Friday, April 9, 2010

Needlework, Then and Now

Every woman of the Regency era could sew.  It was an essential skill; there were no sewing machines, no ready-made goods. Everything had to be hand-sewn. Sheets had to be hemmed, and towels, body linen and night clothes had to be made, children's clothes and ladies' gowns, and men's shirts all had to be sewn by hand, by someone.

If you were poor, or even middle class, and hated to sew, you did it anyway. If you enjoyed it, it was a welcome opportunity to sit down for once, and still accomplish a necessary task. If you hated sewing and you were wealthy, you did not have to hold a needle; you hired someone to sew for you. If you were wealthy and you loved stitchery, you were fortunate. You did not have to do the day-to-day plain sewing every household required. You still hired that done. You might have a sewing woman resident in your establishment, or one who lived in the village. You might have a seamstress visit to make your family's clothes, or you might visit one of the fashionable modistes in your nearest town or city. And you could spend your time with the needle on fancy-work: needlepoint, embroidery, 'Berlin' work, and quilting.

If you live in the present day and love Jane Austen, and you also love to sew, you are in luck. I have been delighted to discover in the last few months craft sites offering patterns for making needle art projects with Regency and Jane Austen themes. I love needlework: cross-stitch, needlepoint, quilting and making clothes. I am at a loss with a paintbrush in my hand, or a drawing pencil. I cannot spin, or weave. I can knit and crochet in a rudimentary way, but put a shining silver needle complete with thread in my hand, and I am happy.

Jane Austen enjoyed quilting, and one of her quilts is extant. Now you can make a replica of that quilt with a pattern from Linda Franz at
I would love to give this pattern a try.

Another Jane Austen quilt is available from Brenda Ryan, an Australian stitchery designer. This quilt has charming embroideries in every diamond. The website doesn't show the designs within the quilted diamonds very well, but I used my magnifier and they are little Regency delights. I really want this pattern.

There are a number of people designing beautiful Jane Austen cross-stitch patterns. The Sampler Girl is one of the most prolific, with more than 25 patterns and a book as well. The Sampler Girl also has a terrific blog - Stitching with Jane Austen. Her designs include samplers and whimsical novelties like this:
The gift shop at the Jane Austen Centre in the UK has lovely designs by M. Yvonne Illey available as kits. Jane Austen's house, her sampler, and the unforgettable potrait by Cassandra Austen are featured:
I have just today discovered an eBay store called West Wind Cross Stitch Designs. They have an entire section of Jane Austen patterns, and they are lovely.
I recently received as a birthday gift the lovely book "Jane Austen's Sewing Box". To read a review of the book go to the terrific blog Jane Austen's World. The book is a visual delight and I'm looking forward to trying some of the patterns. In fact, I have to end this now--my own sewing box is calling me!

'Til next time,


P.S. If you know of any other Jane Austen or Regency needlework pattern sites, I'd love to hear about them!


LittleMiss said...

I have only just read this blog and you may never see this comment but recently I have scouting out and found a number of jane austen/ regency cross stitch patterns about. copy and paste the links below :)

I have a couple more patterns which I have sewn myself but cannot find them online. if you wish for copies just leave a message on my blog

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Thank you for your suggestions! It's always delightful to hear of more JA needlework patterns!

Kate_in_Plano said...

Some new Jane Austen projects are available at:

These were created in honor of the 200th anniversary of the publishing of Pride and Prejudice. They include hearts for all the couples in Pride and Prejudice and a darling project, "Pride and Prejudice - The Needle Book Edition."