Bookfest exhibition: The World of Jane Austen (Stitched)

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The World of Jane Austen (Stitched) is an illustration project based on the recurring themes and imagery in the work of Jane Austen.  From the red coats of the militia to the elegance of a grand house, the rich universe of her books have been explored in detailed embroidery.

This series of fabric illustrations use modern colours, materials and patterns to bring to life the objects, people and situations that would have been familiar to contemporary readers.

The first part of this project was presented in a physical exhibition as part of Portsmouth Bookfest 2020. The second part is presented below as a digital gallery. 

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Part 1: February 2020

Introduction:

In June 2019 I created what I thought was a single piece – a mini quilt  featuring the key features of the novel Pride and Prejudice, as an example of my commissioned work. I loved making the piece and when it was completed was compelled to take some of the elements from it to work up into larger illustrations, adding more detail and texture (these turned into the Country  Estate and Militia images). 

While completing these two larger illustrations I reacquainted myself with Jane Austen’s stories and, head filled with dancing, scandalous elopements and the delights of Bath, I knew I had to continue the project.  Instead of illustrating the specific stories I decided to create a series of works on the recurring themes in Jane Austen’s work, and the particular features of the Regency world, such as balls, carriages and bonnets. This is partly because of a personal interest in historical costume and social history, but also because grouping the works together and looking at them at a whole creates a new and intriguing  narrative, highlighting the differences between our world and theirs, as well as the themes that were important to the author. I am interested in the things the stories have in common, the types of people, the locations, the occupations and the situations the characters find themselves in.  

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Part 1 Gallery: Illustrations of Recurring Themes

Click on image for expanded view

The World of Jane Austen (Stitched): 2020

Mixed Media Textiles

Most of the themed pieces are inspired not only by the books but also other adaptations and interpretations that have been made since publishing. This includes  illustrations from the early printed editions, Illustrated fashion plates from the 1800s, modern versions (such as Alice Pattullo’s Pride and Prejudice) as well as the wide variety of television and film adaptations that have been made.  

Each piece has been hand-stitched using a range of textile materials and techniques from appliqué and embroidery to fabric paint and the application of beads and ribbon. 

Part 1 Gallery: Portaits 

Click on image for expanded view

All of the pieces in this exhibition are made using a specific colour scheme and fabric texture which are all based on one fabric – part of the Tiger Lily collection by Heather Ross.

I found this fabric when I was designing the Pride and Prejudice Book Quilt.  It had the modern feel I was looking for, with a floral subject that would fit into the Regency theme. Importantly it   also included some of the colours that I knew would be used in the quilt (the yellow, green and dark brown of the country estates) and complemented others (the vibrant red of the Militia’s uniforms). 

I decided to base the whole quilt around this fabric and paired the rest of the colours to match. This included a neutral coloured natural cotton, and a range of rich golds, reds and oranges.  Notably I have avoided using any cooler blues or purples, which has led to a warm, rich feel to the pieces. 

When I decided to continue the project into a series of  illustrations, I also kept the colour scheme and went searching for additional fabrics that would fit this tight brief. In addition to the restrictions in colour I also had to find fabric that had a small print (because of the size of the images) or that had an interesting texture that would be picked up when  photographed. This texture mainly comes from a range of  velvets, double gauzes, and natural cotton and linens that have visible woven threads. 

I am pleased with the overall effect of the restricted materials. The colours and prints are modern enough to appeal to a contemporary eye, while the natural fabrics, and gauzes add a pleasing and rustic texture to set the context in history. 

Part 2: February 2021

I have continued working on this project throughout 2020 and for this second part have collated a further 9 illustrations, which you can view in the gallery below. 

This second set of illustrations continues to explore the recurring themes in Jane Austen's work. I have looked at the images in part 1 and tried to create a second set that compliment the first but also fill in some of the gaps left in the narrative.

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Part 2 Gallery: Illustrations of Recurring Themes

Click on image for expanded view

Part 2 Gallery: Details of Illustrations

The World of Jane Austen (Stitched): 2021

Mixed Media Textiles

Plans for the future

At the start of this project I anticipated it would take me two years to produce enough illustrations to fill a book – roughly 24.  I am currently at 20 so although close, I still have a couple more to complete. I've got plans for a few more: Carriages, Elopement, Illness, Sea Bathing and Walking in the Countryside.  When these are made I will be able to design and print a book featuring all of the illustrations. This has been a long term project and I appreciate everyone who has followed me through the journey! 

The greetings cards and brooches based on the first set of illustrations have proved popular in my Etsy shop and have been shipped worldwide, so there may be a further line of Jane Austen products too.

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