Leisure and fashion in the Regency period

 

Regency Dress from ‘Jane Austen In Style’ by Susan Watkins

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Triborough Reference Librarian, Debby Wale has found some Austen connections with Chelsea as well as some amazing Regency fashion images.

Jane Austen was born on 16 December 1775 at Steventon, Hampshire. Her father was the Rector of Steventon and Deane. At the age of thirty-six she emerged from relatively sequestered existence to becoming a published novelist. In 1801 the family moved to Bath. In 1809 the Austen sisters and their mother settled in Chawton and Jane Austen’s career as a published author began.

In Chelsea Past, Barbara Denny describes Jane Austen’s association with Chelsea as transitory, but letters to her sister Cassandra describes a musical evening. She lived with her brother Henry and his wife at 654 Sloane Street from Spring 1811 for two years. Between 1813 – 1815 she visited him when he moved to 23 Hans Place.

Chelsea by Thea Holme describes from Jane’s letters a party at Sloane Street with 66 guests and musicians arriving in two Hackney coaches.

Regency fashion was governed by a strict social etiquette. For women, there were outfits for every activity. Ladies might change several times a day to suit the hour or the occasion. Magazines such as Belle Assemble (La Belle Assemblée or, Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine Addressed Particularly to the Ladies) had fashion plates which were a guide to suitable attire for every circumstance.

Jane Austen was a prolific letter-writer and these letters give an interesting insight into her life. One activity suitable for a lady was walking. More promenade than serious hiking, there is a reference in one of her letters.

Your lilacs are in leaf, ours are in bloom. The horse-chestnuts are quite out, and the elms almost. I had a pleasant walk in Kensington Gardens on Sunday with Henry, Mr. Smith, and Mr.Tilson; everything was fresh and beautiful.

Jane Austen to Cassandra 25 April, 1811

These pictures from Chelsea Library’s costume collection give an idea of the style Jane or her characters, might have worn, or aspired to wear. They are from the magazine La Belle Assembléwhich Chelsea Library has more or less a complete archive.

Kensington Gardens Fashionable Promenade Dress, July 1811
Kensington Gardens Fashionable Promenade Dress, July 1811

Kensington Garden Fashionable Promenade Dress, July 1811
A round robe of jacconot muslin, with a bodice of violet sarsnet, trimmed with rich silk Brandeburgs of Austrian green, a half pelisse of fine transparent muslin, with Bishop’s sleeves, fancifully tied with green riband. A Hyman hat of purple brocaded ribband and lace, ornamented with a green military plume; a Chinese parasol of purple sarsnet, shot with green; gloves and shoes of York tan.

Walking Dress, 1811
Walking Dress, 1811

Walking Dress,  June 1811
A pelisse of pink sarsnet, lined with white, and ornamented with rich silk Brandenburg trimmings of correspondent pink, or pale brown; a high standing ruff round the throat,; a Persian mantle of pale blue, or white, thrown over the dress. A basket hat of straw, ornamented with a demi-wreath of half blown roses. Shoes of blue kid; gloves of York tan.

Promenade or Carriage Walking Costume, November 1811
Promenade or Carriage Walking Costume, November 1811

Promenade, or Carriage Walking Costume, November 1811
A fawn colour of amber velvet three quarters pelisse; faced and ornamented around the bottom and sleeves with Regency purple velvet and faced down the waist, shoulders and half way down the side of the skirt, with rich cordons of purple, terminating with a tassel; a purple velvet collar stands up, is rounded behind, and comes down to a point below the throat; the cuffs are of purple velvet, trimmed with fine blue lace. Over the sleeve is a demi-sleeve divided; between which division small purple ornaments, in the form of  aiguillettes, but without tags, are sometimes introduce when this dress is made of twilled sarsnet instead of velvet.

Promenade Dress, August 1811
Promenade Dress, August 1811

Promenade Dress, August 1811
A round robe of India jaconot, trimmed around the bottom with ribband; a mantle of fine India muslin, or white crape, with ficher front, ornamented with drawn ribband and tassel, and confined to the waist on the same side. A village hat of white chip, with a crown of blended crape and sarsnet, bound and tied under the chin with ribband, over a lace cawl, and raised form the face by a short wreath of French roses. Parasol and ridicule of purple and green shot silk; gloves of York tan; Roman boots of white morocco.

Regency Walking Dress, February 1811
Regency Walking Dress, February 1811

Regency Walking Dress, February 1811
A pelisse of scarlet Merino cloth, buttoned down the front and up the arm with small gold buttons; the collar and cuffs of purple velvet; but during the mourning, of black, striped with scarlet; an ermine tippet pointed in the back, and muffet of the same. A bonnet of scarlet cloth, turned up with velvet, and formed to come over the face; the veil passed through the front and brought round the neck. Boots of scarlet cloth trimmed with velvet.

Debby Wale
Debby Wale

Debby Wale, Triborough Reference Librarian

Chelsea Reference Library

 

Additional information

Resources held in Chelsea Reference library:

  • Jane Austen In Style by Susan Watkins
  • Chelsea by Thea Holme
  • Chelsea Past by Barbara Denny
  • La Belle Assemblee magazine archive

Online resources:
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography – for more information about Jane Austen (you’ll need a library membership to access this database outside of the library) 

Glossary – fabrics

  • Jaconot: light weight cotton fabric
  • Sarsnet: noun a soft thin silk used for dresses, veilings, or trimmings.

Knitting – The Beautiful Game?

OK, so knitting is not strictly a game more of a hobby. Saying that it is something that is done in your spare time, a skill that can be improved on and with lots of perseverance and imagination great things can be achieved.

I myself am an avid knitter and have been knitting on and off for many years…I won’t say how many, but more than four and less than 100.

Previously I wrote a piece on knitting, this time round I hope to elaborate more on the history of the craft. Hopefully it will inspire someone, who may have a glimmer of interest, to take it up.

Interesting facts about knitting

When I started writing this section, I thought it would be difficult to create this list, actually it was quite easy. I thought back to when I first started knitting and my hobby turned from an interest into an obsession. I collected hundreds of magazines for patterns from all decades. Along the way I learnt a lot about knitting and the people who knit, I thought I would share some of this with you.

Books of hand and traditional knitting
Books of hand and traditional knitting from our Costume collection

Below I have just touched on five things I found interesting about knitting, more indepth research can be done if I you find this interesting. At Chelsea Library we have many books in our Costume Collection, dating back many decades on the fashion, techniques and history of knitting.

1- It’s older than you think

One of the earliest known examples of knitting occurred in ancient Egypt around 400AD. Where members of the Christian sect known as Copts knitted sandal socks, bags and dolls.

Romano-Egyptian socks, made by nalbinding (Fifth century)
Romano-Egyptian socks, made by nalbinding (Fifth century)

Older examples of nalbinding which has often been confused with knitting, have been found including the famous Dura-Europos fragments, which is considered by many to be the oldest example of knitting in existence. Found in the Indus River Valley and dating back several thousand years, it is listed in many books and the original dig report as knitting.

Nalbinding fragment from Dura-Europos, Syria, dated to AD 256
Nalbinding fragment from Dura-Europos, Syria, dated to AD 256

2 – Do you know your knit from your purl?

All knitting consists of just two stitches?
Yes that’s right, all knitted garments, whether they are cabled, lace, or contain blocks of colour are all created using just the knit and purl stitch. Therefore if you can knit (and purl) you can create anything.

There are hundreds of knitting stitch patterns, which many may find daunting, but once the basics are mastered, the world as they say is your woollen oyster.

Knitted oyster, complete with pearl
Knitted oyster, complete with pearl, from the Captain Cook Memorial Museum

Knitting stitch patterns, or combinations of knitting stitches, are a wonderful way to expand your knitting skills. There are hundreds of ways to combine just knits and purls to form different designs. They have been in use since people first began to knit. All knitting uses stitch patterns…even garter stitch (only knitting) is considered to be a stitch pattern.

We have many books on knitting and stitch patterns in our library catalogue.

Books on knitting techniques and stitch patterns
Books on knitting techniques and stitch patterns

3 – Men are doing it too

Contrary to popular prejudice, men knitting used to be commonplace and was not exclusively a female occupation. Originally a male-only occupation, the first knitting trade guild was started in Paris in 1527. With the invention of the knitting machine, however, knitting “by hand” became a useful but non-essential craft. Similar to quilting, spinning, and needlepoint, knitting became a leisure activity.

In the Yorkshire Dales until the nineteenth century men and women alike knitted stockings as they walked about, which then sold for £2 a pair.

Edward Llwyd of Bala, photgraphed around 1875, believed to be on eof the last of the local stocking-knitters
Edward Llwyd of Bala, photgraphed around 1875, believed to be one of the last of the local stocking-knitters

Knitting for the troops
In a piece about the Knitting for Britain, knitting project written by Clinton W Trowbridge for the Christian Science Monitor in 1997. He tells a wonderful story of American schoolboys knitting squares to sew into blankets for British troops during World War Two.It highlights the normality of men knitting.

“…at boarding schools during World War II, however, everyone knitted – including the headmaster, the teachers, and the whole football team. We knitted 9-inch squares, which somebody else sewed together to make blankets and scarves for British soldiers…”

And once the boys had learned how to knit…

“…good many of us took up knitting seriously and made socks, sweaters, and woollen hats. We would knit in bed after lights out and, some of us, even more surreptitiously, in chapel.”

The project was seen by the boys as something of an escape from more serious work, but…

“… no one ever thought it odd that a school of 200 boys should be busily whiling away the hours in such an activity”.

4 – Tribal Markings

The guernsey or gansey came into being as a garment for fishermen who required a warm, hard wearing, yet comfortable item of clothing that would resist the sea spray. The hard twist given to the tightly packed wool fibres in the spinning process and the tightly knitted stitches, produced a finish that would “turn water” and is capable of repelling rain and spray.

Knitting on the quayside, Great Yarmouth
Knitting on the quayside, Great Yarmouth

It has also been said that the guernsey or gansey jumper patterns were for regional or local identification. It is said that the county, parish, or township of a sailor or a fisherman could be identified by his jumper pattern. Additionally, the wearer’s initials were traditionally knitted into the bottom of the garment, which would have been a far better indication of identity than the stitching pattern and also aid its return if a gansey was lost or stolen.

Inverness Guernsey, knitted in aran wool. A thick guernsey with an all over pattern on back and front, including flag and bar patterns on the body with chevron, diamond and double moss stitch panels on the yoke.
Inverness Guernsey, knitted in aran wool. A thick guernsey with an all over pattern on back and front, including flag and bar patterns on the body with chevron, diamond and double moss stitch panels on the yoke.

Each part of the design had a specific meaning. The rib at the top of the sleeve is said to represent a sailing ship’s rope ladder in the rigging, the raised seam across the shoulder a rope, and the garter stitch panel waves breaking upon the beach. Twenty-four principal patterns have been identified in Cornwall alone, each one again drawing inspiration from ropes, chains, waves, nets and sand-prints.

Pike fishing crew wearing plain working ganseys
Pike fishing crew wearing plain working ganseys

Worn as a source of pride and often knitted by prospective wives “to show the industrious nature of the woman he was about to marry”, the “finer” guernsey was more elaborately patterned than its working cousin. With the advent of the machine-knitted guernsey and the decline in the knitting industry, this type of elaborately knitted guernsey is a much rarer sight.

5 – Famous knitters

Madonna
The original one, not the singer. Yes that’s true, The Virgin Mary knitted as we can see below.

Our Lady knitting, c 1325-75?
Our Lady knitting, c 1325-75

When you give this some thought it is not that surprising, what mother would not want to knit for her newborn? Below we can see Mary presenting Jesus with the finished garment.

Madonna and child, painted before 1400
Madonna and child, painted before 1400

Lord Kitchener

Your country needs you to sew up a sock.

Lord Kitchener, Your Country Needs You
Lord Kitchener, Your Country Needs You

The kitchener stitch, also called grafting or weaving, is the favourite knitting method for creating an invisible seam. It’s most used for closing the toes of socks, but can be used on other seams as long as the garment is not too bulky.

During the First World War the Red Cross held a campaign to encourage British, American and Canadian women to knit various ‘comforts’ for British troops, such as hats, gloves, mittens, scarves and socks.

Hand knitted socks with the seam running around the toes
Hand knitted socks with the seam running around the toes

Lord Kitchener, the British secretary of state for war, is said to have contributed his own sock design to the campaign. The design included an invisible grafted toe seam which made the socks more comfortable to wear, as the knitted sock patterns of the day used a seam up the toe, which could rub uncomfortably.

This finishing technique later became known as the Kitchener stitch.

Sex and the Knitty

Over the years many actors and actresses have picked up the needles, from Doris Day, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and more recently serveral members of the cast of Sex and The City. While on the set Sarah Jessica Parker was heard to have said : “On the set of a movie. I could not think of a better way to pass the time between scenes…”

Sarah Jessica Parker knitting
Sarah Jessica Parker knitting
Kirsten Davis, on the set of Sex and the City knitting
Kirsten Davis, on the set of Sex and the City knitting

World record holder

The current holder of the Guinness World Record for Knitting with the Largest Knitting Needles is Julia Hopson of Penzance in Cornwall.

Guiness World Record kntting
Guiness World Record kntting

Julia knitted a square of ten stitches and ten rows in stockinette stitch using knitting needles that were 6.5 centimeters in diameter and 3.5 meters long.

Interested?

If I have piqued your interest and you would love to learn more, why not join the groups that are hosted at our sister libraries of Westminster and Hammersmith & Fulham libraries:

If you think you know something that is more interesting than I’ve listed, please feel free to post a comment and let us know. I may use it in my next blog.

Charmaigne Powell
Charmaigne Powell

Charmaigne Powell