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To Whiten Silk Stockings, Blacking for Shoes

I like the stockings also very much, and greatly prefer having two pair only of that quality to three of an inferior sort.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
October 26, 1800

Caring for her own clothes would not have been the concern of a wealthy woman such as Eliza de Feuillide, who had her own maid, but for a poor relation like Jane Austen, it was a time consuming task. Not the actual washing, necessarily, but certainly the details pertaining to it. While visiting Henry and Eliza in Hans Place, Jane felt it much cheaper and easier to send her clothes home to Chawton for washing, than to bother the staff with such details. Her letter to Cassandra on November 26, 1815, perfectly describes her situation:

The parcel arrived safely, and I am much obliged to you for your trouble. It cost 2s. 10d., but, as there is a certain saving of 2s. 4 1/2d. on the other side, I am sure it is well worth doing. I send four pair of silk stockings, but I do not want them washed at present. In the three neck-handkerchiefs I include the one sent down before. These things, perhaps, Edwd. may be able to bring, but even if he is not, I am extremely pleased with his returning to you from Steventon. It is much better; far preferable.

Silk stockings were expensive, and while cotton or wool stockings would suffice for everyday, only the finest would do for special occaions and balls. Perhaps one of these pairs of silk stockings was worn for her visit to Carlton House on November 13th of the same month. We will never know, as no account remains of her time spent there.

What we do know is that Jane preferred quality garments and at such a price (in 1813, she reports that Fanny is very much pleased with the stockings she has bought of Remmington, silk at 12s., cotton at 4s. 3d. She thinks them great bargains…) she dared not trust them to the care of a washer woman, choosing to launder them herself. The stockings Jane Austen purchased would have been crafted in homes across England by hand knitters or those using a stocking frame (see illustration). Frame knitters were the “professionals” in the business and could turn out 10 pair a week. Hand knitters averaged only 6 pair of stockings per week. This cottage industry system had been in place for hundreds of years but would soon be made obsolete by the large factories which were built in the mid 1800’s.

Care for Regency Accessories

The following recipe, from Martha Lloyd’s Household book may have been used by the Austen ladies.

To Whiten Silk Stockings
When they are washed take a table or stool, turn it bottom upwards, then make it close with a sheet and pin the stockings round the inside. Take a chaffing dish with charcoal. Break some brimstone and strew over it, then cover it close and it will turn them white.

Another task normally taken on by household servants was that of polishing the shoes. Whether or not the Austens performed this chore as well, is unknown, but as primary housekeeper, Martha also kept this recipe for shoe blacking.

Black for Shoes
One ounce of Gum Dragon dissolved in a quart of small beerwort: add three ozs of Ivory black, mix it well together, putin a dram of Brandy and it is fit for use.

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