36 free quilt blocks, one a week with a guide to Jane Austen's England and posts about the people in her life.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Block 4: Thrifty for Cassandra Leigh Austen

Block # 4: Thrifty by Becky Brown for Cassandra Leigh Austen, 
Jane's mother. 

Silhouette of Cassandra Leigh Austen (1739-1827)

Jane’s letters to sister Cass give us a view of two young women occasionally exasperated with their resident mother. Historians and critics have linked the elder Cassandra Austen to the embarrassing Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice.

 Mrs. Bennet by C.W. Brock, about 1890
He seems to have used Mrs. Austen's profile
and cap for a model.

Mrs. Austen may have had a few traits in common with the fictional and very silly Mrs. Bennet but Mrs. Austen was actually a witty, kind and industrious woman.

True: She may have had more than her share of illnesses, and exaggerated them to manipulate her unconventional daughters (she lived to be 87). True: Her hopes for Cass and Jane were probably quite different from those the girls entertained. There may have been some nagging, too many reminders about propriety and a few threats over a fluttering heart or a persistent headache.

The Colic by George Cruikshank.
The elder Cassandra seems to have suffered from digestive disorders.

But had her younger daughter never invented Mrs. Bennett, we might remember Mrs. Austen as an entertaining amateur poet and an organized woman who raised a large family well on a clergyman's salary.

Thrifty by Dustin Cecil

Cassandra Leigh, like her husband George, was a poor relative from good family. Kin had money, promised money and occasionally gave, willed and loaned money, but the Austens supplemented their two parish livings of £210 pounds a year as farmers, landlords and school keepers.

Steventon Rectory drawn from memory by
Jane's grand-niece Julia LeFroy.
Jane, the sixth of eight, was born here when her mother was about 36.

No matter how thrifty Mrs. Austen tried to be, the family was often in debt. As her daughter wrote in The Watsons:

“There are some circumstances which even women cannot control. Female economy will do a great deal… but it cannot turn a small income into a large one.”

Thrifty by Becky Brown
Becky, the fan of fussy-cutting, has cut the center square
B, which finishes to 4",  like this:

If you want a fussy cut, mitered center
cut a 5-1/4" square (or two) and then
cut it up into 4 triangles.

A pound

A guinea

Money in Jane Austen's England is confusing to Americans. The basics: one pound note was worth 20 shillings while a guinea, a gold coin, was worth 21 shillings (or more---based on the price of gold). Guineas were not only worth more literally, they had a cachet. Paying a debt in guineas added a flourish.

Cassandra Austen and daughter Cassandra
are buried in Chawton

BlockBase #1602 

We can remember Mrs. Austen with Thrifty---four patches in a nine-patch---given that name by the Kansas City Star's quilt pattern column in 1939.

Cutting a 12" Finished Block 

A - Cut 16 squares 2-1/2" x 2-1/2", half darks and half lights.

B - Cut 4 light and 1 dark of the larger squares 4-1/2" x 4-1/2".


Thrifty by Bettina Havig

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Block 3: Cross Within Cross for the Reverend George Austen

Block 3: Cross Within Cross for the Reverend George Austen
by Bettina Havig

George Austen 1731-1805

Jane Austen’s father might have been the model for Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Bennet. The Rev. Austen was a pleasant, educated man of good family without promising prospects. He loved his children and his library. 

Lizzie Bennet and her father
from Pride and Prejudice,
illustration by C.E. Brock, about 1900

Jane’s exaggerated Bennet family is very funny but her father is not the bumbling Mr. Bennet and he was not so beleaguered by the women in his life.

George Austen was born into good family but as the son of a younger son he faced the challenge dictated by English laws of inheritance, directing wealth from one generation to another in a bundle that passed down to eldest sons. George’s father was a surgeon who died young, as did his mother, leaving him and two sisters in the care of various relatives. 

Cross Within Cross 
by Becky Brown

George was gentry without land or hopes of inheritance. In Jane Austen’s England he had few gentrified options. Gentlemen did not labor or engage in trade. He might join the bar as a barrister, the armed forces as an officer, or the state Church of England. 

The first step in his career was a degree in divinity from Oxford University financed by a patron, Uncle Francis Austen.

George Austen from a silhouette commissioned 
by distant cousin and benefactor Thomas Knight II

Another relative, second cousin Jane Monk’s husband, was patron for the next necessary step. Jane's husband Thomas Knight awarded George a parish, what was known as “a living.” As landowner, Knight owned rights to the churches on his estates.

The door at St. Nicholas by Ellen G. Hill, about 1900.

George was given the right to preside as a rector at the Anglican church of St. Nicholas in the small village of Steventon in Hampshire. The living entitled the rector to a home---the rectory--- and at St. Nicholas £100 annually (equal to about £6,400 or a little over $10,000 in our times).

Jane Austen's baptismal record from St. Nicholas’s archives.
George was in his early forties when Jane, his seventh child, was born.

 Deane is north of Steventon

A few years later Uncle Francis bought George the living of the adjacent parish in Deane, which doubled his annual income in 1772---not quite enough to raise a family of six boys and two girls without running a small boarding school and a farm too.

St. Nicholas Church, Steventon, Hampshire
Rev. Austen was Curate here from 1764 to 1800.

Cross Within Cross 
by Dustin Cecil

 BlockBase #2495

Cross Within Cross was given the name by the Ladies Art Company in the early 20th century. The block can represent George Austen’s career as “a pluralist,” a minister who tended two parishes.

Cutting a 12" Finished Block

A - Cut 4 squares 3-1/2" x 3-1/2".  

B - Cut 4 squares 3-7/8"x 3-7/8".
Cut each in half diagonally to make 2 triangles.  You need 8 triangles.

 C - Cut 2 squares 4-7/8"x 4-7/8".

Cut each in half diagonally to make 2 triangles. You need 4 of the larger triangles.

D - Cut 4 rectangles 5-5/8 x 2-1/2". You'll trim these to points after you've made the center square.
E - Cut 1 square 2-1/2" x 2-1/2".


Cross Within Cross 
by Becky Brown

When reading Jane Austen's novels where incomes are so important to the plot, it helps to have a converter so you can see how much George Austen's £100 or Mr. Darcy's £10,000 a year is worth in our terms.

Here's one:

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Block 2: Sister's Choice for Cassandra E. Austen

Block 2: Sister's Choice
for Cassandra Austen by Becky Brown

Cassandra Elizabeth Austen, 1773-1845

Cassandra was Jane’s older sister, her life-long companion. Affection between the sisters made a pleasant state of what is too often slighted as spinsterhood. Because neither married nor pursued separate lives they remained happily in the same home. 

The sisters spent their younger years at Steventon (yellow star)
and their later years at Chawton (red star).

Their relationship as the only girls in a houseful of brothers and boarders matured into the warm center of a fond, extended family.

Fashion plate from the 
Ladies' Monthly Museum, 1800

Cassandra’s own love story is a classic tragedy of the kind we don’t find in her sister’s plots. As a girl Cass fell in love with a boarder at her father’s school. Her fiancĂ© died young and her heart never seems to have sought a replacement. Tom Fowle died of a tropical disease while serving in the Georgian era's continuing wars as a chaplain on a mission to the West Indies. He willed his small legacy to Cass, which might have made her a dowry had she chosen to marry. Instead, interest on Tom’s gift provided a yearly allowance, enough to buy a few luxuries for her sister and herself.

Block 2: Sister's Choice
 by Dustin Cecil

Cassandra’s reasons for spinsterhood remain unknown. The romantic among us believe she mourned Tom too deeply to ever love again; the practical reader might believe she chose a satisfactory life as a single woman with a little money and a large, loving family. 

Illustration by Isabel Bishop for a 1976 edition
of Pride & Prejudice.
Read more about this illustrator here:

Cass outlived most of her siblings, notably Jane who died when Cass was in her mid-forties. The sister who lost “the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow,” continued her life in their house at Chawton with their widowed mother and housemate Martha Lloyd.

The cottage at the crossroads in Chawton
by Ellen G. Hill, about 1900.
Cassandra lived here from 1809 until her death 36 years later.

We know Cass through Jane’s many letters to her and a few of Cassandra’s. The women were close. Cass’s eulogy in a letter to their niece: “ I had not a thought concealed from her, and it is as if I had lost a part of myself.”  But they were different ---as different as chalk and cheese, as the British say. According to Jane, Cass had “starched notions,” and we can see she lacked Jane’s sharp sense of irony, although she provided an excellent audience for Jane’s jokes.

Block 2: Sister's Choice
 by Bettina Havig

Sister's Choice was given the name by the Ladies's Art Company, a St. Louis pattern house, about 1890. The block in different shadings and with different seams lines has many names, but Sister's Choice seems perfect to remember Cassandra Austen.

BlockBase #1802c
(When looking for the pattern number in 
BlockBase be sure to type in the letter c.)

Cutting a 12" Finished Block

A - Cut 17 squares 2-7/8"x 2-7/8" of various shades. 

B -  Cut 4 squares 3-1/4"x 3-1/4"  of light and 4 of dark. Cut each in half diagonally to make 2 triangles. 

You'll need 8 dark and 8 light triangles.


Cassandra and her mother (also named Cassandra) are buried at 
St. Nicholas' Church in Chawton, Hampshire.

Block 2: Sister's Choice
 by Becky Brown

Read more about Cassandra Austen in an essay by Laura Boyle:

The best source for the letters between Cassandra and Jane are the most recent books edited by Deirdre Le Fay, but you can find earlier, less incusive editions on line, such as this 1908 version edited by her grand-nephew Edward, Lord Brabourne and Sarah Chauncey Woolsey. Click to see the Project Gutenberg versions:

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Block 1: Bright Star for Jane Austen

Block 1: Bright Star for Jane Austen
by Bettina Havig
Bettina is using pastels to capture the English palette.

For the next 36 weeks we will be making pieced quilt blocks for an Austen Family Album Quilt, creating a patchwork portrait of the life, family and times of the British novelist Jane Austen. The Janeites among us need no introduction to Miss Austen, but we hope future fans taking up this project will be encouraged to discover these 200-year-old novels. We begin with Jane Austen herself.

Jane Austen 1775-1817
 This watercolor of Jane commissioned 
for an 1869 biography recently sold at Sotheby's for £164,500.

Jane was born to an Anglican clergyman the year before British colonists in North America declared independence from King George III. A single woman, she lived in southeast England with her parents and sister all her life, a deplorably short life. She died at the age of 41 in 1817 of a chronic disease, which has been diagnosed at this distance as possibly Addison’s disease or lymphoma. 

She lived during England’s long Georgian era. Six of her romantic novels were published between 1811 and 1818, during the Regency period. They appeared anonymously ("By a Lady") and were well-received by everyone from royalty to fellow literary immortals. 

Watercolor of Jane by her sister,  
Cassandra Elizabeth Austen,
signed C.E.A. 1804 on the reverse

Jane spent much of her life in Hampshire,
the southern county or shire indicated with a star
on this unfinished, embroidered map of Great Britain.
County maps changed after Jane's death.
Hampshire sometimes confuses Americans 
because its abbreviation is Hants.

Bright Star by Dustin Cecil
Dustin is using three pieces of Dupioni silk for this set of blocks.

Jane Austen was neither the first to write romantic fiction nor the first famous female novelist. She was influenced by earlier novels of Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth, Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding. But somehow she became the first modernist. Readers still enjoy the world she created with dialogue and description, showing us that people two centuries ago were much like us, flawed, funny, proud, prejudiced, greedy, foolish and stubborn.

The virtuous Cecilia in Fanny Burney’s 1782 novel 
overcomes fortune’s loss, skulking villains and 
feverish insanity in her long-term goal of helping the poor.

I have no skills as a literary critic so I recommend John Mullan’s 2012 book, What Matters in Jane Austen. He points out that Jane’s heroines, unlike Burney’s Cecilia or Richardson’s Pamela, were not flawless symbols of virtue, noting that Jane declared, “Pictures of perfection... make me sick & wicked.” We see characters such as Lizzie Bennet and Emma Woodhouse growing into a knowledge of their own shortcomings and self-delusion. And that growth is portrayed in unconventional fashion.

"Of all great writers she is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness," claimed novelist Virginia Woolf perhaps because, as Mullan writes: “Any novelist can tell us what a character feels; Austen developed a means of declining to tell us.”

 Illustration from The Mysteries of Udolfo by Ann Radcliffe. 
Jane’s Northanger Abbey satirizes the improbable gothic novel.

Bright Star by Becky Brown
This is Becky's block in the Ladies' Album collection

We can start this series with Bright Star for Jane herself. Bright Star was given the name by the Nancy Cabot column in the Chicago Tribune in 1934.

BlockBase #1273
(Each week you'll get a BlockBase number so you can print out
the patterns any size you like. BlockBase is my digital quilt pattern
program for PC's. Read more about it in the column on the left.)

Cutting a 12" Finished Block

A - Cut 10 squares 2-7/8"x 2-7/8"  of various shades. Cut each in half diagonally to make 2 triangles. 

You will need 20 triangles of different shades.

B - Cut 2 squares 6-7/8"x 6-7/8". Cut each in half diagonally to make 2 triangles. 

You will need 4 large triangles.

C - Cut 2 squares 4-7/8"x 4-7/8". Cut each in half diagonally to make 2 triangles. 

You will need 4 medium-sized triangles.

Bright Star by Becky Brown
Becky is doing a second set in blues and browns.

See the description of the recently sold portrait at Sothebys auctions:

Here's a link to a review in the Austen Only blog of John Mullan's What Matters in Jane Austen.

And see a link to the book over in the left-hand column.
Mr. Collins of Pride & Prejudice never read novels.
Illustration by Hugh Thomson.