Thursday, May 16, 2013

Pride and Prejudice, the Needle Book Edition

Yesterday was a fairly big day in my life, for I finally finished and posted for sale the Jane Austen needlework projects I've made to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the first publication of Pride and Prejudice.

I've made quite a few little projects all to fit in a basket lined with handkerchiefs and filled with things like Jane Austen Stamps and some steel buttons from the era of Jane Austen, and of course some favorite needlework tools also from the era.

Far and away my favorite of my Jane Austen projects is my needle book called 'Pride and Prejudice, the Needle Book Edition'. It is the best and my favorite of the needle books I've made and with a lack of humility, I am proud of it.

Here are a handful of the reasons it is my favorite. First, I experimented with the form and actually made a stitched book, with spine and all. It took some engineering but it all worked and that pleased me. I'm not a very good finisher (as in 'assembling' not 'finishing the stitching) and I was happy to show a little ingenuity and still keep it simple enough for me to tackle.

Another reason I love my little needle book: I experimented with decorating the felt pages, and I enjoyed my choice of decorations: labels for the needles belonging to each of the 6 Bennets. I thought the attributions suited each of the Bennet sisters and Mrs. Bennet as well. DH helped me with these; he's a big Jane Austen fan too.

As an aside, do you find it interesting that Mrs. Bennet has no first name? She is only ever 'Mrs. Bennet'. It reminds me of the days in my own life when a woman never used her first name in signing a check (she used 'Mrs. John Doe' instead of 'Jane Doe') and we always addressed letters to 'Mr. and Mrs. John Doe'. That was a long while ago but I remember it well. Along with slips and white gloves.

Back to 'Pride and Prejudice, the Needle Book Edition'. I was pleased that the subtitle 'The Needle Book Edition' made DH chuckle and I gave myself  high marks for earning that chuckle. It is the best chuckle that one of my attempts has earned in a long while.

When I set about designing the alphabets I used for the needle book, I asked the advice of my Apple tutors who all have a geek's love of fonts and hugely pronounced opinions about them. I loved the experience because I learned about the differences and similarities in printing and stitching letters. When I spaced my lines irregularly, my tutors all questioned my decision and I realized we stitchers have a long tradition of spacing very different from that of the printed word.

I also confess, I enjoyed huffing and puffing myself up and telling my young tutors that stitched letters have as long and rich a tradition as does the printed word. Just think how far back the stitched letter and the stitched word go. One of the things I love best about needlework is its very long and rich history. We are not Janey-come-latelys, are we.

I thought of the long traditions of lettering the whole time I was designing the alphabets I used.  DH has a beautiful set of Jane Austen's novels from 1909, bound in green with gold lettering and I've always loved it. I used it as my inspiration for the needle book instead of the first edition of Pride and Prejudice. My needle book didn't end up looking like the green volumes from DH's set,  I see the seeds of the ideas of them in mine and I enjoy the reference.

I would remiss if I didn't mention how much I think my choice of ground fabrics contributed to the needle book. I am a canvasworker and usually work on congress cloth but this time I thought the design called for the tradition of linen. As an experiment  I designed for myself a small 'Pride and Prejudice' heart and stitched the heart five times on different ground fabrics. I've not worked often on linen and the hearts gave me a chance to audition possibilities. Almost immediately I fell totally in love with 25 count Legacy Linen. In the linen world this is a coarse ground and I understand why, but for a canvasworker wanting to translate her patterns onto a linen ground, this linen was a perfect step, almost interchangeable with congress cloth but more traditional in presentation.

I understand the idea that cross stitches look wonderful on the very fine ground fabrics, 34 count and finer, but as a canvasworker I rarely if ever use a cross stitch over 2 threads. As a rule, canvasworkers use a wider variety of stitches and the 25 count Legacy Linen gave my pattern choices a robust and textural appearance. I am a person who likes sparse thread coverage and on 34 count linen and even 30 count linen, I found the thread too crowded in the holes and therefore a bit flat looking.

One final reason for loving my needle book: I was a literature major in college and the needle book brought back a flood of pleasant associations from an earlier time in my life. When I stitched the bookmark I had originally planned to use a quote from Jane Austen herself on the backside; instead I used a favorite quote about Jane Austen from Virginia Woolf: 'of all great writers she (Jane Austen) is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness'.  Oh how true her observation.

Often when I finish a project, I almost always think to myself: if only I could do it again I would make it so much better. This time I didn't. I think I did the best with this needle book that I could do. A rare feeling, as I said and one that brings me a great deal of personal satisfaction.

Gay Ann

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