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Archive for the ‘Clothes’ Category

A Review by Brenda S. Cox

“I was all in a fright for fear your sister should ask us for the huswifes she had gave us a day or two before”—Anne Steele, Sense and Sensibility, chapter 38

Christmas Ideas

I just finished a fall design, perfect for November. It adorns a “housewife”  (or “huswife”) sewing organizer I’ll give as a Christmas gift. If, like me, you enjoy sewing gifts for people, Jane Austen Embroidery will give you great ideas and patterns. Or, if you want something for a Jane Austen fan, or for someone who enjoys sewing and embroidery, the book itself would be a great gift for them!

Jane Austen Embroidery

Jane Austen Embroidery: Regency Patterns Reimagined for Modern Stitchers, by Jennie Batchelor and Alison Larkin, is a gorgeous book. With glossy pages full of beautiful photos, it’s a delight to read. I have done cross-stitch for many years, and dabbled in other kinds of embroidery, so I enjoyed learning more about stitching in Austen’s England.

Jane Austen Embroidery by Jennie Batchelor and Alison Larkin gives fascinating views of embroidery in Austen’s life and times, and projects for modern stitchers based on patterns of Austen’s time.

The book begins with an introduction exploring “Embroidery in Jane Austen’s Britain.” We learn about Austen’s enjoyment of needlework (which was often just called “work,” in her novels and elsewhere). Some of her contemporaries, including Mary Wollstonecraft, complained that it was drudgery and meaningless work. However, Austen’s letters show that she enjoyed style and had fun fashioning trimmings and garments.

The Lady’s Magazine

The Lady’s Magazine (1770-1832) is the source for the designs in the book. The authors explore the magazine’s history. It covered politics, science, cosmetics, essays, travel writing, poetry, serialized novels, music, and much more. According to Jane Austen Embroidery, The Lady’s Magazine balanced “traditionally feminine and intellectual accomplishments,” encouraging women to take up “the pen, as well as the needle.” Austen did both!

Embroidery patterns in the magazine were usually removed for use. It took the authors five years to track down sixty issues which still had intact patterns.

Readers of the magazine used the patterns with their own choices of colors, sizes, materials, and applications. Jenny Batchelor and Alison Larkin have adapted the patterns to modern materials and uses. They give detailed instructions.

The Lady’s Magazine covered many topics, ranging from politics to cosmetics. It encouraged women to take up the pen as well as the needle. Embroidery patterns were supplied regularly. Lady’s Magazine, August, 1770, public domain via Wikipedia

Overview of Jane Austen Embroidery

Seventeen pages explain in clear detail your options for tools, fabrics, thread, transferring the patterns to fabric, framing, working the stitches, and finishing your projects. I read this all the way through; even experienced stitchers will find helpful ideas here.

Three main sections make up the book: “Embroidered Clothes: Dressed to Impress,” “Embroidered Accessories: How Do You Like My Trimming?”, and “Embroidery for the Home: A ‘Nest of Comforts.” Each begins with an extensive discussion of uses of embroidery in Austen’s England aas well as references in her novels and letters.  For example, the authors say that in Northanger Abbey, when Henry Tilney was telling Catherine what she might write in her journal, he was complimenting her in an indirect way. He said that she “appeared to much advantage” in her “sprigged muslin robe with blue trimmings.” Sprigs were flowers or sprays of flowers, hand embroidered or printed onto the fabric.

Sewing Projects

Each section offers five projects with detailed instructions. Projects are marked “Beginner,” “Intermediate,” and “Advanced.” I didn’t notice this until I had already bought the material for an “Advanced” project, but I decided to go with it anyway!

For Beginners, in the first section the book offers a “simple sprig pattern” of two flowers on a stem, and a beaded pencil case with a swirling design from a gown pattern. Intermediate stitchers might sew a sequined evening clutch purse, embroidered from a waistcoat pattern, or an apron with an intricate “fireflower” pattern. Advanced stitchers can try  a “housewife” sewing organizer decorated with an autumn pattern.

Later sections offer a napkin set, cell phone pouch, tablet sleeve, reticule or jewelry pouch, muslin shawl, tea box top, work bag, cushion, sewing set, and tablecloth. All are lovely.

The Regency-Style Reticule or Jewelry Pouch, embroidered and beaded in bronze and gold, would add a lovely accessory to any Regency gown. Jane Austen Embroidery

The book tended to go a little freely between Austen’s time and modern times, so I wasn’t always sure whether techniques, materials, and designs were modern or traditional. But I was usually able to figure it out. Also I would have liked a few more pictures of embroidered items of Austen’s time; these were discussed but few were shown. Though I suppose more pictures would have added to the expense of the book, and it’s not too difficult to find pictures online.

The projects that interest me most were items actually used in Austen’s time: the housewife, reticule, shawl, tea box top, work bag, and sewing set. But modern stitchers might enjoy making things they can use daily, like a cell phone pouch or a tablet sleeve. There are plenty of options!

“Workbags were essential items for every needlewoman in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries” (p. 126). This Beginner-level project is a “glittering gold and green work bag.” Jane Austen Embroidery

The Housewife (Huswife or Hussif)

To really try this book out, I decided to make the Harvest Housewife. A “housewife”—pronounced “hussif”—was “a folded, rolled purse-like object with internal compartments for carrying needles and needlework accessories” (66). It could also be used for carrying coins, letters, and other items. Miss Bates finds a letter under her housewife or huswif in Emma.

The housewife, huswife, or hussif was a sewing kit. Jane Austen made one for her sister-in-law and wrote a poem to go with it. This is the project in the book. Jane Austen Embroidery

We also know that Jane Austen made a housewife for her friend Mary Lloyd, which Jane’s nephew James-Edward Austen-Leigh described in his Memoir of Jane Austen.

He wrote:

“Her needlework both plain and ornamental was excellent, and might almost have put a sewing machine to shame. She was considered especially great in satin stitch. She spent much time in these occupations, and some of her merriest talk was over clothes which she and her companions were making, sometimes for themselves, and sometimes for the poor.

There still remains a curious specimen of her needlework made for a sister-in-law, my mother. In a very small bag is deposited a little rolled up housewife, furnished with minikin needles and fine thread. In the housewife is a tiny pocket, and in the pocket is enclosed a slip of paper, on which, written as with a crow quill, are these lines:  

‘This little bag, I hope, will prove

To be not vainly made;

For should you thread and needles want,

It will afford you aid.  

‘And, as we are about to part,

‘T will serve another end:

For, when you look upon this bag,

You’ll recollect your friend.’ 

“It is the kind of article that some benevolent fairy might be supposed to give as a reward to a diligent little girl. The whole is of flowered silk, and having been never used and carefully preserved, it is as fresh and bright as when it was first made seventy years ago; and shows that the same hand which painted so exquisitely with the pen could work as delicately with the needle.”

As far as I can find out, that housewife is no longer around; at least, I could not find pictures of it. The Jane Austen House Museum does have a little needle case, made of cardstock and felt, which Jane Austen made for her niece; that would be fun to try to recreate.

The Georgian Sewing Set includes a needle case, scissors case, and pincushion. The embroidery designs are from patterns for decorating shoes. Jane Austen Embroidery

My Project

The housewife was definitely an advanced project. Putting together all the pockets and attachments inside was complicated. I asked Alison for a photo of the finished product to help me out, which she cheerfully supplied (see my blog). In the end, however, I made my own modifications to it, so it would hold cross-stich supplies. That was fun and worked well.

The samples in the book are beautifully hand-sewn with silk fabric and threads. However, my money and time are limited, so I decided to use cheaper fabric, DMC thread, and a sewing machine. I spent less than $20. The book lists substitute colors for those who want to use DMC or Anchor thread instead of silks.

I was very pleased with the results. For details, see my post on my blog. My experience shows that you do not need to be an expert stitcher, or spend a lot of money, to make beautiful projects with this book.

My “housewife,” made with inexpensive materials, opened out. See my blog for more detail.

Next I may make an easier project, for myself.

Check this book out if you love sewing and love Jane Austen. Or, give it to your friends who do.

Happy sewing!

 

Jane Austen Embroidery by Jennie Batchelor and Alison Larkin is published by Dover Publications in the US and Canada, and by Pavilion Books in the UK.

Photographs from the book are by Penny Wincer; used by permission.

You can find Jennie’s fascinating talk on “Crafting with Jane Austen” at Jane Austen & Co. (Go down to the Staying Home with Jane Austen series, then click through the videos listed horizontally below that until you get to “Crafting with Jane Austen.”)

Jennie Batchelor’s website also links to other talks she has given.

Alison Larkin’s website includes blog posts on Georgian embroidery and lovely images

See also my post on Making a Housewife Sewing Organizer.

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Regency women went to great lengths to achieve an effortless, romantic look with long, flowing lines to their dresses and hairstyles. Even their dresses, which appeared to have little underneath, had several layers hidden below the surface. As with everything, nothing in the Regency era is quite as simple as it seems.

And behind the scenes of every genteel woman’s daily beauty regime were servants who made it all possible. Without today’s modern household appliances, a whole team of people were required to make a household run smoothly. There were servants who laundered, mended, ironed, and polished. Maids who buckled, tied, boosted, and smoothed; carried clean, hot water for bathing; and emptied bathtubs and chamber pots. Men and women cleaned, cooked, served, polished, and dusted. All so that life could go on smoothly and seamlessly.

Women in Jane Austen’s world were expected to be many things, especially when it came to their personal appearance, but what went on behind the scenes to make these women appear so effortless and graceful?

Evening dresses, fronticepiece, The Mirror of Graces,, 1811
Evening dresses

[Mr. Bingley] came, and in such very good time that the ladies were none of them dressed. In ran Mrs. Bennet to her daughter’s room, in her dressing gown, and with her hair half finished, crying out:

“My dear Jane, make haste and hurry down. He is come—Mr. Bingley is come. He is, indeed. Make haste, make haste. Here, Sarah, come to Miss Bennet this moment, and help her on with her gown. Never mind Miss Lizzy’s hair.”

“We will be down as soon as we can,” said Jane; “but I dare say Kitty is forwarder than either of us, for she went up stairs half an hour ago.”

Oh! hang Kitty! what has she to do with it? Come be quick, be quick! Where is your sash, my dear?”

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

It took time to achieve the polished look of a Jane Austen heroine; thus, I’ve also included additional links for each of the topics below for those who want to delve deeper. Let’s look behind the scenes:

Bathing

Cleanliness then wasn’t quite what it is today. Bathing only became common during the 18th century in wealthy households. In Jane Austen’s time, baths were taken once a week (more or less depending on the season) with sponge baths in between. This was usually done by sponging off with a pitcher of water and a little basin on the bedroom dresser. To bathe, people sat in a larger tub or stood in a smallish tub on the floor and washed with a pitcher of water. (The Family, Sex & Marriage in England 1500-1800 by Laurence Stone)

A portable bath shower from the mid 19th c.

Affordable soaps of the time were soft and more caustic than the soaps, lathers, and body washes we enjoy today. Firm, refined bar soaps were scented and more costly (and therefore less frequently used). As for a woman’s hair, the same soap used for the body was also used for the hair, and the hair was washed far less often than today.

Oral Health

As for dental health, tooth brushes and tooth powder were used. In Sense and Sensibility, we read this: “He was giving orders for a toothpick-case for himself, and till its size, shape, and ornaments were determined, all of which, after examining and debating for a quarter of an hour over every toothpick-case in the shop, were finally arranged by his own inventive fancy…”

Toothpick Case, National Maritime Museum, 1806

From Austen’s own letters, we know that dentistry in her time was a grisly business:

The poor girls and their teeth! I have not mentioned them yet, but we were a whole hour at Spence’s, and Lizzy’s were filed and lamented over again, and poor Marianne had two taken out after all, the two just beyond the eye teeth, to make room for those in front. When her doom was fixed, Fanny, Lizzy, and I walked into the next room, where we heard each of the two sharp and hasty screams.

The little girls’ teeth I can suppose in a critical state, but I think he must be a lover of teeth and money and mischief, to parade about Fanny’s. I would not have had him look at mine for a shilling a tooth and double it. It was a disagreeable hour.

Jane Austen’s Letters, Henrietta St., 15 Sept. 1813

The advent of modern dentistry, and the use of anesthetics, wouldn’t come until long after Austen’s lifetime. I, for one, feel much more enthusiastic about my next dental cleaning after this. For more on the topic of Regency dentistry, you can read this JAW article on Dental Hygiene in the Regency Period.

Dressing and Undergarments

For the latest fashions, women often shared patterns and new fashions. Those who had lately traveled to London or even Bath brought back descriptions, clippings, and patterns to share with their friends and family member. In Pride and Prejudice, we read this about Mrs. Gardiner’s visit: “The first part of Mrs. Gardiner’s business on her arrival, was to distribute her presents and describe the newest fashions.”

Underdrawers belonging to the Duchess of Kent, 1810-1820

As fashions evolved, so did women’s undergarments. Under their slim, empire-waisted Regency dresses made of thinner material than previous years, women wore a shift, stays, a waist petticoat, stockings, and more. With so much to lace up and buckle, women needed help getting dressed. On the topic of stays, we know that Jane wrote this to Cassandra:

I learnt from Mrs Tickar’s young Lady, to my high amusement, that the stays now are not made to force the Bosom up at all; that was a very unbecoming, unnatural fashion.

Jane Austen’s Letters, September 1813

However, women did not yet wear “underwear,” drawers, or pantaloons. Drawers were considered immodest and improper, something only men wore, until the early to mid 1800s. Slowly they caught on, and by the mid-1800s they were a matter of course when hoop skirts became popular. You can find more here: Ladies Underdrawers in Regency Times: Regency Underwear.

Cosmetics

In terms of cosmetics, a more natural Romantic look took hold during Austen’s life, in large part aided by the blockade during the Napoleonic Wars. Ladies were still, nevertheless, never too far from their rouge pot (Beauty and Cosmetics, 1550-1950 by Sarah Jane Downing). Regardless of one’s complexion or skin tone, a rosy glow was part of achieving that healthy romantic look.

As for covering up body odor, deodorant was not yet used, while the perfumes of the time tended toward sweet, musky scents. To find out more about cosmetics and how they were made (many times out of materials we now know are dangerous), you can read this article: A Deadly Fashion: Beauty and Cosmetics 1550-1950 – A Review.

Hair

During Jane Austen’s lifetime, hairstyles for women became more natural and graceful. This meant instead of powder, wigs, and elaborate updos, the natural hair color became popular again. Women wore their hair swept up into simple twists, buns, and chignons with locks of hair curled around their faces. Curling tongs and curling papers and cloths were used to create this effect.

The fashions and hairstyles all came from the Greco Roman styling that became popular during Austen’s day. You can read more here: Greco Roman Influences on Women’s Hairstyles During the Georgian Era.

Combs used as hair accessories

With the bonnets and caps used at the time, curls were used to frame the face. For evening and dinner parties, accessories such as combs and ribbons were used. Often a maid helped fix a lady’s hair each morning and before an evening dinner or party. What might look like a very natural hairstyle could take quite a bit of time to perfect beforehand. For more, you can read about Regency Hairstyles and their Accessories. Additionally, you can view Vic’s stunning Pictorial History of Regency Hairstyles.

A Look Behind the Scenes

The world of a genteel Regency woman was complex and nuanced. Next month, I’ll discuss “Privy” Matters: Regency Feminine Hygiene, Bodily Functions, and Childbirth. We’ll take an even closer, behind-the-scenes look at a genteel woman’s private life in Jane Austen’s time. All to help us understand the real-life world of carriage rides, balls, dinners, and courtship that we so enjoy in Austen’s novels.

As much as I love dressing up for a Jane Austen event, all of this information reminds me, as ever, that as romantic as everything looks in a Jane Austen film, life for women of her time was anything but simple—even for those who were part of the landed gentry.

When I’ve dressed for the ball given at past JASNA AGMs, my outer layer tends to be the most historically accurate. I’ve yet to invest in undergarments, and I usually “make do” with my own homemade hair accessories, jewelry, and ballet flats. One day, I’d like to invest in a bonnet. As one wise woman once told me at an AGM, “It takes years to build your Regency wardrobe – just take it one piece at a time.” Do you own any Regency clothing? If so, what do you enjoy wearing most? -Rachel


RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog and Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine. She is the bestselling author of The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Her newest book The Little Women Devotional is now available for pre-order and releases December 2021. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

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For a few years I have been collecting images of beautiful hand-crafted 18th century buttons on my Pinterest board: Buttons, Georgian Style. The buttons, as you can see from the collection, are tiny works of art. Some feature scenes or portraits, others are embroidered or worked metal.

Buttons from the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Buttons from the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Button with shank

Button with shank

The history of buttons is fascinating. The earliest discovered button was made 5,000 years ago from a curved shell. It served a decorative function and fit into a loop, such as for a heavy robe or flowing garments. By the middle ages, the wealthy began to wear buttons that helped to fit their clothes more tightly around the body. Unlike today’s buttons, many of which are punctured with holes, most buttons back then were made with shanks, which gave button-makers leeway to decorate button faces with artistry and imagination.

Buttons for men's coats

Buttons for men’s coats

The first button-makers guild was formed in France in 1250. Only the very wealthy – kings and nobility – could wear buttons then. They were such a valuable commodity that one could pay off a debt with a single button. Ladies could detach their sleeves with laces or bows or buttons. These sleeves could be washed separately from their garments, exchanged with other outfits, or even given to a lover as a token. During the Renaissance, luxurious buttons indicated social status. King Francis I ordered buttons from his jeweler; Henry VII met his future wife, Anne of Cleves, wearing bejeweled buttons.

more buttons

As an aside, ladies wore their buttons on the left to make it easier for their maids to dress them. Men usually dressed themselves and thus their buttons were placed on the right. Button decoration, of course, changed with the taste of the time, from the renaissance to the baroque, to rococo, and neoclassic. By the mid-18th century, the more prosperous middle class merchants advertised their new status wearing elaborate and expensive buttons.

Steel Buttons

In a period when ladies were piling towers of greased and powdered hair on their heads, men were adorning themselves with immense cut steel buttons and shoe buckles. One exquisite thus decorated gives a lady a Coup de Bouton which has the same effect as a mild sunstroke Plate XXVI, Social Caricature in the Eighteenth Century, George Paston, 1902, Google eBook

The variety of buttons made in the 18th century was staggering. They were crafted with ceramics, enamel, fabric, metal, repoussé or hammered metal, horn, bone, tortoise, gemstone, glass, ivory, papier mache, wood, iridescent white oyster, conch,  and materials under glass, such as fabric paint, feathers, paper collage or decoupage, etc. Dandies in the Georgian era resembled colorful peacocks, dazzling onlookers, as the caricature above points out. Beau Brummel’s influence on male fashion subdued such bright fripperies.

buttons met museum2

Buttons also took on many forms, like those that were hollowed-out for smugglers to carry contraband for transporting jewels .The poor fashioned their own buttons from bone, horns, shell, or wood. Dorset buttons, which resembled tiny wheels, were made by binding linen yarn or cheap woolen yarn over a disc.

dorset_button

Dorset button image from the Dorset Guide. Dorset Guide.

There was quite a cottage industry for Dorset buttons at this time. Work was scarce in that region in the mid-18th century, but there were some women who made buttons from home. This was a primary industry in Dorset for over a century. Women workers, often the sole breadwinners of the family, averaged 2 shillings a day for making 6 or 7 dozen buttons, which provided more preferable conditions for making money than laboring on a farm. Tracey Chevalier wrote a novel, Burning Bright, which was about Philip Astley and his amphitheatre. In it she featured a girl from Dorset who made buttons for a living – fascinating.

Interestingly, these beautiful buttons on my Pinterest page were worn by males. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that women’s clothes began to feature buttons again. During the Georgian and Regency periods women’s clothes were pulled together and kept in place by laces, pins, sashes, and bows.

Links:

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Estimating lace and muslin: dress and fashion in Jane Austen and her world, by Jeffrey A. Nigro is a fabulous article about fashion in Jane’s day. This conference paper was published in Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal in 2001. Some of Mr. Nigro’s observations include:

Convenience was another reason for the increasing simplicity in dress beginning in the 1780s. Dry cleaning was not invented until the middle of the nineteenth century, and did not become commonplace until the twentieth. In Austen’s time, a silk dress that got dirty was essentially ruined. The fabrics that started to become fashionable from the 1780s onward (muslin and other cotton fabrics, linen, lawn) were much easier to care for, which was part of their appeal. Nevertheless, given the absence of modern appliances, the care and maintenance of clothing still meant much work for the servants in upper- and middle-class households.

Outerwear garments included the spencer, a long-sleeved jacket that extended only to the raised waistline. Worn by both men and women, it was named for the 2nd Earl Spencer, who, according to one version of the story, cut off the coattails of his jacket after wagering that he could invent a new fashion. For colder weather, there was the pelisse, a skirt-length overcoat, often lined and trimmed with fur, which originated in Hungary as a part of military dress. Bonnets became fashionable, essentially smaller versions of the straw hats of the 1780s, but now pulled in to frame the face. Bonnets, like shawls, would become staples of feminine dress until at least the middle of the nineteenth century.

Click here for more links about fashion:

* Jane Austen Pellise coat

* A Quilted Regency Spencer Jacket

* The Spencer Jacket

* The Importance of Wearing White, Jane Austen Centre Magazine

* Kyoto Costume Institute

* Bonnets, Caps, Turbans, and Hats

Images:

Muslin dress, Vintage Textile (top)
Jane Austen’s Pellisse Coat (middle)
Kyoto Costume Institute, Spencer Jacket (bottom)

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    In “To Cut a Regency Coat”, Suzi Clarke, a British costumer, goes into great detail on how to make this man’s Regency garment.

    The basic man’s coat for the first twenty-five years of the 19th century changed very little. It was cut to fit very firmly across the shoulders, with a shoulder seam that sloped into the back armscye. There was a center back seam, and the side seams curved toward the center back from the same armscye, narrowing in towards the waist. The center back continued on into the skirt, although occasionally there was a waist seam. The two front skirts were cut in one piece with the body, usually with a “fish” or dart at waist level early in the century.

    All these coats were beautifully cut and sewn together, the stitching being very neat and small. English tailoring at this time was the envy of the fashionable world, and these coats were of the time of the famous George “Beau” Brummell. The top coat belonged to a banker, Mr. Coutts, and was made by the famous tailor, “Weston” of Savile Row, mentioned in Georgette Heyer, and possibly Jane Austen. It was lodged at Coutts Bank, together with other items of clothing, in 1805, and donated to the Museum of London many years later.

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