Jane Austen Embroidery

Book Review: Jane Austen Embroidery

Authors: Batchelor, Jennie and Alison Larkin
London, Pavilion, 2020
ISBN: 978 1 911624 40 0

160 pages

One of my daughters-in-law loves Jane Austen’s novels, even naming their daughter Cassandra – after Jane’s sister. I have to confess I am not a fan of Jane’s writing. I am though, a fan of Alison Larkin’s embroidery. Who could forget her visit to us after she had been researching Captain Cook’s waistcoat at Te Papa? And the exquisite embroidery she brought with her to show us? Although Alison is not the lead author of this book, she has done all the embroidery featured in it.

Jennie Batchelor is a professor of English at the University of Kent with a particular interest in the 18th century. She has written the introduction to this book (Embroidery in Jane Austen’s Britain) as well as brief, fascinating essays at the beginning of each of the sections into which this book is divided. Both Jennie and Alison have a deep knowledge of the period. Especially pertinent is the importance of The Lady’s Magazine; or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex published from 1770 until 1832. The magazine covered a huge variety of topics, many of them intellectually stimulating, many quite domestic. One of the reasons the magazine sold so well, was its inclusion of free patterns which women could adapt to embroider on their clothing and domestic items. There were no instructions or suggestions provided – no colour charts or stitch suggestions. It was assumed that women had the skills to select these for themselves. The patterns were often quite small and would be enlarged using the grid method. Jane Austen is thought to have used some of these patterns.

Preceding three project sections, is a comprehensive one, ‘Materials and Methods’, which gives guidance on tools needed, fabrics, threads and beads and an adequate dictionary of the stitches used. It also explains how to go about doing the embroidery. After each of Jennie’s essays at the beginning of each project section, are five needlework projects, adapted by Alison, from patterns in the Lady’s Magazine. I am unsure how the projects were chosen, as the first section, ‘Embroidered Clothes: Dressed to Impress’ has only one clothing project in it – an apron. The others are a pencil case, a clutch purse and a hussif as well as a pretty sprig pattern which could be used to embellish any fabric item. ‘Embroidered Accessories’ – which included one item I would call an accessory, and ‘Embroidery for the Home’, follow. The embroideries all use modern fabrics and threads and have a practical end use, although I think the aforementioned elaborately embroidered apron, is far too beautiful to ever use! There is a jewellery pouch, a shawl, a work bag, a cushion, a mobile phone pouch and tablet sleeve included. All are beautifully embroidered with what appear to be clear, comprehensive and easily followed instructions, both for the needlework and the making of the end product.

This is a lovely book. There are delightful photographs of the projects and beautiful reproductions of illustrations from The Lady’s Magazine. The actual needlework, although very traditional, is pretty. The essays give fascinating glimpses of middle-class women’s lives in the 18th century. This would be a lovely addition to any embroiderer’s library.

Erica Marsden