Ada Cummings' Lace Blouse

Contributed by: Private collectors

Ada's lace blouse - front view Ada's lace blouse - back view Back bodice showing details of different laces. Front bodice showing tucked net collar and centre front opening. Ada Owen as a young woman.  Her blouse has a piece of wide gathered lace joined to a smocked or ruched yoke. Ada Cummings dressed for a special occasion in the late 1940s. Ada and William's two children, Nell and Stanley. Two of Ada's sisters, Isobel (left) and Florence (right).  Gertrude (seated) is Isobel's daughter. Lace blouse detail.  The circular motifs are hand stitched together to form the blouse shoulder seam. Wedding photo of Ada Owen and William Cummings in 1906.  Bridesmaids are Ada's sisters, Florence (left) and Martha (right). Indigo, Victoria, during the goldrush in the late 1800s.  Owen family Store on the left.  Post Office on the right.  The mailman, Henry Cannon,  is parked in front of the store with his horse and buggy. A symbol of 19th century grandeur.  'Mount Prior' homestead and winery, Rutherglen,  Victoria.  Built in the late 1880s. An autographed studio photo of Ada Cummings, taken in Rutherglen. Griffith, NSW, local newspaper article detailing Ada Cummings' story and the re-creation of her shop at Griffith's Pioneer Park museum in 1988.
  • Australian dress register ID:

  • Owner:

    Private collectors
  • Date range:

    1900 - 1908
  • Place of origin:

    Indigo, Victoria, Australia
  • Gender:

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Object information

Significance statement

This white lace and net blouse was made and worn by Ada Cummings, nee Owen. Ada was born in 1882, the second daughter of Stanley and Catherine Owen of Indigo, Victoria. She was born during the gold mining era and her father was the owner of the local store, hotel and post office on the diggings at Indigo.

Ada's mother, Catherine, taught her to sew at a young age. This blouse is a fine example of lace, detailed design and skilled needlework from the early 1900s. Several lace pieces of different designs have been shaped and hand-stitched together to form the bodice using minimum seaming.

In 1906 Ada married William Cummings, a miner. By 1916, they had moved their young family to the new Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area at Griffith, New South Wales.

Soon after moving, Ada opened a shop selling clothing for women and children. She also provided the first dressmaking facilities in the new township. Ada's sense of style and immaculate presentation, together with the sewing and storekeeping knowledge acquired from her parents, ensured the success of her business.

Author: Heather Waide, 29th September, 2011.


This lace blouse has been made with all-in-one sleeves (Magyar). A number of different patterned laces have been shaped and hand stitched together to form the bodice design without shoulder, sleeve or underarm seams. It has an underarm sleeve seam. The large floral motifs have been evenly placed on the front and back bodice.

The front bodice is loose fitting and gathers softly onto a silk band at the centre front causing a blouson effect.

The back bodice is fitted and has a curved seam slightly above the waistline.

It has a high collar made from tucked net. The collar has boning. Narrow black cotton binding finishes the top edge of the collar. A row of lace sits directly beneath the black binding.

The centre front opening of the blouse is made of tucked net matching the collar.

The scalloped edge of the lace is attached to the net in the front of the blouse, in a curved shape starting at the edge of the collar, curving to the centre front at the mid-point and curving out again at the waistline. A row of narrow lace covers the centre front band hiding the hooks and loops.

The sleeves are elbow length, finished with scalloped lace edging.

The lower front bodice piece is joined on the right hand side. This drapes across the front of the body and attaches on the left side with hooks. A different patterned scalloped lace finishes the hem of the garment.

The shaped lower part of the blouse was worn tucked beneath a skirt.

The blouse is lined with white net. The net has a machine stitched centre back seam and set in sleeves. The lining has been hand stitched to the blouse at the neckline.

The net sleeve lining hangs loosely within the sleeve. It has a slightly jagged edge, suggesting it may have been cut when the sleeves were shortened.

History and Provenance

Gold was discovered in Indigo, Victoria in 1858 and within four months 20,000 people had arrived in the district hoping to make their fortune.

Stanley Fairfax Owen, father of Ada Cummings was among the newcomers. Born in London, he was a highly educated man and fluent in several languages. He became the mining warden on the diggings in the Indigo district, and by 1871 he had become owner of the local store, hotel and post office.

At that time, the store and storekeeper were the pivot of isolated Australian communities. Not only did they provide the people's basic needs, but also their connection with their community. Often the storekeeper bought from the customer, with transactions taking the form of barter. Eggs and butter were the commonest items traded for cash or a sum to be deducted from the monthly account.

Family folklore records a visit to the Owen store by bushranger Ned Kelly. He also visited the hotel, spending the night camped on the verandah. He was gone by early next morning.

Stanley Owen's first wife Janet, died of typhoid fever at 35. She left five children. Some time later, Stanley married Catherine Snow of Indigo, and the couple had seven daughters and two sons. Ada, the second daughter of Stanley and Catherine, was born in 1882.

Family help was vital to the storekeeper: serving during the day, and packing goods like salt and sugar into small paper bags at night. Through working alongside their father in the family business, Ada and her siblings acquired many skills. Ada's mother Catherine, an excellent seamstress, also passed her abilities on to her many daughters. The legacy of both her parents' teachings was to help Ada immeasurably in the establishment of her own business, later in life.

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Stanley Fairfax Owen (father of Ada Cummings) was born in London in 1830. He married Janet Burt of Indigo, Victoria in 1862. Janet was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1836. Stanley and Janet had five children. Janet died of typhoid fever in 1871.

In 1872 Stanley Owen married Catherine Snow of Indigo. Catherine was born in 1854. Her family came from Snowdon, South Australia. Stanley and Catherine had nine children. Ada was their second daughter. Catherine Owen died in 1901. Stanley Owen died in 1906.

Ada Cummings nee Owen was born in Indigo in 1882. She died at Parramatta in 1963.

William Cummings was born in Daylesford, Victoria. He died in Griffith in 1935.

Ada Owen and William Cummings married in 1906. They had two children, Stanley and Nellie.

Stanley Cummings, born 1908

Nellie Blyth nee Cummings, born in 1914. Nellie died in 1995.

This lace blouse was given to Mrs. Ada Tyson nee Collier, by her aunt, Ada Cummings.

Ada Tyson's mother, Florence, assisted in her sister's dress shop. Ada Tyson was named after her aunt Ada and she had a long and close relationship with her.

Do you have any stories or community information associated with this?

Social gatherings were an important part of life for the Owen family. Outings often involved travelling by horse and buggy to the surrounding bushland for picnics.

The social event of the year, was the annual Rowing Regatta, held on New Years Day at Lake Moodemere. This gala occasion was attended by large numbers of people dressed in their finest clothing. Bush huts, made with leafy branches, were built by families along the lake's edge to provide shelter from the heat.

The first Regatta at Lake Moodemere was held in 1860 between rival paddle-steamer crews. The steamers traded up and down the river servicing the goldfields at Beechworth and the great pastoral stations that sprang up with the advent of the squatters. The gold rush brought wealth and prosperity to the district. The land was fertile and productive with successful early vineyards, grazing and cropping.

In the late 1800s several large and gracious homesteads were built in the Rutherglen district. 'Fairfield', 'Olive Hills' and 'Mount Prior' were built within sight of one another. 'Fairfield' is a two-storey house with its own ballroom, while 'Mount Prior', built on a hill, had an imposing tower with a flagpole. The many rooms had high ceilings and full length windows which opened onto the wide verandahs.

Dancing was popular, and the balls held in these grand houses were much anticipated events: a colourful part of the social life of this wealthy district. The Owen family enjoyed participating in these social gatherings and it is most likely Ada wore her lace blouse at this time.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

In 1906 Ada married William Cummings, a goldminer. After the mines closed in Wonthaggie, the couple opened a greengrocer shop and cafe. In 1915, when work began on the new Irrigation Area at Griffith, William moved to the first settlement where he worked for the Water Commission.

Bagtown, as it was known, was made up of rough dwellings and many structures were made using leftover cement bags from the construction of the irrigation channels. Ada and the two children, Nell and Stan, joined William the following year. Ada immediately noted that the house William had found for them at Bagtown had a front window, suitable for shop display. Within a week the decision to open a dress shop had been made. Fifty pounds worth of stock was ordered from Melbourne and came by train. The shop opened on a Saturday, the main shopping day in Bagtown. It was a 'red letter' day. The shop was so popular that within two months, the stock needed to be replenished. Goods sold included women's and children's clothing, millinery and Berlei 'stays', haberdashery, china dolls and toys. A former Bagtown resident commented: 'It was unexpected to find the shop contained such nice things'.

In 1920 Ada and William built a shop in the new township of Griffith. By 1922, the premises had been enlarged to include special fitting and dressmaking rooms. Ada employed several dressmakers and wedding dresses were a speciality. An archway formed the entrance to the new work areas, and special glass cases were built along the entire width of the back wall. Here 'the gowns' were displayed. It was a welcoming and elegant establishment with chairs placed before the counter for customer comfort: a place to linger while considering purchases.

Ada's shop and dressmaking business continued until 1935 when her husband suffered a heart attack. She sold the business in order to care for him.

Where did this information come from?

Recorded information from Griffith Pioneer Park Museum.

Owen Family history documents.

Conversations with the owner of the garment, Mrs Ada Tyson, niece of Ada Cummings.

Historical photos and information from the Chiltern Athenaeum.

This garment has been exhibited

This garment has not been exhibited.

  1. Place of origin:

    Indigo, Victoria, Australia

  2. Owned by:

    Ada Cummings nee Owen.

  3. Worn by:

    Ada Cummings

  4. Occasion(s):

    Family occasions, social gatherings.

  5. Place:

    Indigo, Rutherglen district.

  6. Designed by:

    Ada Cummings

  7. Made by:

    Ada Cummings

  8. Made for:

    Ada Cummings

Trimmings / Decoration

The net collar has a narrow black cotton binding, finishing the top edge.

Below the binding is a row of lace, 15mm wide. The same narrow lace covers the tucked net centre front opening.

Scalloped lace finishes the sleeve ends and the centre front bodice shaping.

A different scalloped lace finishes the lower part of the blouse.


Narrow white silk ribbon has been used to bind the neck boning.


Several different patterns of cotton chemical lace. These have been shaped and hand stitched together.


Tucked net has been used for the collar and centre front insertion.

Fibre / Weave

The blouse is made of white cotton chemical lace. Several different laces have been used.

The collar binding is black cotton.

The centre front inserted piece of the blouse and the collar are made of tucked white cotton net.

The blouse lining is made of white cotton net.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


The blouse is made up of several different patterned laces. The lace has been cut, shaped and hand stitched together to fit a blouse pattern, using minimal seams. The bodice and sleeves are made in one piece. The large floral motifs have been positioned evenly on the front and the back of the blouse.

The curving centre front lace is finished with a scalloped lace, then attached to the tucked net to form the closure.

The same scalloped lace finishes the sleeve edge. A different patterned scalloped lace finishes the hem of the blouse.

The high neck is made of cotton net with eight machine stitched tucks.

The collar has five bones, each wrapped in narrow silk ribbon. The boning is hand stitched to the collar lining. Narrow black cotton binding finishes the neck edge. This has been machined, then hand finished. A narrow piece of lace sits below this.

The centre front opening section of the blouse matches the collar, with machined tucks decorating the cotton net.

Hooks and eyes form the centre front closure and neck closure.

The front bodice is gathered softly onto a silk band at the waistline, causing a blouson effect. A seam on the back bodice curves above the waistline.

The lower band on the front of the blouse, joins on the right hand side, then folds across the front of the body, attaching with hooks to the left hand side.

The underarm sleeve seam has been machined.

The handstitching on the blouse is very fine. The thread is well matched and the stitches so small, they are hardly discernible even with a magnifying glass.


Possibly the sleeves have been altered. The net lining within the sleeve has an uneven edge, suggesting it has been cut. The wrist length sleeve possibly was made of the same tucked net as the centre front and collar and attached to the gathered sleeve lining.

  1. Hand sewn
  2. Machine sewn
  3. Knitted
  4. Other


  1. Bias
  2. Straight


  1. Hook and eye
  2. Lacing
  3. Buttons
  4. Zip
  5. Drawstring

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

The blouse lining is made of white cotton net. It has a machine stitched centre back seam and set in sleeve seams.

The high collar has six bones. These are wrapped in narrow silk ribbon.


Neck 315 mm
Chest 840 mm
Waist 645 mm
Hip 965 mm
Front neck to hem 570 mm
Front waist to hem 155 mm
Back neck to hem 500 mm
Back waist to hem 140 mm
Sleeve length 350 mm
Neck to sleeve head 120 mm
Cross back 340 mm
Underarm to underarm 520 mm
Convert to inches

Sleeve hem circumference is 460mm.

Dress Themes

This lace blouse is typical of Edwardian opulence in fabric and design.

It was an age of beauty for those able to sew or afford a dressmaker. The clothing was highly elaborate, using fragile and luxurious fabrics: layers of frills, tucks and lace. An era of femininity, beautiful design and intricate stitchery details.

Worn beneath the layers of soft fabrics were tight corsets, pulling the body into an S-bend shape.

Dress bodices fell loosely, billowing slightly over the front waistband. Skirts were long and sweeping.

Hairpieces and hair pads were often used to create the required volume. Hair was swept up and held with pins and combs after the age of 18.

Additional material

Articles, publications, diagrams and receipts descriptions

Haberdashery items from Ada Cummings' Dress Shop were donated to Griffith Pioneer Park Museum.

In September 1988, an article was written in the local Griffith paper (Area News) detailing the success of Ada Cummings' Shop in the early history of Griffith. The Dress Shop was re-created as part of the 'Bagtown' (first Griffith settlement) project at Griffith Pioneer Park Museum.



  1. Excellent
  2. Good
  3. Fair
  4. Poor
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