LADY’S MAGAZINE PROJECT.
I was first introduced to the ‘Lady’s magazine project’ – aka the ‘Stitch-Off’ – via Twitter, of all places. A far less eloquent version of the correspondence so prevalent between ladies of the Regency era, this social media platform nevertheless informed me of an exciting new embroidery venture underway. Chawton House Library, home of Jane Austen’s brother, was to host an exhibition dedicated to the 200th anniversary of the publication of Emma. The exhibition was to also include an exciting embroidery aspect based around the ‘Lady’s Magazine’, a publication in circulation during the Regency period, original needlework patterns from which had been made re-available for amateur and professional embroidery enthusiasts alike to turn their hand to.
It was therefore with no little trepidation that, faced with 200 years of heritage and a fondly-felt affinity for Jane Austen’s work, I felt I should produce something to ‘do justice’ to both my enthusiasm for Emma and the extensive organisation that had gone into such an exhibition. It has been a most rewarding venture not just in terms of personal fulfilment but also for the friendship, discussion and camaraderie I have had the pleasure to participate in online with stitchers from around the globe.
To have picked any singular pattern was seemingly impossible, faced with such scope for experimentation, and so I chose to produce a sample sheet comprised of a variety of designs. I chose the embroidery technique of ‘whitework’ for its delicacy, echoing the graceful feminine aesthetic of the era, working designs in white thread onto a white background.
The stitches I used were predominately stem stitch, satin stitch and cutwork. ‘Cutwork’, as the name suggests, refers to areas of the design that have been cut away to give a lace-like effect. The first motif I worked was the shoe front, and instead of an all-over symmetrical working of the design, I chose to work many of the leaves in a different way to show what could be achieved. (The blessings of the sample sheet as opposed to a singular ‘finished’ item is this scope for experimentation afforded.) Even a simple stitch such as satin stitch has been used in a variety of applications: some leaves worked in different directions, some leaves split in half with a ‘vein’ down the middle. Cutwork features on some of the larger leaves, their shape held by buttonholed bars, and in the rows of circular eyelets.
Whitework is notoriously difficult to keep clean and so this project was my first to use the ingenious solution of surgical operating-theatre sheets, aperture windows already cut, to drape over my whitework frame leaving only a small working portion visible. I always work large projects such as this on a slate frame, a large rectangular contraption with the fabric sewn to two parallel horizontal rollers and further tensioned with laced-up string. It gives a lovely tight surface and, once balanced on trestle tables or on the edge of a desk, allows both hands the freedom of movement having to hold a circular hoop frame would restrict.
Whether or not my needlework efforts would deem me ‘accomplished’, I nevertheless greatly enjoyed the project and look forward to visiting the exhibition and other ‘stitch-off’ers’ beautiful contributions in person. It has been a beautiful project to be a part of and a privilege to contribute towards as a vital part of keeping history alive.
The full online library of patterns can be found here:
And further details on ‘Emma at 200’ at Chawton House Library can be found below: