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.


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 ; 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

Calling All Janeites & Crafters

Two “pleas” from the Vermont Chapter of JASNA:

  • A request from a member (or members) of our chapter to serve in the capacity of Refreshments Coordinator for the September 27th meeting here in Burlington. Lynne, who has served in that capacity for the past year-plus (thank you Lynne!), is resigning the post.
    Please contact Kelly and Deb.

lizzy not for sale

  • A request to crafters in and around the State of Vermont who may be interested in selling items at an Austen Boutique at the 6 December meetings. We would request that a small portion of your sales proceeds benefit the JASNA-Vermont chapter. English-inspired, Austen-inspired, Regency-inspired… — merchandise project ideas are limitless! Please contact Deb and Kelly with your product ideas, or to request more information.

Found! ~ the new Regency Researcher Site

nancy-mayer-pageI may be late to the table, but just discovered this morning a new Regency site:  Nancy Mayer ~ Regency Researcher.  Nancy is gradually putting all her many-years worth of Regency and Jane Austen expertise onto her website, and we will be the grateful benefactors of her knowledge.  There is an excellent bibliography, a series of links, and the option to ask her any question you might have on the period.

    Here is the Subject Index:

Dance & Music
Law NEW!
Parliament & Politics
Period Publications
Peers & Peerage
Regency Fashion
Titles & Names

And remember to check back often as she continues to add information.


Thank you Nancy, for this lovely new addition to the online Regency world! [and a thank you to Susanna Ives for hosting Nancy on her website:  Susanna Ives ~ Regency Romance Writer!]

Another Austen Web Round-Up ….. there is no keeping up!

Some interesting items this week to pass on:

*JASNA-New York Region has published its Fall 2008 newsletter online with much on the Austen-Byron Conference, the news that New York City will host the 2012 AGM, and other chapter happenings.

*The Rethinking Jane Austen blog has a post on Austenmania, the blog author’s efforts to find the strangest item “boasting Jane Austen’s image”….. there are a few good ones out there!

*Jane Austen’s World has posted Ellen Moody’s take on the Mansfield Park 2007 movie.  See also Austenprose’s ongoing MP discussion.

*The and a blogger’s review of Cassandra and Jane by Jill Pitkeathley.

*A blog on vintage fashion, ZipZip’s Vintage Clothing, offers “thoughts about vintage and period sewing patterns, lists of links to worthwhile online vintage sewing resources, comments on sewing with treadle sewing machines.”

*Click here for the Sunday Herald (Scotland) interview with Keira Knightley on playing the Duchess of Devonshire

*A resource on Regency Information has been compiled by the Favors and Fortunes blog: there are some great links here, including references to a map of London for 1827, card games, cost of living values, a slang dicitonary, and many others.  But NOTHING compares to the links to Regency Social Life and Customs than those compiled by Ms. Place at Jane Austen’s World… if you have an extra 24 hour day sometime in this long upcoming winter, take a look at this grand resource!

*And more on ITV’s Lost in Austen show at Austenblog, with numerous comments, as well as the show’s fansite filled with all sorts of information on this Pride & Prejudice in space!

And just added: The Musee McCord Museum in Montreal has posted an interactive game on 19th century women’s fashion.  Click here for the game and instructions.  There are also other interactive games on 19th century high fashion (for beginner and expert), interior decoration, and games and toys:  click here for the Museum’s website and list of games.

This Week’s Web Round-up….Part 2

So here is another Round-up this week, largely because I discovered a few tidbits sitting in a draft that I forgot to put in my last “round-up” post…so while this is mostly old news, it is still perhaps good enough news to pass on…

  • This is for THIS WEEKEND, so head over there if you can!:  A reminder about the Jane Austen Weekends at the Governor’s House in Hyde Park, Vermont.  For more information, go to the website… the first scheduled weekend is August 15-17 (but there are others if you missed out on this one!)
  •  Obama as Darcy??   see the New York Times article by Maureen Dowd “Mr. Darcy Comes Courting” comparing Obama to our Mr. Darcy… please bring your sense of humor! (the Austen discussion boards are filled with chatter about this!)…and now this is such old news, I am embarrassed!
  • Send an Austen e-card to your favorite Janeite!  see the cards at the Austenfans site:  (as reported on Jane Austen Today blog
  • Throwdown poll at Jane Austen Today blog (you must go there to understand it!)
  • There is a Pride & Prejudice quiz at, so test your knowledge! 
  • And this is likely VERY old news, but I just discovered Mrs. Darcy’s Story, so take a look at what this fanfiction site offers….  
  • Read Ms. Place’s review  along with Ellen Moody’s analysis of the 1971 film adaptation of Sense & Sensibilty.
  • And more news on the ITV show Lost in Austen, billed as Jane Austen Meets Life on Mars…
  • And I have certainly noticed this, but the Central New Jersey JASNA Chapter has posted how journalists are crazy for the phrase “it is a truth universally acknowledged…” to apply to any number of thoughts…little did Austen know that “it [would] be a truth universally acknowledged that the new two-door Ford Capri is a dream to handle.”  See the full article at the Telegraph.UK site.

And now for some current news items:

  • Read about Stoneleigh Abbey…the house that inspired Austen…. from the Leamington Spa Courier.
  • If you are in the market for buying real estate in the U.K., the Pynes, widely considered the model for Barton Park in Sense & Sensibility, is on the market for £2.5 million.
  • Ms. Place at Jane Austen’s World has another fashion-filled post on The Regency Gentleman’s Neckwear.
  • At Australian Women Online, August is Jane Austen Month:  you can purchase various books and DVDs of Austen movies from their ABC Shop (there is a nice write-up of the products, but you will need an Australian DVD player to view the movies….)
  • Pride & Prejudice is offered as an ebook at Project Gutenburg (available in MP3, iTunes, Ogg Vorbis and Speex formats). Northanger Abbey, Emma, Sense & Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Persuasion, Love & Freindship, and Lady Susan are also downloadable audiobooks.
  •  John Kessel’s “Pride and Prometheus”is available online as a podcast…..”Miss Mary Bennett, the bookish younger sister of Elizabeth Darcy…” (Originally published in 2008 in Fantasy and Science Fiction)
  •  Graeme Blundell of The Australian writes of his “pride in overcoming his prejudice against bonnet dramas”…he reviews Cranford and other costume-laden television productions in “The Eyes Have It.”
  • Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers is now available for download at  The book was written by J.H. and Edith Hubback and first published in 1906.

And please visit Austenprose every day for the next two weeks for the “Mansfield Park Madness” journey of Laurel Ann….post a comment and become eligible for all sorts of giveaways and learn to love Fanny in the process!

Web Round-up…all things Austen

So here is another week’s worth of tidbits on Jane….[and this is only a smattering!]

  • An article by Gary Dexter in The Telegraph  U.K. tells how the title Pride & Prejudice originated in Fanny Burney’s Cecelia.
  • On the JASNA site, a real treat is Diana Birchall’s In Defense of Mrs. Elton , now online and as originally published by the 1999 AGM with Janet McMaster’s illustrations, with a new introduction dated August 2008 by the author.
  • Be sure to visit Laurel Ann’s Austenprose for her Mansfield Park Madness events over the next two weeks (starts August 15)…there will be contests and free book giveaways, and there is always the hope that you might change your view about Fanny…
  • There’s an indie pop group called Pemberley, but Austen is nowhere in sight… 
  • Ms. Place pens a delicious post on Hot Chocolate, 18 – 19th Century Style on her Jane Austen’s World Blog
  • Dame Boudicca names Elizabeth Bennet the “Pop Culture Woman of the Week” 
  • At, see the article on the Regency Gentlewoman  of Jane Austen’s time.
  • And on another fashion note, here is blog devoted solely to BUTTONS: see the postings on the types of buttons and the history of the button  at Petronella Luiting’s Buttons & Fabrics Blog.
  • If you cannot visit the Geffrye Museum   in London, trek over to its website where you can view the museum collection “Life in the Living Room from 1600-2000”  It shows the changing style of the English domestic interior in a series of period rooms from 1600 to the present day.  There are also several virtual tours… great fun…
  • And Jane makes another list…this time as one of the Top Ten Literary Virgins at John Sutherland’s book blog at the
  • Author Kate Atkinson (her Behind the Scenes at the Museum is one of my favorite books) reveals in an interview in the Times-Online that her next book will be about Jane Austen and will be titled “What Would Jane Do?”…can’t wait!
  • At Paper Menagerie, the Jane Austen Notebooks are available again…. check them out…

 The August newsletter from the Jane Austen Centre in Bath has two articles on hunting during the Regency Period: Sport Hunting in Regency England, and In the Pink: Dressing for the Fox Hunt.

  • and the Burnley & Trowbridge Co. of Williamsburg, VA is offering three fall workshops in 18th century fashion:  The Lady’s Stay (Sept 6-7); An 18th century Gown of the Last Quarter (Nov 14-16); and Ladies’ Riding Habits (Jan. 31- Feb 1, 2009)