Dee and I also attended a most interesting talk given by Keith Vernon. Thanks to Dee for this account of Keith's talk.
“Plain Sewing for Plain Girls”
A talk given at the Harris by Keith Vernon
Keith began by expanding on the title of his talk .The “plain girls”, apart from lending symmetry to his title, referred to ordinary girls attending elementary schools in Victorian times.
Needlework at that time was a very important part of the curriculum for girls. One might wonder why girls couldn’t just practise this skill at home? But the women in their households were increasingly being drawn into the workplace, such as the cotton mills, and domestic duties including needlework, were not being passed on in the home.
In upper class circles, there was much emphasis on “fancy” needlework rather than utilitarian, practical sewing and as such, was one of the accomplishments along with music, water colour painting and riding, which helped a girl attract a “good” husband.
In 1862 the Revised code of the Education department, stated that grants would be given to schools teaching Reading, Writing and Arithmetic and Plain needlework, which included darning, mending, marking and knitting. The schoolroom at this time was almost the workroom for the local landowner and household items would be sent for repair.
The 1870 code declared that grants would be withdrawn were needlework not taught. By 1876 needlework was being inspected in schools, its quality judged on what girls were sewing on the day of inspection.
In 1888, the Cross Commission found that girls were sewing for 3-4 hours per day and doing less Arithmetic than boys. Needlework was viewed as a potential economic benefit as well as instilling the virtues of Domesticity, Decorum and Decoration.
1905 saw educationalists viewing needlework in terms of hand-eye coordination. Garment making became part of a more progressive curriculum and there were health and safety concerns, for teachers to be aware of, such as eye or hand strain.
In 1909 it was stated that, “It should be looked upon as a matter of shame, that a girl should reach a woman’s estate, without knowing what use she could make of her needle.”
We wouldn't want to go back to those days but it's sad to think that needlework now seems to be completely overlooked in our schools? Tell us what you think?