Tag Archives: Austenletters

How to embroider

The education of young girls was neither reliable nor consistent in the early 19th century, and the same might be said of the education of Jane Austen. Claire Tomalin’s “Jane Austen: A Life” biography describes not only the schools Jane and her sister attended but also a few other examples of schools ranging in quality from well rounded to worthy of the gothic novels parodied in “Northanger Abbey.” Many girls did not go to school and learned at home instead. Yet regardless of where and how they obtained their education, young girls were expected to learn the skills that would help them to maintain their homes as grown women. One of those skills was the ability to sew, and in the days before sewing machines everything was sewn by hand.

“Girls School” by Jan Josef Horemans the Younger, 18th Century

In “Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels,” Deirdre Le Faye describes how girls would create samplers and cross-stitch patterns to demonstrate their stitching skills that would later be used for larger projects. She also says embroidery continued to be a popular pastime on rainy days for middle- to upper-class families. Mrs. Norris scolds Fanny in “Mansfield Park” for not better applying her time to such projects when she says: “Why cannot you come and sit here, and employ yourself as we do? If you have no work of your own, I can supply you from the poor basket.”

Thankfully Mrs. Norris is not here to nag us about how we spend our time. Instead, let us imagine that Jane herself is wishing to join us as she did with her sister in 1808 when she wrote: “I wish I could help you in your needlework, I have two hands & a new thimble that lead a very easy life.” If you have ever wanted to learn how to embroider, here are a few basic techniques.

You will need:

  • A bit of fabric (I use linen in this example)
  • An embroidery hoop
  • Embroidery threads (I use crewel, which is a fancy way to say “wool”)
  • Needle
  • Needle threader (optional – if the eye of your needle is big enough, you may not need a threader)

You could also hold the hoop this way, if you choose. This style is called “in the well.”

As you can see, the tapestry needle has a wide enough eye that I do not need a threader. The so called “embroidery needles” are very small and are designed for a fine cotton thread or beading work. If you are choosing to use this type of needle and thread, you will need to use a threader.

Once the thread is in the needle, leave one tail of the thread longer than the other. You do not need to knot the end.

Let’s learn three basic stitches:

First to learn is the Back Stitch.

You begin from underneath the fabric.

Then pull the needle through.

Keep pulling until there is only one thread going through the fabric.

Leave just a little bit behind. Here is what it looks like from the back.

This is the beginning of any embroidery stitch. For the back stitch, you will be moving along a line. Move the needle in the direction you wish to go and point it back to the first stitch.

Notice I am placing the needle below the other thread. You could do above the thread instead so long as you are consistent in every stitch. Pull the needle through and stop before the thread becomes taught.

Then, do the same thing. Move the thread further down the line you wish to make and point it back to the last stitch.

Continue in this fashion

After a while you will have a lot of little stitches creating a line.

Second to learn is the French Knot.

Again, we begin the stitch from underneath. This time we will place the needle close to where the thread comes out.

Then, wrap the thread around the needle once.


Three times. Then close to the hole where the thread comes out we will push the needle in through the fabric and gently pull it through.

Here are a few French Knots together.

The final stitch here is the Satin Stitch.

If you are left-handed, you may find it easier to go from the other direction but as I am right-handed, I begin the stitch on the far left side of the area I wish to fill.

Then I will push the needle in to the fabric on the far right side of the area I wish to fill. When I do this I will be poking the needle out just above where the first stitch came out and pulling the needle out from above the fabric.

These stitches will fill a small area.

If you wish to fill a larger area, you can do so with overlapping the smaller satin stitches because if you make it too big, it will not keep its shape well.

Confused by these instructions? Here is a quick instructional video to demonstrate the exact same stitches.

Now that we have learned some basic stitches, we need a project! A new book is coming out in May (March for the UK) full of project ideas based on 18th-century embroidery by Jennie Batchelor and Alison Larkin called “Jane Austen Embroidery” (from Dover Publications).

In the meanwhile, however, I free-handed a design based upon a shawl attributed to Jane Austen herself. You can see an image of the original here.

Here I have drawn the stars in pencil. I will be using satin stitches and French knots.

After a little bit of progress……

A close up of a French knot in progress:

Here is the completed hoop.

I needed something in the middle so I drew a silhouette of Jane Austen based on an image search online and filled it in with black satin stitches.

Hope you enjoyed this miniature lesson on basic embroidery stitches!

How to throw your own Jane Austen holiday party

Have you ever wanted to throw your own Jane Austen themed holiday party? Here are some ideas to get you started!


“Christmas Weather” by George Allen, 1898. 

Holiday decorations looked very different in Jane Austen’s time. Christmas, although an important holiday, was not as big a deal as it is today. Most adults in England at that time observed Christmas by going to church and often giving to charity. If you are looking to be historically accurate with your own decorations, put some greenery (holly branches or laurels) on your window ledges and call it a day. Christmas trees may have been popular in Germany at this time, but they would not have been seen in England until later in the 19th century.

Parties during the Regency would have also called for candles. In the days before electricity, any lighting at an evening party would depend upon them. As the candles ran out, the party, too, would end. Naturally, if you wanted your party to last a long time, you’d get larger candles. Today, you can use electric candles as a precaution against fire hazards.


“Hunt the Slipper” by Francesco Bartolozzi, 1787

While Christmas may have been a solemn, pious event for many adults, children still celebrated with games and festivities. In Claire Tomalin’s “Jane Austen: A Life,” she lists many of the games and songs that would have been popular at Christmas at Godmersham, the home of Jane’s wealthy brother Edward.

In one game, Hunt the Slipper, players form a circle on the floor on their bottoms with their knees up. A slipper would be passed around the circle under players’ knees in any direction while the hunter goes around the outside of the circle and attempts to guess who has the slipper. For your party, you can substitute a bean bag or a prize for the winner if you do not have a slipper.

Cards, battledore and shuttlecock, bullet pudding and other parlor games can bring an element of authenticity to your party. For a comprehensive list of such games, check out the Jane Austen Center website


Every good party needs food. According to Roy and Lesley Adkins, in their book “Jane Austen’s England,” a Christmas feast would feature plum pudding and mince meat pies. Despite its name, mince meat pies do not actually contain meat — but instead feature dried fruit and spices. You can find several recipes for each on the Internet. If you are looking to fill out your menu with a few more items, roast beef would have been a popular choice for the gentry and for the truly adventurous cook, Yorkshire pudding is very British indeed!


If you are lucky enough to play an instrument or enjoy singing before a crowd, you may consider making your own music for your party. Be sure to make copies of the lyrics if you intend for your guests to join in any caroling. If, however, you would rather just have music in the background at your party, consider playing the works of Beethoven, Mozart, Bach and other famous composers who would have been popular during Jane’s lifetime.

“Long ways dance caricature” Thomas Rowlandson, circa 1790


What Regency gathering would be complete without dancing? There is so much to write about dancing that it deserves its own blog entry, but for your holiday party here is a simple dance game you can play with your guests!

First, select a caller who will be in charge of the music. While the music plays, you may walk in a circle, free dance or even attempt an actual Regency-era dance depending on what you think your guests can handle.

The caller will then stop the music at random times and shout out the name of a Jane Austen novel and then all the dancers must scramble to create poses for whichever novel has been called.

“Sense and Sensibility”

Oh no! Marianne fell down! One person in a set of three will sit on the floor with their legs out while the other two will hold their hands as if to help them up. (Pose requires three people)

“Pride and Prejudice”

Mr. Darcy does not find Elizabeth handsome enough at their first meeting. One person in a pair will sit in a chair while the other will stand turning their back to the person in the chair. (Pose requires two people)

“Mansfield Park”

Fanny is stuck in the middle of a scandalous performance. Two people will make kissy faces at each other while one more looks shocked at them. (Pose requires three people).


Emma is painting a portrait of her friend Harriet. One person will pose for the painting while the other pretends to paint them. (Pose requires two people)

“Northanger Abbey”

You have just discovered a secret laundry list. Look scared. (Pose requires only one person)


Captain Wentworth is writing a secret letter while Anne and Harville talk. One person will sit down to write a letter while the other two pretend to have a conversation. (Pose requires three people.)

If you have an especially large crowd to play such a game, you can challenge your guests to find different partners each time.

If you do end up using any of these ideas, please send us pictures of your Jane Austen themed party and we will see you all in June!

Five things about mourning during the Regency era

Halloween, Day of the Dead, and other pagan traditions that celebrate the harvest also remind us of those who have passed on. Many of our customs and traditions have changed since the early 19th century, but some are not so different. Here are five things to know about mourning during the Regency:

1. Wearing black

Black was a difficult color to maintain through washings and would have appeared as a striking contrast when so many fashionistas (men and women both) preferred to wear bright colors or white. Yet we know through fashion plates from that era, as well as Jane’s own words, that people of Regency England wore black during a period of mourning.

    “I am to be in bombazeen and crape, according to what we are told is universal here, and which agrees with Martha’s previous observation. My mourning, however, will not impoverish me….”

Jane to Cassandra,

Oct. 15, 1808

In this quote, she mentions “crape,” a matte fabric that helped mourners avoid anything shiny or flashy during a time of great sorrow and loss. In a similar letter in that same year, she mentions how her mother intends to have some clothes dyed black.

2. Full Mourning and Half Mourning

Mourning Fashion plate by Rudolph Ackerman 1817 (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
Mourning Fashion plate by Rudolph Ackermann 1817 (Credit: Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

In the Victorian Era, which followed the Regency, society held certain expectations for how long one was to maintain their state of mourning, depending on who had died and the deceased’s relationship to the mourner. While it appears similar rules were likely followed during the Regency Era, it is less clear exactly how long one was to be in mourning or half-mourning. Full mourning was the time directly following the death of a loved one. During full mourning, their clothing would be all black. After a while, probably six months to a year later, they would enter a time of half-mourning, when they would still wear dark clothes or outfits that would incorporate black elements — but some color could return. When a member of the royal family died, such as Princess Charlotte in 1817, the whole nation would observe a period of mourning.

3. Other Black items

In addition to wearing black clothing, a mourner (widows and widowers, in particular) would have been expected to express their mourning in other facets of their life. The bereaved would have put away their dainty floral tea set in favor of a solid black set.

Just because one was mourning the loss of a loved one does not mean that they must sacrifice their style. Accessories like shawls and hats would also have been black (and later purple during their period of half-mourning).

4. Mourning Jewelry

Shiny, colorful jewelry would have been put away, to be replaced by those with black gemstones. Another form of jewelry would also have been popular, as it would have allowed the mourner to keep a part of their loved ones with them: hair jewelry. Austen mentions hair jewelry in “Sense and Sensibility.”

“Mariannne saw a ring on Edward’s finger that had a lock of hair in it. She asked if it was Fanny’s hair. Edward blushed and, after a long pause, said that it was.”

Jane Austen,

“Sense and Sensibility”

Edward wore his token for a living loved one, but they were also popular for mourning the dead.

Special mourning jewelry would also feature special symbolism. An otherwise simple ring would become a treasured memento with the addition of a rose for love or an elm for friendship, for example. Some designs would feature an inscription of a loved one’s name or perhaps the date of their death. Some pendants may even feature a miniature portrait of the deceased.

5. Memento Mori

A memento mori is different from mourning jewelry; the focus is to remind the living that they, too, will one day die. Many memento mori keepsakes would look very similar to mourning jewelry, especially since  they appear to commemorate the same subject matter. What is the difference? Mourning jewelry could feature a name or date or the words “in memory of” because it was commemorating a specific person. The purpose of memento mori jewelry was to remind the wearer that everyone dies and would feature skulls or coffins or something similarly macabre. Memento mori evolved from the Flemish still-life paintings of the 1600s that would feature something dead or dying, such as a wilting flower or rotting fruit. Memento mori would have been less popular during the Regency Era in favor of mourning jewelry, however such items would have had some, er, die-hard fans.

To learn more about how people of the Regency Era mourned their loved ones, check out these links:



To see more on what was worn, check out:


To learn more about special mourning jewelry (and even see some items for sale) check out:


To learn more about memento mori:


PROGRAM UPDATE: We’ve posted a tentative schedule of the 2020 JASP.  We’ve also added supplementary material to our What to Read list and our What to Watch list.