“You are a formidable lady, are you not, Aunt Jane?” she asked wistfully. “When I was a child I used to think you were like a good faerie—always dropping out of the sky with your delightful stories and dollsclothes you embroidered so neatly. . . .” —Fanny Knight to Jane Austen in Stephanie Barron’s Jane and the Canterbury Tale
Jane Austen, who never married, had no children of her own. As a doting aunt, Jane is likely to have lavished attention on her numerous nieces and nephews, in particular her older brother Edward’s firstborn daughter, Fanny, who was her favorite niece. It is easy to imagine, as author Stephanie Barron does, Jane sewing and embroidering a diminutive dress for Fanny’s doll, perhaps one similar to the dress here. The dress’s simple style recalls the signature silhouette of the Regency Era (1795–1837), with its high waist, scooped neck, softly gathered bodice and sleeves, and skirt that falls straight in front and is slightly fuller in back to make walking easier.
The dress was sewn from a pattern designed by Shari Fuller, who specializes in creating doll-clothes patterns based on history and literature. Like her contemporaries, Jane would probably have added trims to a dress in her own wardrobe for a special occasion or to refresh an out-of-date style. In this spirit, I added a garland of ruched satin ribbon to frame the areas of embroidered chain-stitch stripes on the skirt of the dress. Although assembling this dress was conveniently expedited by a modern sewing machine, it could be sewn by hand to replicate a true Jane Austen experience.
Download the September/October 2016 issue of PieceWork to make your own Regency-era doll dress. Learn more about needlework’s role in the world of Jane Austen in our blog post, “This Week in History: Jane Austen and Her Needlework.”