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A Journey into the Past with Jane Austen

“All young ladies accomplished!…They all paint tables, cover skreens, and net purses.”

Pride and Prejudice


Jennifer Forest, author of the bestselling book, Jane Austen’s Sewing Box recently spent some time telling me how she first

discovered Jane Austen, and how her enthusiasm for Austen’s work developed into her newest


As the school curriculum focused on 20th century novelists with the occasional visit to

Thomas Hardy and Shakespeare, I discovered Jane Austen myself. My favorite novels at first

were Persuasion and Mansfield Park. These may be strange choices to many

Austen fans but to a younger reader as I was then, the historical references and the

complexity of the dilemmas Anne Elliot and Fanny Price faced fascinated me. However, as time

progresses, my favorite novel often changes – it partly depends on which one I’ve just re-


Having conducted a fair amount of contextual research into the era, and gained a fuller

appreciation of the background in which she was working, I now find I don’t really have a

favorite Jane Austen novel anymore; I can appreciate each for its own merits. Her parody of

the gothic novels of her era in Northanger Abbey is actually wildly funny once you

appreciate the kind of novel she was poking fun at. An understanding of the “rules of

society” also make Pride and Prejudice an audacious commentary on marriage and money,

not to mention just how rude she makes Elizabeth Bennet’s family members!

I often get asked where the idea for Jane Austen’s Sewing Box originated, so let me

give you a bit of background. I hold university qualifications in history, education and

curatorship. I’ve worked in the education and curatorial areas in museums and have taught

people from 8 to 60 years in a range of environments. In my leisure time, I’ve also tried my

hand at many crafts but return to my favorites of embroidery, sewing, screen printing and

felting. I think I have a design inclination to historical and vintage inspired designs. Many

of the modern colours and designs I grew up with just can not compete against the beauty of

many historical designs.

A few years back when I was re-reading the novels, I became curious about Jane Austen’s

references to different craft skills. Just what is knotting and netting? Having worked with

collections in different types of museums, I knew that there would be original Regency era

objects catalogued in museums around the world which would answer these questions. My hobby

and my professional background fused as I started using my historian’s training to find a

netted purse or a piece of knotting.

Its common for some types of historians to use paintings to tell us about the past. So I thought the works of Jane Austen – as one of the great writers of the past and present – were also an excellent basis and guide to explore the craft skills of that era. There are other creative craft skills of the Georgian era but every historian needs some kind of parameters within which to work, so I explored only the craft skills Jane Austen mentions in her novels.

Jane Austen’s Sewing Box celebrates the plain and fancy work skills of the late Georgian era with sewing, embroidery, knitting and paper projects. Each project includes quotes from Jane Austen’s novels, historical notes, photographs and instructions for making your own projects. The book can be purchased in book stores and online from our online giftshop.

These are my homes on the web and do feel free to send me an email, its always nice to chat with a fellow Jane Austen fan and historical craft enthusiast.


Jennifer Forest is the author of the best selling book, Jane Austen’s Sewing Box. Inspired by the arts and crafts in Jane Austen’s novels, she joined history and craft together in a new way – using research into these Regency craft skills to create beautiful and useful projects today.Ms. Forest’s book includes instructions and full color photographs of the following handcrafts: A Letter case, Linen cravat, Linen pillowcases, Workbags, Paper flowers, Knitted and netted purses, Huswife, Carpet work, Muff and Tippet, Pin cushion and thread case, Transparency, Bonnet, Reticule, Knitted rug, and Muslin caps.

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