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 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 fiancé 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:


  1. You comments on the depth of affection between the two women are quite moving. Melville observed that the closest of all human relationships was between sisters. In some cases that seems to be true.

  2. I have a sister who is three years older than I, and she is very special to me. She is also a Jane Austen fan (although not a quilter), and this week's lesson and block make me think of her with much love. Thank you for this project.

  3. I am having a problem printing this. Images on all but page 1 overlapped. Is there a way to print out the block instructions by themselves that I am not seeing here?

    Thanks for the wonderful Austen quilt along!

  4. even tho this is only the second block of this series, I am totally enjoying the project and the connecting stories... Makes me wish for a sister!

  5. Thank you for this BOW . This is the first of this type that I have followed. I'm an experienced quilter but I usually do my own thing. I really enjoy applique but these blocks go together so well. I decided to make tree color ways . One for myself, one for a gift and one QOV.