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Bibliophile Crafter Review – “Jane Austen’s Sewing Box” by Jennifer Forest

1 Dec

When I’m not sewing or thinking about sewing, I work in a large bookstore in the middle of town. One of the perks of this job is that I get to see all the new crafty books that come in – and boy, are there a lot of them! So many beautiful glossy books, many of them published by crafters who started out writing blogs (like the adorable Applique Your Way from Kayte Jenny at thisisloveforever) or Australian crafty celebs like Pip Lincolne of Meet Me at Mike’s. So in this Book Review section I’m going to have a look at the crafty, stylish, inspirational books that pass through my dusty fingers as I shelve them, starting with Jennifer Forest’s new book, “Jane Austen’s Sewing Box”. I’m also going to have a go at making something from each book, starting with the ‘huswife’, a sewing kit for the Regency woman.

Anything Austen always sells really well, and this one ticks both boxes by attracting the Austenophiles with its beautiful historic prints, quotes and photos of immaculate Regency interiors, while enticing the crafty set with a series of Austen-inspired projects. Ever wanted to make your own huswife or reticule? At a loss to what these things even are? This book will tell you. Each project is accompanied by a historical briefing telling you how these crafts were practised in Jane Austen’s time, where and by whom. Being crafty was high on the list of a young lady’s desirable accomplishments, because skills like embroidery and neat handstitching were vital skills in running a household.

JASB has 18 projects, all of which are made with supplies that modern crafters have access to. That’s great! While I love sourcing obscure notions, this makes traditional skills much more accessible to people wanting to learn new skills who are intimidated by the strange tools required. The projects also range in difficulty from simply hemming a strip of linen to make a cravat, to fully fledged carpetwork and embroidery projects for a more experienced crafter. There are workbags, thread holders, muffs and tippetts, even a bonnet! I loved the historical background given for each item, telling us how important it was in the daily lives of Austen’s heroines and how duty and femininity were constructed through craft. You could easily read this book from a historical perspective alone.

However, despite being full of lavish Regency fashion prints, cameos of Austenian dandies and photos, there are relatively few pictures of the projects themselves. The author has included some lovely line drawings to help us make the items, but more photos of the finished objects would have been really helpful. The instructions given are very clear though, so maybe I just need a better imagination!

I had a go at making a ‘huswife’ from JASB, “a small fabric case with pockets to hold all those tools for sewing and needlework needed quickly and often…”. This was a quick and easy project, made with scraps. The nice thing is that you can adapt the pockets and ribbons to suit whatever tools you need to carry with you. Had I a spare straw hat lying around, I would definitely have made the bonnet! A sewing kit is not a rare project to find in a craft book, but a bonnet is something different. It is projects like that that make Jane Austen’s Sewing Box worth a look for historical crafters especially.