Jane Austen was an accomplished needlewoman. Caroline, her niece, remembered that she was adept at satin-stitch. The subject of needlework and fashion crops up throughout Jane's works of fiction and also in her letters to her beloved sister, Cassandra. It is hard for us to imagine today a time when you could not simply go into a shop and buy clothes off the peg. Everything had to be made by hand - whether it was your hand, or that of a hired gown- or mantua-maker. In a very fashion conscious age, clothes and hats had to be continually remade and retrimmed to adapt to changing tastes. A gown consumed 14 yards of fabric and would not have been tossed on the wardrobe floor lightly. A woman's needle was never idle. When no household stitching could be found to work, then it was time to turn to the basket and stitch for the poor.
Just before Chrismas last year, when we were launching The Goodhart Samplers at Montacute House, it was our delight to have Penelope Byrde come and talk to us about Jane Austen Fashion. Penelope was Curator of the Museum of Costume and Fashion Research Centre in Bath and is now Joint Editor of Costume. Last year she produced a wonderful little book entitled Jane Austen Fashion. Its 130 pages encompass everything you could wish to know about details of fashion and needlework occurring in all of Jane Austen's books: women's fashion for different occasions, and times of day; men's fashion; accessories; care of clothes; varieties of needlework and needlework tools. It is beautifully illustrated and it is one of my prized possessions.