Telling narratives in yarn

Melissa J. Armstrong's A Book Cover for Edmund."

Singing Fanny Price's praises

It is a truth universally acknowledged…that my love for all things Jane Austen is only surpassed by my love for textiles. I have the great good fortune to be able to combine those loves into one publication—Jane Austen Knits. With our premier issue that came out last fall, we speculated about how Jane Austen must have been a knitter given the ubiquitous nature of knitting at that time and her economic situation (as the spinster daughter of a clergyman). In this issue, other aspects of textiles during the Regency era (1790–1820) are explored, such as how one went about acquiring new clothing in the late 1700s in England and the sheep that Reverend George Austen kept.  

Kathleen Dames's Sotherton.

As in the 2011 issue, the Summer 2012 issue includes more than thirty patterns for knitting inspired by Jane Austen's novels. I was intrigued as we were selecting designs for the Fall issue, that many of the patterns were inspired by Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, Jane and Elizabeth Bennet, Emma Woodhouse, Catherine Morland, and Anne Elliot, but one heroine was left unsung. For that reason, 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 Price was sadly neglected in our 2011 issue, and they rose in defense of Fanny, wanting to make sure her voice was heard in the 2012 issue.

Melissa J. Armstrong designed A Book Cover for Edmund, imagining that Fanny would have been a knitter and that she would have wanted to make Edmund a special gift as he anticipated his ordination. The horseshoe cable pattern she used was designed to reflect the gratitude Fanny would have felt for Edmund as he helped her overcome her fear of horses.

The cables that simultaneously constrict and define the figure in Kathleen Dames's Sotherton are inspired by the iron gates sprinkled throughout the property of Maria Bertram's fiancé and foreshadowing her desire for freedom.

Sherri Sulkowski's Evergreen Lace Scarf, is also inspired by Fanny Price and her raptures about the evergreen and the wonderful variety in nature in one of her rare trips away from Mansfield Park.

Sherri Sulkowski's "Evergreen Lace Scarf."

It is these 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.

Happy spinning,

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