constructed in three major pieces - the band with four rows of white work, caul, and narrow flounce - the 1/16" piping detail, separating the band and caul, adds stability to the seam and visual interest.  

The spotlight shines, however, on the four rows of white work carefully applied between rows of pulled thread work on the main body of the cap.  A half inch wide flounce of vandyke trim applied around the outer edges completes the look and is attached with a 1/16" rolled seam.  

 A close up shot of some of the beautiful details,
including white work embroidery and pulled thread work.

The 3/8" hem on the back of the caul and bottom edges of the band form a casing for a drawstring.  The width of the caul is gathered down to 4.5" where the tag from the original collection the cap was from reads "14323-92."  Like many of the pieces in the Point Park Collection, this cap was a deaccessioned collection piece donated to the university.  

The original tag and identification number.
Like many other garments in the Point Park Collection,
this cap was a deaccessioned piece donated to the university.   

Inside views reveal that hand gathers, rather than whipped rolled hems, concentrate the fullness of the caul at the back and attach it to the band.


Length of outer edge - 18.5"
Length of bottom edge - 5.25"
Width, including trim - 4.5"
Width, not including trim - 4"

Length at center back from top to bottom - 11"
Width at bottom is gathered to 4.5"

The cap measures 8" across when flat.

Prompt 13 - Pro Tip

The third and final portion of the post covers how to work with cotton lawn.  Like any other type of cotton, before cutting and stitching, make sure to pre-wash the length in warm or cold water, followed by machine or air drying.  Expect some shrinkage.  Press while slightly damp with a hot iron and steam to release wrinkles and creases. 

When it comes to cutting, since it is cotton, lawn can be ripped on the grain.  However, be careful of snagged threads because of its fine nature.  For the same reason, make sure to use small pins and needles, and, consider hand stitching for best, pucker-free results.  

Find that it is a little too soft and slippery to work with, or having trouble with the lighter weight?  Here's where the pro tip comes in!  (A.K.A. my secret to narrow rolled hems and whipped rolled gathers for all of those ruffly caps.)

Apply a light misting of spray starch to the lawn before cutting.  This stiffens the fabric just enough to make it easy to work with, without compromising the wonderful qualities and reasons you chose lawn in the first place.

Pro Tip: Conquer those slippery and unruly sheers with spray starch!

A little starch goes a long way to stabilize a light weight fabric when cutting. 

I like to cover my ironing board with a layer of muslin (or in this case, a pillow case) to protect the cover from the starch.  After misting, give the starch a minute or two to soak in, then iron to activate the starch.

Make sure to protect your ironing board cover.

Which would you rather work with?
Starched fabric on the left, without starch on the right.

Now you're ready to rock and roll those hems and whipped rolled gathers!


  1. Oohhh spray starch, great tip! I've done that before with silk charmeuse and it works wonders. You just have to soak it so you don't end up with spots. :)

    1. Hairspray is a good alternative if you're out of starch...

    2. Oh interesting! I've used hairspray to set pencil drawings, but never would have thought to use it on fabric...I'm often afraid of leaving spots or discoloring such bright, white fabric. However, so far, so good with just a light coating and letting it soak in before applying the iron!

  2. Lawn porn! Wonderful, pretty little ruffles. Quite delicious!

    1. The more the merrier I say when it comes to ruffles!