Tag Archives: cotton voile

Glossary: Cotton Voile

Voile is a fabric made from cotton, a natural fiber. For more information, see the entry Glossary: Cotton Fiber. Voile is plain woven and very sheer. It is similar to, but sheerer than, cotton batiste. It is also similar to handkerchief-weight linen lawn. Note that many fabrics sold as voile today are made of synthetic fibers, usually polyester, and are very different from natural cotton voile. Modern cotton lawn is sometimes as light and sheer as voile, but typically cotton lawn is closer in weight to batiste.

Whatever Happened to Muslin?
Modern cotton voile and cotton batiste, as well as other sheer specialty cotton fabrics, can be used in place of historical muslin. Very different from our stiff, short-staple, modern utility muslin, in the 18th and 19th centuries, “muslin” denoted a family of lightweight cotton fabrics, which were usually white. Muslins were woven from fine, long staple cotton fibers, and ranged from semi-sheer to completely transparent. It is also important to note that over the early to mid 19th century, fabrics which had once been exclusively or typically linen increasingly came to be made of cotton, while sometimes still being called by the same names, for instance cambric.

Definitions of voile and muslin from a variety of print resources, each of which contains further information:

There is no reference to voile, but on page 41, this book states that “‘Muslin’ denotes a group of lightweight cotton fabrics, generally white. The sample shown here is a corded muslin, striped in the warp. Checked muslins were woven similarly, with heavier threads spaced in between the warp and weft. Other varieties of muslin included book muslin, jaconette, mull, nainsook, and muslinet, all denoting degrees of drape, weight, and transparency. Except for book muslin, which was always plain woven, these various muslins could be pattern woven in stripes, checks, or figures, or plain woven. Any of these varieties might be printed with small motifs, or embroidered with dots, sprigs, or more elaborate designs.”

In discussing cotton fabrics for use in authentic reproduction sewing of mid-19th century styles, on page 59 it is stated that “In fashion descriptions, ledgers, and advertisements, you’ll see many references to cotton muslin. This is not the same textile as found for 99¢ in chain fabric stores! Modern cotton muslin is much heavier than period muslin, which was a fine, long staple cotton fabric, and was most often quite sheer. To approximate historic muslin for living history use, look to textiles like imported sheer batiste, organdy, barred voile, dimity, and other very delicate, sheer articles.”

The glossary entry for “Voile” on page 180 defines it as “thin dress fabric of cotton or wool, woven with an open texture from hard twisted yarns.” Note that this definition does not entirely apply to the modern material known as voile.

The glossary entry for “Muslin” on page 178 defines it as “stout, light, open cotton fabric of varying fineness, used for summer dresses, plain, printed, dyed, dotted. A general term used for similar fabrics as lawn, mull, cambric.”

Also on page 178, the glossary defines “mull” as “soft, thin muslin with no stiffening;” “book muslin” as “stiffly finished, light cotton fabric in a gauze weave;” “dotted muslin” as “muslin with small circles or dots on it;” “lawn” as “very fine linen or cotton fabric with a somewhat open texture, used for the sleeves of Church of England bishops, and for dresses” (see also Glossary: Linen Lawn). On page 175, the glossary defines “cambric” as “thin, fine, white linen fabric.”

There is no entry for “voile.” On page 304, “Muslin” is defined as “A fine cotton textile first made in India.” The entry also notes that “Book muslin (book calico) is a name derived from the booklike form in which some of the finer calicoes were folded and marketed in India.” The entry for muslin includes a “see also” reference to “mull,” which is defined on page 303 as “Soft, fine white cotton imported from India from the seventeenth century.”

Online Resources:

For more information about an individual fiber, fabric, or other material, select it on the right side menu for “Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials.” This will bring up all entries which have that tag, including (in most cases) a Glossary post like this one, which will offer a definition of that fiber, fabric, or material, and sometimes also offer useful links to outside sources on working with it. For more general information, visit the core entry for the Glossary: Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials. For a directory of all textile glossary posts, go to the Glossary Table of Contents.

Updated January 10, 2012

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Glossary: Cotton Fiber

Cotton is a natural fiber which comes from a plant. Many different fabrics are made from cotton fiber, including voile, batiste, organdy, calico, sateen, flannel, jean, and a wide variety of other fabrics.

“Cotton is a vegetable seed fiber. Botanically, the fibers are the protective covering of the seeds in the cotton plant, a shrub that grows from four to six feet high. Dry cotton fiber is from 88 percent to 96 percent cellulosic.” (Ingham and Covey, The Costume Technician’s Handbook, page 62)

“Under magnification, cotton (a staple fiber) appears like a twisted ribbon. This twist is what makes cotton easy to spin. Cotton is weaker than flax, but its ease of manufacture quickly overcame that deficiency. Cotton is absorbent and thus comfortable to wear in hot weather.” (Bassett, Textiles for Regency Clothing 1800-1850, page 14)

“Extremely versatile in weight, texture, and construction. Found in fabric such as organdy, broadcloth, poplin, terry, corduroy, seersucker, denim, tweed. Used widely for summer wear, work clothes, and in heavier weights, for warm transitional garments.” (Butterick, Vogue Sewing, page 50)

“Cotton is cool, washable, appropriate to nearly all [mid 19th century living history] impressions in some way, and comes in a wide variety of colors and well-researched prints. Cottons fade with laundering and sun exposure, and tend to wear out more quickly than other fibers. It’s an economical choice for everyday or ‘wash’ garments.” (Clark, The Dressmaker’s Guide, 2nd ed., page 54)

For more information about an individual fiber, fabric, or other material, select it on the right side menu for “Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials.” This will bring up all entries which have that tag, including (in most cases) a Glossary post which will offer a definition of that fiber, fabric, or material, and sometimes also offer useful links to outside sources on working with it. For more general information, visit the core entry for the Glossary: Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials. For a directory of all textile glossary posts, go to the Glossary Table of Contents.

Glossary Entries for Cotton Fabrics:

Online Resources:

Print Resources: See the article Glossary: Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials for a list of print resources.

Updated January 10, 2012

1830s cuffs of white cotton voile

Garment

Note: this is only a possibility. I need to check on whether cuffs were worn/required for this period, and for this style of dress. If I don’t need them, I probably won’t make them initially. If they’re optional, I’ll probably plan on making a pair later.

1830s chemisette of white cotton voile

Garment