“It is amazing to me,” said Bingley, “how young ladies can have patience to be so very accomplished as they all are….They all paint tables, cover skreens, and net purses. I scarcely know any one who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed that she was very accomplished.”
-Pride and Prejudice
In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bingley notes “netting”as one of the common accomplishments of young ladies. It is, as Isabella Beeton, Victorian Household Maven, explains, “one of the prettiest and one of the easiest accomplishments of a lady. The materials are simple, while the effects produced by good netting are most elegant and of great durability. One great advantage of netting is that each stitch is finished and independent of the next, so that if an accident happens to one stitch it does not, as in crochet or knitting, spoil the whole work.” The following instructions are from Beeton’s Book of Needlwork, published in 1870.
The wedding was very much like other weddings, where the parties have no taste for finery or parade; and Mrs. Elton, from the particulars detailed by her husband, thought it all extremely shabby, and very inferior to her own. “Very little white satin, very few lace veils; a most pitiful business! Selina would stare when she heard of it.” But, in spite of these deficiencies, the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of the small band of true friends who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union.
Jane Austen fans are familiar with the high-waisted muslin dresses popular during her adulthood. How many are aware that machine-made net or gauze became a “hot” item from 1810 and on?
“Net dresses were very fashionable and their popularity was spurred by new inventions. The development of machine-made net in the late 18th and early 19th centuries meant that gauzy lace effects were increasingly affordable either as trimmings or garments. The bobbin-net machine was patented by the Englishman John Heathcoat in 1808 and produced a superior net identical to the twist-net grounds of hand-made bobbin lace. It was so successful that women in the highest ranks of society, including the Emperor Napoleon’s first wife, Josephine, wore machine-net dresses. Initially, however, all machine nets were plain and had to be embroidered by hand.” – Victoria and Albert
Machine-made bobbin net was first made in England in 1806 (and in France in 1818). Until this date, lace as it was made was known as old lace. After that date, lace is categorized as being modern.
Machine made lace made an appearance around 1760. The nets and tulles became immediately popular. Their arrival spurred the production of other silk lace cloths, which led to a general rise in popularity of the silk lace trade – until a machine was invented that could produce silk net lace as well.
In the 18th century the hand-made net was very expensive and was made of the finest thread from Antwerp: in 1790 this cost £70 per pound, sometimes more. At that time the mode of payment was decidedly primitive: the lace ground was spread out on the counter and the cottage worker covered it with shillings from the till of the shopman. As many coins as she could place on her work she took away with her as wages for her labour. It is no wonder that a Honiton lace veil before the invention of machine-made net often cost a hundred guineas. Heathcoat’s invention of a machine for making net dealt a crushing blow to the pillow-made net workers. The result is easily guessed. After suffering great depression for twenty years the art of hand-made net became nearly extinct, and when an order for a marriage veil of hand-made net was given, it was with the greatest difficulty that workers could be found to make it. The net alone for such a veil would cost £30. – A history of hand-made lace: Dealing with the origin of lace, the growth of the great lace centres, the mode of manufactures, the methods of distinguishing and the care of various kinds of lace, Emily Jackson, p. 170
The most popular European centers for lace making were located in France, the region known as Belgium today, Ireland, England,and Italy.
During the French Revolution the French textile industry had suffered and unlike in England, use of textile machinery had been non-existent. Emperor Napoleon stopped the import of English textiles and he revived the Valenciennes lace industry so that fine fabrics like tulle and batiste could be made there. – Regency Fashion History
Between 1806-1810, net gowns embroidered with chenille embroidery became popular. Profits rose for the manufacturers as the price for the cloth plummeted.
In 1809 Heathcoat took a patent for his bobbin net machine. But the profits realised by the manufacturers of lace were very great, and the use of the machines rapidly extended; while the price of the article was reduced from five pounds the square yard to about five pence in the course of twenty-five years. – John Heathcoat and the Bobbin Net Machine, Samuel Smiles (1859)
By 1813, the bobbinet machine had been perfected. After 1815, gauze was used over satin evening dresses, with the fabric gathered at the back. By 1816, crepe, net and tulle were worn over evening wear made of satin, silks, velvets, kerseymere, satin, lame, and both plain and shot sarcenet.
Hon. Lady Codrington.—Net draperies, magnificently embroidered in gold lama, in bouquets and sprigs, over a petticoat of white satin, with blond lace at the bottom, headed with a rouleau of gold lama; train of crimson velvet, trimmed with gold lama and blond lace. Head-dress gold lama toque, with ostrich plume, and diamonds.
Not every lady of that era was obsessed over bobbin net lace or tulle. Many began to publicly and proudly favor the old hand made lace.
…both in England and on the Continent and at Almack’s, the Assembly Rooms at Bath and Tunbridge Well, the chaperons would gossip of their lappets of Alencon or Brussels. Numerous were the anecdotes as to how this treasure or that had turned up having escaped the doom the rag-bag, which alas! was the fate of so much old lace during the muslin and net period. – Emily Jackson, A History of Hand-made Lace, 1900, p 48.
Machine made lace dealt a great blow to the industry of hand-made fabrics. In Tiverton in 1822, where once 2,400 lace makers worked, only 300 lace makers were still employed.
The Duchess of Gloucester was one of the few whose affections never swerved from her love of the old rich points towards blondes and muslins, and her collection was one of the finest in Europe. Lady Blessington, too, loved costly lace, and, at her death, left several huge chests full of it. Gradually lace began to be worn again, but it was as it were ignorantly put on, worn simply because it was again the fashion to wear lace, and lace must therefore be worn; the knowledge of its history, worth, and beauty was lacking… – Emily Jackson, A History of Hand-made Lace, 1900, p 48.
Sprigs beautified the machine-made net. It is said that Queen Charlotte introduced applique on net to support the machine net industry. Honiton appliques consisted of white linen thread sprigs mounted on the net, but black silk sprigs were applied as well. The black silk cost twice as much as the linen threads and soon went out of fashion.
Vic Sanborn oversees two blogs: Jane Austen’s World and Jane Austen Today. Before 2006 she merely adored Jane Austen and read Pride and Prejudice faithfully every year. These days, she is immersed in reading and writing about the author’s life and the Regency era. Co-founder of her local (and very small) book group, Janeites on the James, she began her blogs as a way to share her research on the Regency era for her novel, which sits unpublished on a dusty shelf. In her working life, Vic provides resources and professional development for teachers and administrators of Virginia’s adult education and literacy programs. This article was written for Jane Austen’s World and is used here with permission.
This Pineapple shaped reticule resides in the Kyoto Museum’s 1800-1810 collection. In describing this bag, the museum comments,
This small bag (called “reticule” at that time) was elaborately and three-dimensionally knitted into the shape of a pineapple. Motifs of pineapples and other exotic articles associated with the tropics became popular because of the influence of Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife Joséphine, the then fashion leader, who was from the Island of Martinique.
KNIT A PINEAPPLE PURSE:
This pinapple purse is knit to imitate the natural colour of the fruit as much as possible, still keeping the bag as bright in hues as consistency will permit. The top part is worked in four shades of green, of seven rows each, commencing with lightest, and working in succession to dark. This represents the leaves. The centre, or fruit part, is worked in shades of yellow, down to a rich brown, four in number, beginning with the lightest, and working 36 rounds of each; again with green finish as described in the working receipt.
The cast-on row looks handsome with a row of gilt beads; also on the centre stitch of each knob of fruit part there should be a bead, but it may be omitted if not wished. The green part for leaves is worked on right side, and is the right or outside part; the centre part of bag is like the wrong side of knitting, as well as the green part, at bottom. When the bag is finished, it is drawn at the termination of the top leaves; the bottom is finished with a bunch of green satin ribbon, rounded at the points like leaves.
Cast on with light-green common-sized purse twist on No. 19 wires, 96 on first wire, 96 on second wire, and 128 on third wire; work a plain round after the cast-on round.
1st Round, P6, 0, P, 0, P6, A; repeat all round.
2nd Round, *P6, 0, P, O, P6, A; repeat all round.
Repeat as second round 5 more rounds.
2nd Shade of Green.
8th Round, repeat as second round 7 more rounds.
* Observe you have here seven plain stitches before you make an open stitch, the first of which has nothing to do with the six plain, merely work it off before the six, as it is one of those three you knit into one, and will be required to finish the A on the last wire j the beginning and ending of every wire during the working of green will be the same as this.
3rd Shade of Green. 16th Round, repeat as second round 7 more rounds.
4tth Shade of Green.
24th Round, repeat as second round 7 more rounds.
32nd Round, with light yellow, turn and work a plain round. It is necessary here to observe, the A of the yellow must be transposed so as to come directly under the 0, P, 0, of green. Should you have more loops than six before taking in the three loops, lift them on to the right hand wire; do the same with the other two wires; having done so, you have not again to change any of the loops off the wires, as the following receipt is so arranged,—
33rd Round, P6, A, P6, 0, P, 0; repeat all round.
34th Round, P5, A, P6, 0, P, 0, P; repeat all round.
35th Bound, P4, A, P6, 0, P, 0, P2; repeat all round.
36th Round, P3, A, P6, 0, P, 0, P3; repeat all round.
37th Round, P2, A, P6, 0, P, O, P4; repeat all round.
Repeat from 32nd to 49th round twice with third yellow
Repeat from 32nd to 49th round twice with fourth yellow; (if wished to be longer, add what is required in this shade.)
Repeat with each shade of green once from 32 to 49th round
P6, A, all round} Repeat these two rounds till the bag is almost closed, then draw
Plain, all round } it together with a needle.
This bag may be worked in shades of Berlin wool, on No. 16 wires.