Jane Austen Knits in Society
It’s possible to bring a little Jane Austen into your everyday life, but for the truly dedicated fan, there is nothing like being in the company of other Austenites. Emily Gilbert, the designer behind the handsome A Second Chance for Mr. Rushworth Socks, attended the Jane Austen Festival of North America Society annual meeting yesterday and is here to share some of her experiences.
On the second weekend in October I flew to Montreal, the location for this year’s Jane Austen Society of North America conference, or Annual General Meeting (AGM). This was my third conference, and it was just as enjoyable as the first two. 2014 is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mansfield Park, so that novel was the theme of the AGM. It provided plenty of material for discussion, since it’s one of Jane Austen’s most controversial novels—people either love or hate Fanny Price, the quiet, self-effacing heroine. Personally, I rather like Fanny; she may not have the liveliness of Elizabeth Bennet from Pride & Prejudice, but those of us who like to sit quietly with our needlework can find much to sympathize with in her!
My pattern for Jane Austen Knits 2014, A Second Chance for Mr. Rushworth Socks, was also inspired by Mansfield Park. Midway through the novel, Fanny’s beautiful, selfish cousin Maria marries Mr. Rushworth, an amiable but slow-witted young man, for the sake of his wealth. After she has an affair with another man, however, he divorces her. I always felt sorry for Mr. Rushworth, so I designed a sock pattern featuring intertwining twisted-stitch cables that represent my hope for him to remarry a nice young lady who will appreciate him as Maria never did. Jane Austen Knits 2014 wasn’t released until after the AGM, but I talked it up whenever I got a chance, to other people I spotted knitting during the sessions and to anyone who asked me what I was knitting (which happened to be a pair of socks from my Mr. Rushworth pattern).
The climax of the AGM is always the Regency ball on Saturday night. It features English country dancing to live music, and quite a number of people come in period attire (some of it, like mine, made by the wearer). From knitting to ball gowns to the gorgeous handmade bonnet displayed in the Emporium, the needlework that was so important to Jane Austen and her characters clearly still matters to her fans today.
—Emily Gilbert, designer