Historical information

This child's dress is one of several linen and clothing items that were made and belonged to Mrs. Eliza Towns and donated to Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum and Village.

Eliza was born Eliza Gould in 1857 in South Melbourne (Emerald Hill) and in 1879 married Charles Towns. In the early 1880's they moved to Nhill in western Victoria and remained there for the rest of their married life. Charles was a jeweller and later became an accountant and for many years was involved with the Shire Council, the local show committee (A & P Society), the Hospital Committee and the Board of the local newspaper (the Nhill Free Press). They had three children and lived a life that would be regarded as comfortably "middle class". Eliza probably had a treadle sewing machine and would have made many of her own clothes as well as clothes for her children - adding her own handmade embroidered or crocheted decorative trim.

A photograph of their youngest child, Alice, taken in circa 1903 depicts her wearing the dress. The dress would have been only worn on special occasions (such as a formal family photographic portrait) as most young girls in that era would have smocks or pinafores for everyday wear. The age of the dress is in question as it may have been made by Eliza for her eldest daughter, Dorcus, who was born in 1884.

This dress has some machine sewing at the neck, waistband and pintucks but much of the dress is handsewn and richly embroidered with Broderie anglaise.
Broderie anglaise (also known as eyelet lace) is a form of cutwork embroidery. The foundation fabric is cut to make decorative holes which are sewn with overcast or buttonhole stitches to create a lace like effect. Designs often involve floral motives that are enhanced with simple embroidery stitches such as stem stitch and satin stitch and scalloped edges finished with buttonhole stitches.

It was commonly used to trim baby clothes, dresses, nightclothes, underclothes and household linens - particularly in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.


This item is an example of the needlework skills of women in the late 19th century - combining machine stitching with hand embroidery to personalise and embellish a child's special dress.

Physical description

Child's white dress made of cotton and lawn, with a skirt of hand embroidered circular cutwork (broderie anglaise), a scalloped hem edged in buttonhole stitch and a gathered waist. The lined bodice has three panels of hand embroidered broderie anglaise (eyelet lace) inserted in a V shape with pintucks and bordered with a broderie anglaise lace frill. The short sleeves also have an inserted broderie anglaise lace strip, three pintucks and a broderie anglaise lace frill. The skirt is semi lined with fine lawn. The dress has a back opening with one button and two ties. The neckline is decorated with two rows of hand embroidered broderie anglaise lace.