Jane Austen and Sewing . . . and a Poll

As much as I would love to be one of those “method” writers, who experiences the world she writes about in a hands-on way, I have to confess that for the most part, I am not.  Someday, maybe, but for now homeschooling three small children doesn’t lend itself easily to either travel or slipping into any version of the Regency world.  I do loads of research every time I write a book, of course.  Loads and loads.  But I have never worn a corset.  Only in my imagination have I dressed up to attend a ball.  I’ve never danced a reel.  But there is one area of Regency life at least that I have experienced for myself: needlework and sewing.

Sewing was an almost constant female occupation in Jane Austen’s time, and sewing an important accomplishment for a young girl to master.  Girls were expected to complete an embroidery sampler before finishing their education.  And of course, as well as embroidery and fancy work, women also worked at the domestic sewing of making and mending clothes, household linens, etc, since clothes were not yet available to be bought ready made.  Of course, seamstresses could be hired to make clothes for you; in one of her letters, Jane Austen mentions a Miss Burton who would make a pelisse for the fee of 8 shillings.  But even so, most women knew how to alter and re-make their own clothes to keep up with the current fashion trends.

Interestingly, “plain” sewing, which meant mending or sewing clothes, etc. was considered a task only to be done in a more private setting, when immediate family members were present.  “Fancy” sewing– decorative embroidery and such– could be worked on in more formal, company settings.

In Pride and Prejudice, there is a hint that Elizabeth may not enjoy sewing particularly.  When Darcy arrives unexpectedly at the Hunsford Parsonage, she, “sat down again at her work, with an eagerness which it did not often command.”  (Work here means needlework; the word was often used in that sense).  However, Jane Austen herself seems to have enjoyed sewing.  In one of her letters she reports, “I was the neatest worker of the party,” speaking about a gathering of friends all working and sewing.  Jane made a needle book for one of her nieces who was just learning to sew.  It’s on display at Chawton Cottage, but you can see pictures here.  And  if you go here, you can see pictures of a quilt believed to have been made by Jane Austen, her mother, and her sister sometime around 1811.

I agree with Jane Austen; I love to sew.  I’m not an expert at all, not by any stretch of the imagination.  But I have embroidered many samplers.  I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a fun and relaxing hobby to do while watching Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy for the millionth time, etc.  Here’s a not-very-high-quality picture of my favorite that I stitched several years ago:


And now that I have children, I do a lot of my sewing for them.  Which leads me to the ‘poll’ component of this post.  My soon-to-be 6 year old requested a mermaid-themed birthday party this year– and so of course I immediately felt compelled to sew her a mermaid doll.  But since I’m a bit of a compulsive crafter and I love trying out new patterns and designs, I couldn’t bring myself to stop with just one mermaid doll.  So far, I’ve made three.  And I can’t decide which one to give her!

(Of course I could ask her which one she most likes, but that would spoil the surprise, and besides I suspect like most 6 year olds her answer would be ‘all of them’ if I asked which one she’d like for her own. Also, be assured that whichever I don’t choose will still be put to good use; I also love to send dolls to charities that distribute dolls to children in need.)

At any rate, I’d love some advice/opinions.  Which of these would make an almost-six-year old girl most happy?

Option One:



Option Two:



Or Option Three:



What do you think?  Do you have a favorite hobby to turn to while relaxing with Colin Firth?  Or do you have another favorite way of experience just a small taste of Jane Austen’s world?  

29 Responses to Jane Austen and Sewing . . . and a Poll

  1. I love the first option but I am 29! I still think it is the best out of the three! 🙂
    I am a disaster at hand crafting. My mother-in-law does cross stitch and it is lovely.
    I think your daughter will love any of them but I prefer number 1 🙂

    • Thank you! I’m not naturally good at handcrafting at all– you should see my first attempt at a doll from years ago! I’m just stubborn enough to keep at something even when all signs are saying I shouldn’t, I guess. 😉

  2. I do not have the hands for sewing. I do knit. Never enjoyed sewing in school. I am going to try to make Christmas stockings I ordered years ago from Marie Osmond’s crafts. All the dolls are beautiful but I would take #3.

    • My mother knits beautifully, but I never took to it. I can crochet, but two needles is too complicated for me, lol. Good luck with the Christmas stockings and thanks for being the sole supporter of doll number 3! 🙂

  3. I learned to crochet as a child but I also enjoy sewing curtains, and I have made some doll clothes. I have to make the time to persue these crafts. I like doll #2,but they all are cute!

    • I love to crochet, too! It’s so often hard to find the time for crafting, but so good for the spirit to create.

  4. Love the sampler. The dolls are adorable. Would pick#1. I intend to try to learn to sew and improve my knitting. I have a few children’s books tha tteach al the crafts. Might as well start small.

    • Thanks, Marilyn! Children’s books can be a terrific way to learn. I started out with a couple of vintage books on crafting for girls.

  5. How fun is that! Mermaids! I love the second one but they are all adorable. I wish I could sew but I do not have the patience. 🙂

    • Thank you, Brenda! And you never know– I never thought I’d be a sewing kind of person, either. I joke that it’s all thanks to my husband’s school degrees. I had to learn crafting to keep myself company on all the many many nights he was studying. 😉

  6. I believe that second option would appeal due to the silvery fins. I do many types of needlework: crewel, counted cross stitch, embroidery, smocked dresses, birth samplers, felt Christmas stockings with sequins, clothes, Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls for my kids and the nieces and nephews, etc. But I am not an author.

    My sister-in-law makes quilts and we live close enough to the Amish community here in PA to have opportunities to see their beautiful quilts. They sell for lots of money.

    I used to garden but arthritis in my knees took that away. I have made hundreds of the Polish Star (look it up on the Internet) and sold 50 to raise money for Turning Point, which works to protect abused women.

    • Wow, Sheila, you would count as a very accomplished lady by Regency standards– as well as ours! 🙂 I used to live close to Amish country, too– we would drive out to a wonderful Amish dairy farm and buy all our milk, cheeses etc. direct from them. My mother-in-law (also from PA) makes those stars, too! I think they’re also called Moravian Stars?

  7. I actually wrote a novelette called Lady Anne’s Quilt (not-published) which was inspired by JA’s quilt that you mention above. I corresponded with a volunteer at the JA House Museum with a woman named Sue Dell who will be giving a lecture at the JASNA conference on the quilt in 2016. I have oodles of information for a fun blog post if I ever get it together. Meanwhile, if anyone is interested, there is a wonderful book available by Linda Franz in Canada called “Jane Austen Patchwork Mystery.”

    • You must write up a blog post! That would be fascinating. And publish your novelette, too, it sounds like such a good idea. Thank you for the book recommendation, too!

      • Ah yes, the blog! I have yet to create one with the exception of what I post in the Ballroom at D&L. LOL. Can’t decide which one to use, not to mention I’m really slow when it comes to technology. I’ve tried on Blogger, Wix and WordPress but get bogged, not blogged down in the process. Thanks for the encouragement. Jen

        • Oh I do sympathize. I’m very lucky in that my husband handles all that technical stuff for me, otherwise I’d never manage! But do keep going if you can, it sounds like you have so much to share!

  8. I will be no help – I like the hair of the first one, but the body of the third one.
    The only sewing I do is to fix things. Although, I do feel very accomplished when I’ve done so successfully!

    • Ginna, I’m always mix and matching hair/body ideas, so that is helpful! I’m not at all good at mending things, so definitely hats off to you– your feeling of accomplishment is well deserved!

  9. The doll’s are adorable, but I’m with Maureen, #2. I used to do needle work quite a bit when I was younger and the eyes were better, now I garden.

Your thoughts are precious!