Needle case

Text by Sue Dell, Collections Volunteer at Jane Austen’s House

This beautiful needle case was a gift from Jane to her niece Louisa Knight – Edward’s daughter.  Jane was close to many of her nephews and nieces and it is a testimony to her affection that she chose such a gift for her niece.

The outer part is made of card, edged in gold paper with a felt insert for the needles – there are seven needles on one side of the insert and five on the other.  The felt insert is tied in with yellow ribbon tied in a bow and the same ribbon is used to tie the case shut.  The front cover is decorated with a leaf spray, with two flowers, in green, pink and yellow.  The back cover has leaves for edging on three sides and an oval blue paper medallion in the centre, edged with a black scalloped border.  The words “Esteem the Giver” are printed on the oval.

The tissue outer wrapper, in which the gift was packaged, is inscribed with the words “with Aunt Jane’s love” written in Austen’s hand – it is wonderful that the wrapping has been kept intact with the needlecase, thereby strengthening the provenance.

We know that Jane was a very fine needlewoman and it appears she was trying to pass on, not only her love to Louisa, but also her love of needlework. Another niece, Caroline Austen, wrote “She was fond of work, and she was a great adept at overcast and satin stitch, the particular delight of that day. ”   The term “work” at this time was used to mean sewing useful things such as shirts and baby clothes; in September 1796 Jane wrote to Cassandra “…we are very busy making Edward’s shirts and I am proud to say that I am the neatest worker of the party”.

This small item gives us an insight into the daily life of Austen, into her love for her family members and into the role that females were expected to adopt.