Jane Austen Sewing

June 27, 2009 at 9:51 am (books) (, , , , , )

sewing boxAs a craftsperson, one notices the amount of ‘work’ ladies like Emma and Mary comment upon doing for themselves, gifting to others, or getting as gifts. The range of crafts practiced is broad. I remember well coming across a pattern for the embroidery on a night cap made for Charles Smith, and lovingly traced out in a blank portion of a letter that has survived from the period following his last illness.

From descriptions, Mary went into a decline after Charles’ death, losing weight, ignoring the house and the estate. So how wonderful to see a letter to her youngest sister-in-law, Maria Smith, in which she writes:

“According to your wish I send you the pattern of the cap my sister worked for Charles, though I found I had not got it in my pattern book, but I have taken it from the cap which is still in existence, and I must return you and Eliza many thanks for your letters which contained so much that is interesting to me to hear.” [written from Suttons on 10 August 1832]

Therefore, to find a book like Jane Austen’s Sewing Box is indeed a find!

Author Jennifer Forest has supplied a table of contents, showing the array of Regency projects: from a lettercase, to linen-work, to a workbag and huswife, to a bonnet and a reticule. Must admit that the ‘pin cushion and threadcase’ just reminded me of poor Mrs Smith, the friend of Anne Elliot in Persuasion, who eked out a living making (for resale) just such items (see my review of The Letters of Mrs Lefroy).

I asked Ms. Forest what precipitated her book: “I love history and have worked in a couple of different professions relating to history – I taught at secondary school … then worked in a couple museums here – one an 1860s homestead”. She said, “I was re-reading Jane Austen’s novels and noticed that she mentions her women characters doing different sorts of craft like netting, knotting, etc…. [I]t was things like netting and knotting that got me really interested because they are kind of lost arts”.

Just have a love a book that notes on its inside cover that “the needlework of the spoilt Bertram sisters is ‘too ill done for the drawing room’.” Only Austen would have an ear for the meaning behind such a statement. Yet it is so easy to read over the comment and not digest its true meaning today.

I’ll be watching my post for a copy of this book with eager anticipation!

August update: for more information, see our Vermont Chapter’s posts: Deb Barnum’s review and her interview with author Jennifer Forest.

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