Knitting with Jane

Frederica Shawlette by Susanna IC
Camden Place Cardigan by Marianne Hobart
Middleton Waistcoat by Kristi Schueler

A note from Kathleen: My sister is back from a year in Egypt. Hooray! She and I share a wonderful relationship that reminds me of Jane Austen and her beloved sister, Cassandra. We jokingly call each other "dearest," just as Elinor and Marianne Dashwood did in Sense and Sensibility.

But the scene in the movie where Marianne is on death's door about kills us both. The first time we saw Sense and Sensibility we reached over and grasped hands, tears in our eyes. We couldn't live without each other, either! We are each others' confidants and biggest fans.

What made me reflect on this relationship with my sister is the new Jane Austen Knits. It's just as fabulous as the premier issue; full of interesting articles about the Regency period in England, Jane Austen history, and beautiful knitting patterns that evoke Jane Austen's novels and her place in history. The new Jane Austen Knits is full of lace knitting, sweater knitting, knitted accessories, and much more. Oh, and the settings for the photos are fabulous!

Here's editor Amy Clarke Moore to tell you all about it.

"I'm an unabashed reader of novels, sir,
but I don't think it has clouded my judgment."

—Fanny Price in the 1999 film adaptation of Mansfield Park

I've always loved this scene in the movie when Fanny defends her decision to reject Henry Crawford's chameleon attentions as well as her preferred reading material while holding a woolly shawl around her shoulders. And yes, the movie portrays a hardier, less distraught, and more self-assured Fanny than we know through Jane Austen's novel published 198 years ago, but still (at least in my mind), the actress captures the mettle of Fanny Price.

The scene would have been even more perfect had her shawl been handknitted. I can imagine Fanny knitting symbols of her secret love for Edmund into her shawl—symbols to give her strength and forbearance during days when she was plagued by her Aunt Norris's persistent nettling or when she had to watch quietly as Edmund was falling in love with Mary.

Beloved Baby Bonnet by Kathleen Sperling
A Book Cover for Edmund by Melissa J. Armstrong

I was thrilled as we were selecting projects for the Summer 2012 issue of Jane Austen Knits that several of the designers noticed that Fanny was sadly neglected in our 2011 premier issue, and they rose in defense of Fanny, wanting to make sure her voice was heard in the 2012 issues.

It is the personal connections to the stories that give these knitted garments depth—each one tells a story with yarn. How often in our lives as knitters do we use yarn to communicate rich narratives? Jane Austen playfully dismisses the importance of fashion in her letters to her sister, Cassandra, and yet the details of wearing and making garments are contained in nearly every letter that survived.

We—in this era of ready-made clothing—have to stretch a bit, though, to really grasp the importance of cloth and garment-making at the turn of the nineteenth century, just as the Industrial Revolution literally was changing the way cloth was made. But as knitters, our understanding is probably greater than that of the average twenty-first-century person—we know the pleasure of making something from scratch as well as the disappointment when things don't go as planned.

We can only hope that with hard work and persistence, as well as a bit of luck, we'll achieve the same potential bright futures with our knitting endeavors as Jane Austen's heroines gain at the ends of her novels.

Jane Austen Knits will be out soon; reserve your copy today so we can send it to you as soon as it hits our warehouse!

Happy knitting,

P.S. Do you have a favorite scene from a Jane Austen book or movie adaptation? Let us know about it in the comments!

Knitting with Jane

Picturesque Cape by Sharon Fuller.

When we decided last fall to publish a special magazine issue called Jane Austen Knits, I downloaded the entire Jane Austen oeuvre onto my Kindle and read it from beginning to end, starting with the very odd and mildly disturbing Lady Susan and ending with Persuasion. I found precisely two (2) references to someone actually knitting.*

Jane Austen was an accomplished needleworker as well as a writer. Illustration by Benjamin S. Clarke. 

So why did the idea of Jane Austen and knitting have such resonance? And why did we actually sell out the magazine before it ever arrived in our warehouse, requiring a hasty trip back to the printer? We ponder these questions as we gear up for our second (and third) editions.

Well, Editor Amy Clarke Moore, whose brave idea it was in the first place, assures me that Jane mentioned knitting occassionally, and textiles frequently in her letters to her sister, if not in her novels. And knitting was done a great deal in Regency times, though not necessarily by ladies to the manor born. But maybe more important, there are qualities to Jane Austen's world view that line right up with knitting and knitters today. Tart, tender, insightful. Structured, suspenseful. Thoughtful, mannered.

Those of us who knit today commit ourselves to a craft that demands attention and invites reflection. It's a world of rules and repetition in which our imaginations and creativity can play. If you're stressed by a sick kid, a demanding deadline, a "life out of control" moment, you very well might pick up your knitting and work through it. Or pull that old Modern Library edition of Emma down off the shelf and lose yourself in it for a little while.

Chawton Mittens by Anne Blayney.

We're just really excited that Jane Austen Knits is finding such an avid audience, because it's just so much fun to create. We're deep into planning for the second edition, due out in late May, and the third, scheduled for next fall.

*And in case you're wondering about those two knitting references, you can find them discussed at length, along with a great deal about the place of knitting in Regency England, in a splendid article by Sheryl Craig, "Jane and Knitting" (pages 20–23).