Jennifer Forest's thoughts on Austen and Crafting
"All young ladies accomplished!...They all paint tables, cover skreens, and net purses."
Pride and Prejudice
Jennifer Forest, author of the bestselling book, Jane Austen's Sewing Box recently spent some time telling me how she first discovered Jane Austen, and how her enthusiasm for Austen's work developed into her newest book. As the school curriculum focused on 20th0century novelists with the occasional visit to Thomas Hardy and Shakespeare, I discovered Jane Austen myself. My favorite novels at first were Persuasion and Mansfield Park. These may be strange choices to many Austen fans but to a younger reader as I was then, the historical references and the complexity of the dilemmas Anne Elliot and Fanny Price faced fascinated me. However, as time progresses, my favorite novel often changes - it partly depends on which one I've just re- read!
Having conducted a fair amount of contextual research into the era, and gained a fuller appreciation of the background in which she was working, I now find I don’t really have a favorite Jane Austen novel anymore; I can appreciate each for its own merits. Her parody of the gothic novels of her era in Northanger Abbey is actually wildly funny once you appreciate the kind of novel she was poking fun at. An understanding of the “rules of society” also make Pride and Prejudice an audacious commentary on marriage and money, not to mention just how rude she makes Elizabeth Bennet’s family members!
I often get asked where the idea for Jane Austen’s Sewing Box originated, so let me give you a bit of background. I hold university qualifications in history, education and curatorship. I’ve worked in the education and curatorial areas in museums and have taught people from 8 to 60 years in a range of environments. In my leisure time, I’ve also tried my hand at many crafts but return to my favorites of embroidery, sewing, screen printing and felting. I think I have a design inclination to historical and vintage inspired designs. Many of the modern colours and designs I grew up with just can not compete against the beauty of many historical designs.
A few years back when I was re-reading the novels, I became curious about Jane Austen’s references to different craft skills. Just what is knotting and netting? Having worked with collections in different types of museums, I knew that there would be original Regency era objects catalogued in museums around the world which would answer these questions. My hobby and my professional background fused as I started using my historian’s training to find a netted purse or a piece of knotting.
|It's common for some types of historians to use paintings to tell us about the past. So I thought the works of Jane Austen - as one of the great writers of the past and present - were also an excellent basis and guide to explore the craft skills of that era. There are other creative craft skills of the Georgian era but every historian needs some kind of parameters within which to work, so I explored only the craft skills Jane Austen mentions in her novels.
Jane Austen’s Sewing Box celebrates the plain and fancy work skills of the late Georgian era with sewing, embroidery, knitting and paper projects. Each project includes quotes from Jane Austen’s novels, historical notes, photographs and instructions for making your own projects.
Jennifer Forest is the author of the best selling book, Jane Austen's Sewing Box. Inspired by the arts and crafts in Jane Austen's novels, she joined history and craft together in a new way - using research into these Regency craft skills to create beautiful and useful projects today.Ms. Forest's book includes instructions and full color photographs of the following handcrafts: A Letter case, Linen cravat, Linen pillowcases, Workbags, Paper flowers, Knitted and netted purses, Huswife, Carpet work, Muff and Tippet, Pin cushion and thread case, Transparency, Bonnet, Reticule, Knitted rug, and Muslin caps. Enjoyed this article? Browse our book shop