Interview with Jennifer Forest, author of “Jane Austen’s Sewing Box”

book cover jane austens sewing box

 

Today we have Jennifer Forest joining us to share her thoughts on her new book Jane Austen’s Sewing Box: Craft Projects & Stories from Jane Austen’s Novels [NSW, Australia: Murdoch Books, 2009]:

What inspired Jane Austen’s Sewing Box? 

I love Jane Austen, history and craft so it seemed quite natural for me to join these  interests.  A few years ago, re-reading Jane Austen’s novels I noticed that she makes quite a few references to craft including sewing, knotting, painting and netting. It spurred me on to start digging around to find out what the crafts were that Jane Austen’s women were doing.  The Regency left a strong design legacy and there are many examples of the beautiful craft worked by women during this great period for arts and craft. 

What types of projects are in the book?  

Just as Jane Austen includes a range of craft references in her novels, there are also a range of projects in the book.  All projects are based on her novels and letters, so there’s everything from making paper flowers, to embroidery, sewing, painting, knitting and those lost arts of netting and knotting.  

What skills do you need to do the projects? 

I really believe that craft should be something you can do, not something you struggle with to the end! So there is something for all skill levels from beginner and intermediate projects to more advanced projects for experienced crafty people.  I also used materials and tools true to the period that can be sourced from shops today. 

How did you use original objects from the Regency for Jane Austen’s Sewing Box? 

I have been fortunate to work in museums where I was surrounded by beautiful objects from the past, so I knew there was a collection of Regency items available for research. Each project is based on original examples from the Regency period, from the overall design right down to details like the actual size of a finished piece, colours and materials. 

Were Regency women the original “domestic goddess”?

Well, the home was their empire in the Regency and craft skills were so important to the management of a household that it was called “women’s work”.  The ability of women to hand sew was crucial to clothing the family and helping support the poor in their village.  This was a time before sewing machines and shopping malls, when it wasn’t so easy to buy what ever you needed.  Even when tailors and dressmakers were used, women’s work in many families provided the men’s shirts, children’s clothes, nightwear, towels, sheets and bedding.  

How long would she spend on “women’s work”?

A Regency woman either alone or in a work party could easily spend 4 to 5 hours a day working.  Jane and Cassandra Austen often made their brother’s shirts, even when they had left home, married and in Charles’ case, joined the navy.  Jane Austen was proud of her neat running stitch in making up her brother’s shirts!

 Was it all sewing shirts and making towels?

No, craft skills gave women a way to show their creative talents.  Much of the professional world, including art, was only really open to men.  But Regency women also loved arts and design. Craft skills allowed a woman to express her creativity and design abilities, whether that was in a handmade huswife or purse to be given as a gift or in painted pieces like the firescreens made by Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility.  

Why do you love Jane Austen? 

I think every time I read her novels my reasons for liking them change!  Her character portrayals are far better than most writers.  I think most of us today still recognise her characters in people we know – we’ve all known an ‘Emma Woodhouse’, a ‘Miss Bates’ or a ‘Fitzwilliam Darcy’.  She is actually quite funny and witty in a beautiful and clever way.  But at the same time I think she was an acute observer and sharp commentator on her times. 

What handiwork / craft do you do? 

I love trying out new crafts skills so I’ve experimented with a range of different things. What I keep coming back to though is screen printing (love combining paint and fabric), felting, sewing and embroidery.

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Thank you Jennifer for joining us today!  If anyone has any questions, please send a comment and I will get those answered for you.  I received the book in the mail yesterday and will be posting a review of it tomorrow – it is a wonderful compilation of history, Austen quotes, visual treats and, of course, the crafts!  The book is now available for ordering on amazon.co.uk ; there are several available copies from independent sellers on the US Amazon site, but is not actually available yet in the US.

Further reading:

Posted by Deb

Jane Austen’s Sewing Box

sewingAusten-lover and author Jennifer Forest sends information about her new book (due out in the UK July 6 and available for pre-order), Jane Austen’s Sewing Box (Murdoch Books; 224 pages; £14.99).

If you love handicrafts, this books contains 18 projects, which involve sewing skills, needleworking, netting, painting, paper craft and knitting! Forest has set the projects in their history and literary context, placing Regency-era handiwork alongside extracts from the novels; an explanation of why women made such items; full color photos; and step-by-step instructions.

“Yes, all of them [are accomplished women] I think. They all paint tables, cover screens and net purses.” — Charles Bingley

Jennifer describes the book:

The projects in Jane Austen’s Sewing Box are both objects of beauty and useful for our contemporary lives. Using a range of techniques and readily-available materials and tools, the projects are easily accessible for all skill levels and interests.

All projects are modelled on:

  • projects worked by Jane Austen’s characters
  • work of her circle, and noted in her letters
  • original objects from the Regency period

As a sewer-knitter-crocheter-needleworker, I can’t wait to see this book.

Look for information on Jennifer Forest, and Jane Austen’s Sewing Box, on her website. And stay tuned for a guest appearance by Jennifer on this blog…

[submitted by KM]