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Inquiring readers, Brenda Cox has contributed yet another fascinating post. This one is about Jane Austen’s cross-stitched sampler. Is it hers or not? Find out as Ms. Cox explores the possibilities using an extensive amount of research and conversations with Jane Austen expert Deirdre Le Faye. Find her blog Faith, Science, Joy, … and Jane Austen at this link.

Picture 1 Austen Sampler

Did Jane Austen stitch this sampler? (Photos are of a reproduction. The white marks below the word “out” are damage to the print, not the sampler.)

Someone named Jane Austen stitched this lovely, well-worn sampler in 1797 or 1787. It is cross-stitched on linen, mostly in plum and green silk, with quotes from the Psalms. The text says 1797, but may have originally said 1787. Stitches below the 9 seem to have been picked out or frayed.  If it was done in 1787, Jane Austen would have been almost twelve years old. It appears the stitching could have been done by a girl around that age.

I have a reproduction of the sampler which I bought at the Jane Austen Centre in Bath some years ago. They no longer offer it. The original is in a private collection, though it was displayed at Oxford’s Bodleian Library in 2012. But was the sampler stitched by the novelist Jane Austen?

Samplers

In Northanger Abbey, Henry Tilney tells Catherine Morland he was at Oxford while she was “a good little girl working [her] sampler at home.” (“Not very good, I’m afraid,” Catherine responds.)  Girls often stitched samplers as a way of learning sewing and the alphabet.

The Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton displays a sampler worked by Jane’s sister Cassandra, or possibly by their niece of the same name. Many samplers of the time were much like Cassandra’s. They display different stitches, alphabets, and numbers. The young lady could refer to her sampler later when she did more complex projects or stitched initials on items of clothing.

Picture 2 Cassandra's Sampler

Cassandra Austen’s Sampler. Courtesy of Jane Austen’s House Museum, Chawton

Picture 3 Jane Austen sampler - alphabet

Alphabet at the top of the Jane Austen Sampler. Letters in between each pair are in a lighter, faded color. The P’s are backwards here, but correct in the verses below.

The two samplers are about the same size. Both are about 10” wide and 11 to 12” high. The capital letters on the Jane Austen sampler are very similar to the smaller cross-stitched capital letters on Cassandra’s sampler. (Cassandra’s larger capitals are sewn with a different stitch.) These were probably standard styles of stitching.

Much of the Jane Austen sampler is different from Cassandra’s, though, since it quotes from the Psalms. This helped the stitcher learn Bible verses along with the alphabet.

Why the Psalms? Austen’s Church of England used The Book of Common Prayerfor worship. It includes daily readings from the Psalms, taken from the 1535 Coverdale translation of the Bible. The whole book of Psalms is read every month, so it was very familiar to Austen and her family. The sampler quotes various verses, in no particular order. Each line starts with a capital letter, but most verses do not start a new line.

The Verses from the Psalms

Picture 4 Jane Austen sampler - Psalms

The verses from the Psalms are in a continuous stream.

The following verses are quoted. Some are not exact quotes from the Psalms in the prayer book.

Praise the Lord o my Soul and all that is within me Praise his holy Name (Ps. 103:1)

as long as I live will I praise The Lord I will give thanks unto God while I have My Being (paraphrased fromPs. 104:33, “I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live : I will praise my God while I have my being.”)

sing unto the Lord o ye Kingdoms of the Earth o sing praise unto the Lord (paraphrased from Ps. 68:32 “Sing unto God, O ye kingdoms of the earth : O sing praises unto the Lord”)

Give the Lord the Honour doe [?] unto his Name worship the Lord with holy Worship (Psalm 29:2, with “doe” substituted for “due”)

in the Time of trouble I will call upon the Lord and he will hear me (from Ps 86:7 “In the time of my trouble I will call upon thee : for thou hearest me.”)

Turn thy Face from my Sins and put out all my Misdeeds (Ps 51:9)

Picture 5 Jane Austen sampler - trees and name and more


A border of flowers (or possibly geometric shapes) surrounds the Psalms.  Below are flowering trees with a bird, and “Jane Austen, 1797.

Is this Jane Austen the novelist, or another Jane Austen?

Deirdre Le Faye, an expert on Jane Austen, believes that the stitcher was another Jane Austen, probably a second cousin of the author of Pride and Prejudice. These are her arguments, followed by my own, definitely non-expert, thoughts:

  1. The date is 1797, but appears to have originally been 1787. Sometimes a date on a sampler would be changed to make a woman appear to be younger than she was.  Le Faye asks, “Would the eminently honest and straightforward Austens have bothered with such a petty deception?”

I agree that this seems out of character for Jane Austen and her family. However, descriptions I have seen of the sampler say some of the stitching has “come away.” It may be that it was not purposely changed, but that the stitches came loose over time. The sampler has been folded and somewhat damaged. The “9” (or “8”) is at the center, possibly on a fold line. The “A” directly above the number is also not very clear.

Picture 6 Jane Austen sampler - name and date


Closeup of name and date

2. The verses seem to be chosen haphazardly and are all run together.  There is also a simple spelling error (“doe” for “due”), which Le Faye thinks our Jane Austen would not have made. Le Faye asks, “Would Jane—bright as we know she was in her childhood—have copied texts inaccurately from the psalms in her Prayerbook?”

Perhaps the young Jane Austen would not have made such a spelling error. However, there are misspellings and random capitalizations in her early Juvenilia. Also, the single stitch that makes the middle letter of “due” into an “o” is very tiny, like all the cross stitches on this small sampler. It is not very clear on my reproduction, and at first I thought it was a “u” but a bit blurred. It may be a stitching error rather than a spelling error.

The inaccuracy of the texts is a bigger issue, and it does seem odd that the verses are all run together. The changes within the verses are minor, as you can see above.  These verses would have been very familiar to the Austen family, who probably read from the Psalms daily. So we might have expected Jane to stitch them correctly. However, perhaps they were familiar enough that Jane was stitching them from memory. We know she was creative and imaginative. She may have been stitching verses as they came to mind, in ways that resonated with her. The meanings are expressed well.

On the other hand, even at a young age, it does seem more likely that “our” Jane Austen would have put the verses together in a more organized, accurate fashion. Deirdre Le Faye adds that, since Jane’s father was a rector, he probably would have corrected any mistakes that she made in quoting the Psalms. He might even have helped her choose verses to include.

 

3. The main issue is the provenance (the history of ownership) of the sampler. According to an earlier article that Le Faye refers to, in 1976 the sampler was “owned by a Mrs Molly Proctor, who was given it by Mrs I. Thompson of Rochester, whose grandfather, Mr Frederick Nicholls of Whitstable, was a grandson of a cousin of Jane Austen.” It was sold at auction in 1996 for 2,185 pounds.

This provenance was passed down orally and not in writing. There is no indication of who the cousin might be.  Austen had only a few first cousins: Eliza de Feuillide, Jane and Edward Cooper, James and Phylly Walter. Le Faye continues, “Only Edward Cooper and James Walter left descendants, all of whom lived in the Midlands” (central England).

Whitstable, mentioned in the provenance of the sampler, is quite some distance away, on the coast of northern Kent in southeastern England (north of Canterbury).  There is no record of any cousins of the Steventon Austen family living in that area. And the name “Frederick Nicholls” is not found among the Austen relations in R. A. Austen-Leigh’s Pedigree of Austen. So it seems unlikely that Nicholls was connected with the novelist Jane Austen in a different part of the country.

Le Faye therefore suggests that the sampler was probably done by a different woman named Jane Austen, of a similar age, in Kent. She gives two possibilities:

  • There was an Austen family in Ramsgate and Loose, near Maidstone in Kent. They were related to the Austens of Steventon through a sixteenth-century ancestor. It’s possible they had their own “Jane Austen.”
  • Jane Austen did have a second cousin named Jane Austen who lived in Kent. They had the same great-grandfather, John Austen IV of Broadford, who died in 1704. His son Francis Austen had a son named Francis-Motley Austen (1747-1815) who lived at Kippington near Sevenoaks in Kent. Francis-Motley had a daughter named Jane Austen. She lived from 1776 (the year after the novelist Jane was born) until 1857. This Jane Austen married William-John Campion in 1797 and had children. It’s possible that she stitched the sampler and left it to relatives who passed it down through the family.

The two Jane Austens probably met in 1788, when the George Austen family visited Jane’s great-uncle Francis Austen and his family at Sevenoaks. Our Jane was twelve, her second cousin Jane about a year younger.  We don’t know what they thought of each other.

At this point there is no definitive proof as to whether the sampler was sewn by “our” Jane Austen, by her second cousin in Kent, or by some other Jane Austen.

At the very least we can say that it was a sampler stitched at around the same time as our Jane Austen probably made her own, and most likely somewhere in southern England. It may have been in a similar style to whatever sampler she sewed. And she or one of her relatives may have stitched it. So we can enjoy it as another small window into Jane Austen’s world.

 (By the way, is there a genealogist out there who can track down a Mr Frederick Nicholls of Whitstable who was a grandson of a cousin of a Jane Austen? A Jane Austen who was a young girl in 1787 or 1797? Which Jane Austen was she?)

 

Brenda S. Cox writes on “Faith, Science, Joy . . . and Jane Austen!” She is working on a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England. Her previous contribution to this blog can be found at this link: George Austen’s Spiritual Advice to his Son Francis Austen. 

Sources

“Which Jane Austen Stitched this Sampler?” by Deirdre Le Faye.  Collected Reports of the Jane Austen Society, Vol. 5 (1996-2000), pp 233-35. Also personal correspondence with Deirdre Le Faye.

Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters, by William Austen-Leigh and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh (1913), discusses the “Motley Austen” branch of the family in chapters 1 and 4.

Jane Austen: A Family Record by Deirdre Le Faye (Cambridge University Press, second edition, 2004) mentions the family of the other Jane Austen (the second cousin) on pages 2-3, 64, and 78.

More on the Topic

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Infant’s hand-embroidered dress, c. 1815-1820. Image @Vintage Textiles.

Whenever I view fashion plates and clothes from 200 years ago with Vandyke points, my gaze always lingers. I love these deeply indented trims and decorations, whether they are made of lace or cloth. These are sewn by hand! Imagine the work that went into them.

Vandyke points on the sleeves of a girl’s dress, 1815-1820. Image @Vintage Textile

Delicate muslin border. Image @Vintage Textile

These trims were named after Sir Anthony Van Dyck, a 17th-century Flemish painter (and popular portraitist for British royalty and the upper crust), who was known for painting elaborate V-shaped lace collars and scalloped edges on both his male and female sitters. The pointed vandyke beard was named after him. You can see an example of both in the portrait of Charles I below.

Anthony Van Dyck’s triple portrait of Charles I. Notice the scalloped edge lace collars and pointed vandyke beard.

Vandyke points are labor intensive. The edges you see in the sample of a child’s dress are sewn by hand, as are the tucks. One can only imagine how much time it took, but the results are striking.

Notice the Vandyke points. Love this Heideloff fashion image, 1794-98.

All of the lade edges were once hand-tatted; they are now machine made, but no less spectacular.

Modern reproduction of a regency gown using lace with vandyke points

Vandyke points edged skirts:

Muslin dress with vandyke edging, 1820-1825. Image @Christie’s

They embellished lace caps and collars:

Vandyke points on lace cap and on collar, detail of an Ackermann plate, morning gown, April 1812.

And edged necklines:

1818 ballgown with satin vandyke points edging

They were used to decorate hems:

Silk European dress, ca. 1819-22. Image @MetMuseum

And are still made for modern edgings:

Modern lacy knit with vandyke points

17th century antique clothes looked rich and splendid with these added lace embellishments:

Italian collar with sharp lace points, 1610

For embroidery stitches and lace tatting, click on the following link: Van Dyke online tatting: This article demonstrates how to tat your own Vandyke point lace. Warning. Time consuming. And the link in the caption to the image below:

Vandyke embroidery stitch – a nice way to fill in leaves and flowers. Image @Windy River embroidery stitch tutorial

More on the topic:

Rolinda Sharple’s painting of the Cloakroom at Clifton shows a number of dresses with vandyke points. This one demonstrates several rows of lace with scalloped edges, and sharp-edged embroidery patterns.

Please note: Green links are WordPress Ads.

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Jane Austen was an accomplished needlewoman, as so many women were in times past. In Jane Austen: Her Homes and Her Friends, Constance Hill describes Jane and her mother and sister, Cassandra, settling into a routine at Chawton House of gardening, reading, writing, and needlework. Today, a visitor to the house can see the quilt the three women created, as well as a few samples of Jane’s other needlework. (Above: Detail of the quilt at Chawton House)

Baptism cloth, 1800, shows a fine example of chain stitch embroidery during this period. This is not one of Jane Austen needlework samples.

This Norwich Shawl was embroidered in 1800, and used an embroidery pattern that would have been popular in northern Europe.

To learn more about Jane Austen as a needlewoman, click on the following links:

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