Posts Tagged ‘Regency embroidery’

At the Jane Austen Festival Australia (JAFA) in April 2012, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop run by Aylwen Gardiner-Garden, making a Regency lettercase to hold love-letters. Aylwen, with the help of Kleidung 1800, instructed us in the basic pattern and embroidery of some original examples of lettercases from this era.

I have since discovered that there are instructions for how to make a Regency lettercase in Jane Austen’s Sewing Box, by Jennifer Forrest, though from the pictures I have seen it is a different design.

My lettercase is made from cream silk, backed with cotton to stabilise the material during embroidery. It is embroidered with a purple and green thread, mostly in a small chain stitch and french knots, with a little bit of back stitch and satin stitch as well. It is lined with a layer of white cotton voile.

After much deliberation, I eventually came up with my own embroidery design by searching through the diagrams of embroidery designs that were published in Ackermann’s Repository from 1816 to 1825. I also decided that, as well as embroidering a French saying on it, I would add an English translation.

My three embroidered pieces

To give the lettercase a bit more rigidity, I inserted two thin pieces of card inbetween the lining layers of the two sections that would face the outside (i.e. the front and back, the ones embroidered with a bouquet of tulips).

In order to stop the silk fraying, I folded over all the raw edges and hand stitched each piece to its lining with a small running stitch before I assembled the pieces together.

The front and back are the same design

I then layered and folded the pieces together to form the lettercase and bordered the side edges with a thin piece of white crocheted lace interwoven with dark purple ribbon. I hand-sewed along these side edges, through all thicknesses, to form the inside pockets.

The inside, with the flaps sitting up

The finished lettercase opens in half to reveal two pockets on each side – one in front of each flap and one behind.

The inside, with the flaps sitting down-ish

I cannot honestly say how useful these items would have been in the eighteenth century or Regency times, as people received a prodigious amount of mail whenever they were separated from others by even a small distance. My understanding is that letters would generally be packaged up, maybe tied in bundles, and then stored in boxes either for future reference or to be passed on to future generations. In Madame Bovary (1856), Emma Bovary stores her letters from her lovers in a box in the attic.

In terms of storage, this type of lettercase would not hold very many letters, maybe 10 at the most, so it could have been more of a way to carry letters or documents to show others. Sarah Hurst (in 1759) often took the letters she received from her beloved to show to her friends.

Mine might hold the love-letters written to me by my husband, although these are admittedly not very numerous. I do regret not making my lettercase large enough to put a modern Valentine’s Day or anniversary card in it! I might have to get my husband to write me a little poem instead!

Embroidery is my cup of tea!

Relevant Posts

My Regency Journey: The Destination – JAFA 2012.

Sources and Relevant Links

An extant Regency lettercase, lavender with cream embroidery, around 1800.

An extant early Regency Silk Purse, pink with beige embroidery, 1780-1800.

A late Eighteenth Century pocketbook, white with coloured embroidery, 1780-1800. (scroll half way down)

A late Eighteenth Century lettercase, red with white embroidery – hopefully you can see it, as I did, on page 76 of this book, Fashion: The Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute, A History from the 18th to the 20th Century, as it is available through a preview on Google books.

A Lady’s Pocket Book or Letter Case, cream with coloured embroidery, 1780-1800.

Man or Woman’s Pocket Book, green with coloured and gold embroidery, 1700-1750.

Pocket Book with a lock of hair, cream with coloured and gold embroidery, 1760-1780.

Regency embroidery designs – from Ackermann’s Repository (1811-1815)

Regency embroidery designs – from Ackermann’s Repository (1816-1820)

Regency embroidery designs – from Ackermann’s Repository (1821-1825)

Jane Austen Festival Australia – website

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A reticule to match my ball gown, with tassels, pearls and white embroidery.

The ninth stop on my Regency Journey is to make a reticule, the Regency version of a handbag.

In the 18th century, women had carried their various personal effects in pockets worn underneath their wide dresses, but with the introduction of the long slim dresses of the Regency, pockets were discarded. Instead, women began to carry small bags, called reticules.

There was no “common” type of reticule in the Regency era, much like there is no “common” handbag today, but instead there was a wide range of designs, colours and embellishments used. There were knitted ones, netted ones, and others made out of fabric. They were decorated with embroidery, sequins, lace, tassels, ribbon and beads.

I wanted to make several reticules to match the different outfits I had made for the Jane Austen Festival. This meant that I could experiment with several different designs.

A round-shaped reticule to match one of my day dresses. It has a decorative strip of pin-tucked material sewn around the bottom half.

Making a Regency Reticule

There are many online tutorials and free patterns and instructions for making Regency reticules, so rather than repeat what has already been done, I will outline the basics.

The basics to making a reticule:

  • To make a reticule, make sure your material is at least 10-12 inches deep and, if you are doing a round-shaped reticule, 20 inches across. You need to have it big enough to put your hand in, as well as a fan, gloves and maybe a purse, car keys or mobile phone. (Mobile phones are DEFINITELY Regency! *wink*)
  • Regardless of your design, lining your reticule is preferable, as it gives a nicer finish because there are no raw seams showing. If you are gathering the bottom edge of the reticule (as you do for a round-shaped one), the lining will stop items falling out the bottom, as there is a small hole around the bottom gathers in the outer fabric.
  • Gather the top with a two-way drawstring, that way it is easier to close. It also means you have two nice handles to hold it by.

A reticule with matching bonnet. I embroidered my initial on the bag and did some ribbon embroidery flowers to decorate it. The pattern for this shape is pictured below.

My reticule pattern, on 1/4 inch grid paper

Other ideas:

  • There are quite a few different shapes that a reticule can take, so experiment with different patterns.
  • Embroidery on reticules was very common in Regency times. If you are not very confident doing your own embroidery, try and find some fabric that is already embroidered.
  • It is a good idea to finish decorating the outer bag before attaching the lining! I was amazed how difficult it was to attach tassels once the bag was made!
Whilst reticules did not always match the dress worn by a lady, making matching ones is a great way to use up left-over material! It’s my cup of tea!

The next stop on My Regency Journey is looking at Regency accessories.

You can read all of my posts in order at My Regency Journey.

Related Posts

My Regency Journey: In the beginning…

My Regency Journey: Making a ball gown

How to make a Regency Poke Bonnet in Ten Steps

Sources and Relevant Links

Different types of reticules – this site has links to quite a variety of period museum examples of Regency reticules

Free pattern for a reticule – I used this to make my ballgown reticule.

Video Tutorial for making a round drawstring bag

Regency Embroidery Patterns

Jane Austen Festival Australia – website


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