As someone who spends a lot of my working life knee deep in history and heritage, I fear that we often have a romantic and unreal view of the past. We like the muslin dresses, the bonnets and Pemberley. But we are far less keen on the outdoor toilets and the sewage in the streets, not to mention the injustices of the class system and the slave trade...if we think about them at all.
History, and particularly Jane Austen, can be seen as all so very romantic, touched with the wand of a fairy tale. But there were very real reasons why the suffragettes and the Chartists, just to name a few, actively campaigned for social and political reform.
A new book Longbourn, by Jo Baker touches on these realities of Regency life. This book is beautiful, poignant, touching, gritty, real and, without a shred of doubt, a true Regency masterpiece. This is Jane Austen's world as it really was, the layers stripped bare, the harsh realities of life for the majority of people laid out with sensitivity, tenderness and care by the author.
I was nervous about reading Longbourn: many "Jane Austen" books have left me dissatisfied, they were never as good as the original themselves. It is very hard to compete with Jane Austen, this world is after all her turf, she knew it far better than any of us modern day readers and authors. But, and I don't say this lightly, Jo Baker has written the best book I've ever read on the Regency era.
I will not be forgetting the lives of Longbourn's staff: Mrs Hill, Sarah, James, Polly and Mr Hill. Nor Jo Baker's portryal of Pemberley, Elizabeth and Darcy. No plot spoilers here you just have to read it!
I'm sure this book will be read and loved by many. And it should be.
The real story behind the pure white muslin dress.
Photo Credit: Flickr Wolfgang Lonien
There’s a hidden secret which I want to share with you today. I’ve heard whispers of it from time to time, been told stories, read about it in history books and glimpsed it with my own eyes... are you ready?
Men used to knit! And embroider and net and pretty much do all sorts of craft, which women mostly do now.
Let me offer three tiny pieces of evidence:
1. I recently read a great book called Swing by Sailor: True Stories From the War Brides of HMS Victorious by Catherine Dyson. It tells the story of 700 Australian wives of British servicemen, how they met their husbands, their journey to England on a British navy ship in 1946 and their lives in the UK. It was a long and boring voyage so all sorts of entertainment was sought. One war bride, Irene Real recalls:
“We had a craft competition and everyone had to enter something for it, so I got involved... a petty officer won the competition; he had done this beautiful tablecloth of pansies, and he’d padded them out. His work was minutely perfect - stitch for stitch it was so perfect. Their knitting was beautiful, and their paintings, and it was the first time I saw tatting. The sailors did them because of the time they spend on board. It was just exquisite.”
2. Captain Harville in Jane Austen’s Persuasion uses his spare time at home to net fishing nets.
3. The National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth, UK celebrates the “long history of crafts in the Navy” noting that men used to knit and stitch pictures, slippers and toys for their children.
I know that there are some men who still happily knit and the creative crafty male community is alive and strong. Yet I fear today it is far more acceptable to teach a young girl to knit or sew than a young boy. I once taught a class of five year olds to sew at a historic homestead: a class full of little girls and not one boy in sight.
I’m curious: when did men and knitting needles part ways?
As a young child in the 1980s, I remember an elderly family friend proudly showing off his very good embroidery: his retirement hobby. But even then, he was rare.
Further back, a relative of mine who grew up in the 1940s and 1950s remembers that men were always making something in her childhood. It wasn’t unusual to see a man knitting or making something. They would often carry a knife and whittle wood into whistles or toys. She recalls though by about the mid-1960s you just didn’t see men “making stuff.”
So what happened? Why did they stop?
I gave a talk about Jane Austen and her creative women at Marnoo last week for Library Lovers' Day. I've given talks in all sorts of places but never in Marnoo, which I was very excited about! Why you ask? Because I'm very happy to be Jane's ambassador and take her into the Wimmera county which looks a lot like this photo below right now. This is not quite remote Australia but it is definitely off the beaten track, as the saying goes!
As I was driving to Marnoo, it did occur to me that this was Jane Austen country. Ok, the countryside may not be the lush green hills of England this year, with gothic bridges and medieval castles. Further south from the Wimmeria, it was beautifully green last year and looked a lot more like this.
Yellow grass or green: this is country that Jane Austen would have understood. Marnoo is sheep and wheat country. She grew up in small country towns surrounded by sheep and crops. Jane also worked with "three or four families in a country village" as the basis for her novels, and many towns like Marnoo have tiny populations. In 1814 Jane provided this advice to her niece Anna about her writing:
"You are now collecting your people delightfully, getting them exactly into such a spot as is the delight of my life. Three or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on, and I hope you will do a great deal more, and make full use of them while they are so very favourably arranged."
Jane would have made a brilliant story out of three or four families in Marnoo. She didn't need social media, 24 hour news or constent stimulus to create six masterpieces: Jane worked with what she had.
A few crafty and design photos from Malaysia, a thank you and a couple of book reviews today.
Malaysia, Melaka and the Silk Route
We went to Melaka in Malaysia over Christmas. Partly because we had itchy travel feet and also because Melaka sounded really interesting. During the 14th and 15th century it was part of the maritime silk route. Everyone knows about the overland Silk Road but Melaka was the meeting spot for many trading ships from China, India, South-East Asia and the Arabian Penisula. Visiting a couple of the many museums in Melaka, it sounded to me like almost everything was traded there!
My personal interest is of course craft, textiles and designs so here are a few photos from Melaka on those themes.
I remember doing batik at primary school but nothing like this! We went to the Batik House which is a centre for keeping the traditional craft alive. They have an enormous shop and underneath a huge workspace to teach the art. I enjoyed watching the artist's smooth sweeping strokes as he poured the wax outline on and then filled it with ink.
There was a hole in the wall kind of shop just down from our hotel. One day it was packed with Christmas decorations, the next day they had completely replaced it with Chinese new year: lanterns and red paper cut outs.
Melaka has a river running up through the side of it where at one point (before it silted up) 2000 trading ships would come to rest. Now it is much smaller and lined with houses and gorgeous tiled bridges. Melaka's bridges, buildings and steps are dotted with many lovely almost art noveaux tiles like this one.
And the last thing I was expecting to find was a craft shop that would have fitted perfectly into my Australian country town! It was a truly lovely handmade craft store full of divine bags, purses, patterns, dolls and fabric. They also ran classes. It is called Heart Handy, just off Jonker St in China Town. I spoke with the proprietor who said that she and her friends found a lot of their inspiration in magazines and showed me a bookcase full of them!
Two short book reviews keeping with the theme of writing and traveling for you this week. These are both books I have read in the last few months in preparation for going to Malaysia and of course, for my work as an author.
APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch.
You wouldn't believe how many times I've had people tell me they want to write a book. It usually happens after I quietly mention that I write books! So for anyone interested in what you need to do to actually get those words down, then edit them, then either self-publish or find a mainstream publisher this book is pretty much the best I've ever read on the topic. (And I have read a few.) It covers the whole life cycle, you could say of an author's work and is an invaluable resource.
The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw
I read this novel in preparation for going to Melaka. I couldn't put it down, it was perhaps not so strangely really compelling reading. I think this was for two reasons. I haven't really read that much about Malaysia so it was a fairly new story and history for me. And I really enjoyed the plot device Tash Aw used. It is a plot device I would aspire to one day after I have had a lot more writing experience I suspect! The story is told in three parts by three different people. It is each person's view of what happened and what the main character, Johnny is like. I found it thought provoking and insightful.
A big thank you to everyone who sent me emails and comments about the title for my next book. There were some pretty amazing and in-depth emails landing in my inbox: thank you for taking the time to talk! After much debate, the title and book cover are finished and I've put them below for you. The next book also has its own website now too: Work Women Want.
Well I don't actually have a penny but I can offer you a copy of the next book when it is done! If anyone has a spare minute I would love to hear what you think.
I am almost done with my next book.
But it needs a title.
It is a book I wrote for two friends who asked me to tell them how to work at home. They are both mums who want and need to be there for their kids. At home. They also need to make some decent money!
So I decided to write them a book, as you do if like me words are your favourite thing. I tell them my story of working at home plus I've interviewed 12 other women who work-at- home one way or the other.
I have attached the introduction to the book Download Introduction Jen Forest's Book 11Jan2013. You good folk are the first ones to see outside my band of merry friends and muses giving me feedback.
But I'm a bit stuck on titles. Here's the titles I've come up with so far:
Work You Want: helping parents work-at-home or go part-time
Work Women Want: work-at-home or go part-time
Tell me how to work from home.
Any opinions and thoughts on these three are extremely welcome! If you have any new title ideas do please let me know!
Email them to me or post a comment below. And if you want a free copy of the book, leave your email (for a Kindle version) or your full name and postal address for a print copy.
This photo of a mum and her daughter at the park ties in with the introduction.
A photo blog post today - a few beautiful things I saw, smelt, tasted, touched or heard in the last few weeks.
I saw....... a fascinating cabinet of curiosities at Te Papa Tongerawa, Museum of New Zealand, one of the best museums in the world. There are rows of these little cabinets of treasures but just two here. The first one is a collection of sewing items and the second one is toys.
It made me feel rather 'old' that the toys my sisters and I played with are now museum exhibits!
I smelt..... the beach. The beautiful, beautiful beach at Plimmerton, the wind, the salt, the sand.
I tasted..... spicy chickpeas with strawberries, beans and parmesan at Pickle, a truly amazing 'eating house & bar'. Absolutely the best meal I've had in years, think of tapas style (lots of small dishes) but with unique and delicious flavors invented by the chef-owner. I loved the chickpeas so much I've tried to reinvent them at home with pear and morroccan spices, not quite the same but pretty tasty anyway!
I touched.... harakeke, New Zealand Flax, both the plant in the wild and its fibres once its stripped by hand with a shell or a stripping machine. Stripping it by hand with a shell was wonderful to watch. All in the name of research for a book in the works!
I heard....this exquisite poetry as song by Regina Skeptor. This song "All the rowboats" is truly exquisite, no other word for it. Musically haunting and the lyrics will appeal to anyone who loves art galleries and museums. Worth watching the official music video on youtube. I love it, instantly and enduringly love it.
Source - Flickr ryanxchow
I'm attracted to the idea of a vintage Christmas this year - getting in early I know, but you have to plan these things! Its a bit like my attraction to Make Do and Mend in the past. I like to think that perhaps at some point we had a bit more of a handmade celebration, both in gifts and food.
So with that in mind I'm sharing a bit of a resource list I've put together as I've gone searching for ideas and inspiration.
Bake and Make: Vintage Christmas Craft and Recipes
Retro Christmas Stocking Pattern
Very simple and effective way to work some retro fabrics into Christmas. Comes with a lovely free pattern download and excellent step by step instructions.
Victorian Christmas Recipes, Craft and Games
This is a great link with recipes, craft and games provided by the BBC. There are recipes for authentic items like sugar plums, and instructions to decorate the tree Victorian style and gifts to make.
Christmas Recipes from 1550 to 1940
This has an amazing collection of recipes from the 1550s to 1940s, including the very old favorites mince pies, Christmas Cake and pudding, as well as chestnuts, cranberry sauce and punch.
Make gilded walnuts, garlands and pomander balls
Simple instructions to make spiced pomander balls, paper fans, gilded walnut ornaments and a nut and raisin garland.
Source: Flickr - Gemma Garner
Photos to inspire a Vintage Christmas
Gift Tag from Sweet William
What was Christmas like?
This is a collection of stories and photographs taking a sneak peak at Christmas past.
The very top collage photo has a few things I'm collecting for Christmas - the white clay noel tags are from Marley and Lockyer, the vintage lace from L'uccello and the hand drawn gift tags from Sweet William.
The ABC also came and had a lovely talk with me the other day about Jane Austen and Crafty Girls Talk. The interview is over here if you'd like to hear the podcast.
Source: Flickr: Olive Oil Lady - Vintage Pins Gift Wrap Style
As children often are, my daughter is keen on getting presents. It didn't take her long to work out that birthdays and Christmas equals presents. So I have given her the responsibility of choosing presents for others, especially her friends, aunties and cousins. She has really taken to the job and loves thinking about what others would like. She loves it even more when the birthday girl or boy opens their present! There is a real sense of delight in the giving.
With the same delight in the giving, I am very happy to be able to give you a little bundle of happiness that is a book. To launch my latest book Crafty Girls Talk, the e-book version is available for free this weekend.
You can read it on your iPhone, iPad, Kindle, Kindle Fire and desktop computer. The giveaway runs from Friday 21 to Sunday 23 September - Amazon (California) time. So if you are in Australia or New Zealand it will start at about 7pm Friday and at about 8am Friday for the United Kingdom.
Visit this link over the weekend to get your free copy e-book version.
Crafty Girls Talk is also available as a print version (which unfortunately is not free this weekend but I'll be running a competition for that print version soon).
Thank you for signing up to my blog. I hope you enjoy Crafty Girls Talk.
We have a children’s book called Dog Loves Books by Louise Yates in our house which is gorgeous. It has a lovely story with beautiful pictures of a little dog who loves books so much he opens a book store. What I love about the little dog though is the drawing from the book at the top here. This is how I feel about books with a bit of a twist: I love books so much that sometimes I want to get into the story, just like this little dog is lying in the book.
I adore print books but I also love my Kindle as well. To tell you the truth I wasn’t sure if I would like my Kindle. One of the great joys in my life is to come back with a bag overflowing with library books or to find a recent book purchase sitting in my letter box. There is something about being able to turn a page which is, by the very action, relaxing.
But if I’m so keen on the printed word, why do I like my Kindle? There are all the “administrative” type things – I can buy books so much quicker and cheaper than any other method. Search, click, buy. The book is delivered instantly and I can start reading now. The much cheaper cost of an e-book is also a huge positive.
Source: Simply Bike on Flickr
So what is the reading experience like though? I’ve read all sorts of books on my Kindle and I still have that same little dog feeling – I enjoy the story and just want to stay in the story. The e-ink screen makes it almost identical to reading a printed page. If the publisher has formatted the photos properly, the photos can be fantastic. My only problem is that I often feel like I’m “clicking” a lot. To turn the page you click the little side bar and as I read fairly quickly, I can feel like I’m clicking a lot.
Source: Follow the White Bunny on Flickr
Do craft books work on Kindle? I must admit I haven’t actually bought a sewing pattern book or a knitting pattern book for my Kindle. My personal craft library is already pretty big so I’m trying not to buy anymore! For a knitting pattern book I think Kindle, or an iPad with the Kindle App, the book would work well. For a sewing pattern book where you need to trace the pattern pieces, that would be a bit tricky I think. Maybe if the book came with a link to download the patterns that might work.
Like the little dog in that book, I love my books. I love that a book is a story packaged up to take me, the reader into that world. Now with e-books, the story is still the same it is just delivered differently. I am very thankful that I am living through this exciting time in books – now I can feed my reading habit with both print books and e-books!
Advance Notice: Very exciting! We will be meeting these fascinating crafty girls soon. My next book Crafty Girls Talk will be out very soon!