Jane Austen’s Sewing Box
On a recent visit to Burghley House – the grand mansion that featured as Rosings Park in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice adaptation – I came across and immediately coveted Jane Austen’s Sewing Box: Craft projects & stories from Jane Austen’s novels by Jennifer Forest.
Jennifer Forest is a history teacher and museum curator, and this book is therefore more history-orientated than Austentatious Crochet. Where Melissa Horozewski provided you with Regency-inspired modern looks, Forest shows you how to make real Georgian fashion accessories, from a straw poke bonnet to a miser’s purse. And if making and using these distinctly Georgian objects isn’t enough to transport you to the world of Jane Austen and her novels, each project is preceded by an extensive explanation of how the object slots into the time period, Jane Austen’s life, and her novels.
For example, the pattern for a letter case is introduced with some information on literacy during the Regency period, and some extracts from Jane Austen’s letters to her sister Cassandra, and the directions for making Regency carpetwork tell you about Georgian architecture and the influence of the Prince Regent and his Brighton Pavilion and Carlton House. To make sure you really get it right, Forest also includes an introductory passage about the materials and tools used for dressmaking in the Georgian period – although of course you’re free to cut corners and use a sewing machine!
Jennifer Forest is highly aware of the crucial role of ‘women’s work’ in the Georgian period, and how this is reflected in Jane Austen’s novels. This makes Jane Austen’s Sewing Box particularly relevant to us Jane Austen Detectives, who are always interested in the historical context of the lives and novels of female authors. In the Georgian era, skill with a needle was necessary for women of all classes, and formed a large part of Jane Austen’s own life, both as a useful talent and as a companionable group activity. Forest links each of her topics closely to the novels, identifying different social uses for needlework, and showing how they relate to character.
Thus, Fanny Price is a diligent, patient and quiet worker, in contrast to the Bertram sisters whose work is stored in the old nursery, as being unfit for display in the drawing room. Emma Woodhouse, already endowed with fortune and status, sees little need for such accomplishments; Lizzy Bennet, on the other hand, readily perceives their social uses, such as when she bends over her work to avoid speaking to Mr Darcy.
Jane Austen’s Sewing Box is a fun, interactive and informative way of experiencing something like the situation of Jane Austen and her heroines. Feel the muslin cap settle over your chignon, match your embroidery silks, and get reading and crafting!
Jane Austen’s Sewing Box is published by Murdoch Books and priced at £14.99 in the UK.
Featured image: Pages from Jane Austen’s Sewing Box, via ‘My Austen Dreamworld‘
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