by Jennie Batchelor & Alison Larkin
This delightful book is a combination of Austen adjacent writing and embroidery instruction. Though I knew Austen to be occupied with needlework since it figures in some of her letters and family stories, I had not considered more deeply any connection between artistry with a needle and artistry with a pen. This work does do that, as well as offering the reader a selection of period embroidery patterns which the authors have provided color choices, stitching instructions, and even suggestions for how to make up the finished products–with lists of sources for some of the harder to find materials.
The commentary begins with Wollstonecraft, who found needlework an offense to women, because it led to fatuousness in her opinion–women who cared too much about fashion and dress. Sadly, I think in this instance Wollstonecraft commits one of the “sins” of some forms of feminism, which is to discount women who make choices different from our own, thus splitting women along lines of preference rather than calling for the acceptance of women as humans of equal value with men. The sad story of Mary Lamb is also related, but the authors quickly move on to consider Austen’s own thoughts about needlework, which were fascinating. Each chapter includes connections to Austen’s writing; citations and endnotes are available for further reading.
The patterns come from the Ladies’ Magazine circa 1770-1810 either found or given to the authors as they worked on this project. According to the authors, one of the reasons it can be challenging to find Regency Era embroidery patterns is that they were intended to be taken out of the magazine and used. Most methods of transferring the patterns to fabric would have resulted in their destruction.
The projects are designed for all levels of stitchers, from beginner to advanced. Interested readers may find more about this by watching this talk, given at Chawton House, and by taking a look at the “Stitch Off” Twitter stream. By the way, I totally want those shoes…
As testament that anyone really can do it, I started with the “Simple Sprig Pattern,” which I embroidered on an old handkerchief that I had found at a flea market. It is the photo that accompanies this post. I am now working on the reticule, though I changed the color scheme. I intend to be more than ready when the AGM goes back in person! I am including a photo of that, though keep in mind that it is in progress, so you can still see the green transfer lines I made to sew by…
For those of you interested in other “saved” patterns, Ackerman’s Repository 1809-1829 has been digitized and there are more instructions about how to access that here.