The Victorians thought girls should be taught home-making skills at school so that they would know how to be good housewives and mothers in adult life. These skills would also be useful if they went into domestic service, working in a well-to-do household.
One of the skills thought essential was needlework so that girls knew how to make and mend clothes. Four hours a week were set aside for girls to learn how to stitch, hem, seam and make buttonholes. The standard of sewing was very high. Girls had to sew with tiny, even stitches. Mistakes had to be unpicked and the sewing done again. Once a year, the girls had their work checked by an examiner.
Girls practised sample stitches by making miniature clothes before they made real ones. The dress shown here is one of these miniature dresses with pleating. It is made from fine white cotton and shows off a variety of stitches and techniques. By the time girls left school, they had learned to make petticoats, nightshirts, girls' frocks and men’s shirts.