Ma’s delaine dress was beautiful. It was a dark green, with a little pattern all over it that looked like ripe strawberries. A dressmaker had made it, in the East, in the place where Ma came from when she married Pa and moved out west to the Big Woods in Wisconsin. Ma had been very fashionable, before she married Pa, and a dressmaker had made her clothes.
The delaine was kept wrapped in paper and laid away. Laura and Mary had never seen Ma wear it, but she had shown it to them once. She had let them touch the beautiful dark red buttons that buttoned the basque up the front, and she had shown them how neatly the whalebones were put in the seams, inside, with hundreds of little crisscross stitches.
- Little House in the Big Woods, Chapter 7: The Sugar Snow
In Little House in the Big Woods, numerous mentions are made of Caroline’s best dress, which is referred to a delaine dress, which was Caroline’s best dress only used for special occasions .
Delaine fabric is a type of woolen fabric that was popular in the 19th century, which comes specifically from delaine merino sheep, which is where the fabric name comes from. The fabric was either made entirely of delaine merino wool, or could be a mixed fiber of delaine and cotton. It was either dyed or printed – in the case of the delaine in Little House in the Big Woods, it was printed with a pattern of tiny leaves that looked like strawberries.
It was known for being lightweight and durable, making it a good choice for clothing worn by pioneers. The fabric was also relatively inexpensive and easy to produce, which made it accessible to many people.