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 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.


  1. Soooo much to explore here! But I need to work on my block first!
    Smiling, Jeanne :)

  2. I purchased block base many years ago and now have a real reason to use it!
    See, it was waiting here for this project!

  3. can you give us an easier way to print the instructions? I don't have Block Base and so had to print all 25 pages of your post.

    1. If you click on the diagrams and the instructions and save them as a jpg then copy into a word file - they work perfectly

  4. Fantastique aventure que je vais suivre, pour l'histoire!!! Thanks a lot for this fanstastic work!!!

  5. Becky-Copy the text you want and save it to a word file. Edit out anything you don't want to print and then print the word file. That should work.

  6. Hi Barbara,are the sizes including seam alowwens ?

  7. I am reading a book called The Jane Austin Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler. It is about a group of ladies (and a man) who find their way to each other and form a book club and what happens in their lives. It is just fun reading.

    Thanks for doing all these blocks. I love making the quilts. I love the history as well.

  8. j'aime beaucoup les oeuvres de Jane Austen et sa période. merci pour le 1er bloc!

  9. Marianne---yes the cutting instructions include seam allowances so if you cut the pieces that size the block with finish to 12" square.

  10. I am going along with this project, in my own little way and even tho I am a very well experienced quilter, this first block was a nice start and a challenge but not too difficult for anyone to try! I have started a work in progress post on my own blog, as I work along with the blocks that you post...

  11. I'm confused on how to use the blockbase number. I try to put in the number you gave us but nothing happens. I guess I'm doing it wrong since I tried to get this weeks block with no success

  12. This is such an interesting blog - I have a friend who is a huge Jane Austen fan and I will share this with her. I am interested in the actual quilting history and enjoy reading about all the fabrics of the time etc.
    Thanks for doing this.

    perry94022 at hotmail dot com