New Book Steps Into the World of Jane Austen With Stunning Crochet Designs
Have you ever wondered what crochet projects would be resting in Jane Austen’s WIP (work in progress) basket in her front parlor? Or, what garments she would fashion with hook in hand? Well, now there’s no need to guess any longer because crochet designer Melissa Horozewski has just released a beautiful collection of designs inspired by Austen and her six literary treasures – Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park , Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion.
Austentatious Crochet features a range of enticing projects that include elements from the traditional Regency period with a modern twist. There’s truly something for every crocheter in this collection – lacey shawls, regal tops and jackets, flirtatious dresses and skirts, “just for the fun of it” items like accessories and jewelry, home décor, children’s wear, and even lingerie.
This book, though, is more than just a collection of lovely patterns, it is a treasure trove of interesting facts and trivia for the most discriminating of Austen fanatics, such as myself. Austentatious Crochet is sprinkled with memorable quotes from our favorite Austen characters, excerpts from Austen’s letters to her sister Cassandra, beautiful period artwork, delicious recipes, and entertaining quizzes to gauge the measure of our love for all things Austen-related. For example, I quickly found myself immersed in words like huswife and learned the origin of common terms among stitchers, such as “cardigan” and “raglan sleeve.”
Fortunately, I recently had the opportunity to get to know Melissa a bit more and interview her about the inspiration for this book. “Well, I love books and I am particularly captivated by craft books that are visually stimulating and that take me on a journey,” she told me. “I wanted to do something like that using crochet as the medium, as sometimes crochet gets an unfair rap as being crafty. It is crafty, which is great, but it isn’t just crafty. It can be artistic as well, and it can be just as fine as any other method of stitching out there. I enjoy Austen books and I know a lot of other people do as well. Stitching was a common occupation for women during that time-period, so it seemed only natural to marry the two.”
In preparation for writing this book, Melissa reread each of Austen’s books and everything she could find on Regency fashions, colors, and styles of clothing, as well as the history of needlework during that time period. In fact, she details in the book how Austen found great inspiration from her needlework. Although the period during which Austen lived predates the debut of modern crochet in Britain, there is evidence that she may have practiced a form of embroidery called tambour crochet. Interestingly, as Melissa points out in Austentatious Crochet, tambour crochet is referenced in both Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey.
A Closer Look at These Austentatious Designs
For this review, I was hard pressed to pick my favorite designs from the book. But, finally I was able to settle on my top 6 – no, 7! Melissa was gracious enough to share a bit of commentary for each one – a glimpse into the story behind the design.
- Ball at Netherfield – This eye-grabbing, sophisticated top features a classic empire waist and panel insert with beautiful ribbon and button detailing for a Regency couture look.
“I knew I wanted to do a twist on the empire-waist gowns that were a staple of that time period, but yet it needed to be wearable today, so I took it up to the hip length and embellished it with all the fun accoutrements typical to that time period – ribbons and buttons,” Melissa added.
- Jane Bennet Skirt – This flattering skirt boasts an A-line silhouette with a fun and flirty ruffle accent in the back.
“That color of blue appeared so often in the Regency fashion plates I viewed while researching [for the book] that I knew I wanted a design using that color,” she explained. “Of course they would have never showed so much leg during the Regency period, but again the point was for this book to have a contemporary twist so that the designs would be completely wearable today. I wanted all the frills and adornments of that time period but again in a manner that someone would want to wear and I feel that the ruffles on the rear hem of this skirt add just the right combination of demure and flirtatiousness to the design.”
- Eat Your Heart Out Willoughby – Featured on the cover, this top is a show stopper with its exquisite lace cuffs and delicate appliqués of violets, roses and leaves.
“This design originally did not have the floral embellishments on the front. It did have the ruffled V, but even with the ruffle, I felt it was lacking a certain something,” Melissa commented. “I didn’t fall in love with this top until I added the appliqués. Everyone at the photo shoot commented on it and the model adored wearing it, saying it was so light and silky. It was a natural for the cover shot.”
- Dreaming of Mr. Knightly Pajama Set– this sexy chic lingerie set almost had me running to my hook right away – it’s gorgeous, original and classy.
“Who doesn’t dream of Mr. Knightley? And, that was the point behind this design,” said Melissa. “A design that is fun and flirtatious but not overly provocative – much like Emma herself. I wanted to replicate a bit of the knickers and corset look we often see when people costume that era of time in movies and books.”
- Off to Bath Capelet – What’s cuter than matching lace capelets for a young girl and her favorite doll? Don’t tell my daughter, but she may find this set waiting for her under the tree on Christmas Eve.
“My little girl, the model in the children’s chapter of the book, always wants to wear her sleeveless summer church dresses well into the fall here in Wisconsin. She also loves to match her American Girl doll, so she was my inspiration for this design – a capelet that could add that extra touch of warmth. Bathwas a resort place for English families and Jane Austen lived there for a time as well during her life. Since this is a design for a child and her doll, Off to Bath is a spin on the phrase ‘off to bed’, ” commented Melissa.
- Letters From Mr. Right – This design allows you to play with tambour crochet while making a detailed tri-fold pocketbook to hold those cherished love letters from that special beau.
“Jane often wrote letters and how we know so much about her as a person is through letters to her sister Cassandra,” Melissa continued. “I knew I wanted a design that represented the fact that letter writing was such a key means of correspondence both for her and that time period. This design spun from a photo of an eighteenth century silk pocketbook I found while researching the book.”
- Lizzy’s Lace Mantelet – This lacey sweater is simply gorgeous and would quickly become a staple in anyone’s wardrobe. Worked completely in the round, it is reminiscent of a beautiful doily yet fashion forward.
“Lace was a highly desired commodity back then and ladies often tried to create the look using several different methods, which in turn has created such a rich history of needlework,” she explained. “I set out to design a piece that would showcase that skill and element of Regency fashion. I think this one turned out spectacularly well.”
A Closer Look at the Designer
Like many of us, Melissa began crocheting at an early age and quickly found herself hooked for life. “My sister and I were raised by a single mother and each day after school we would walk to the hair salon where she worked and spend at least two hours waiting in a tiny breakroom for her to finish her shift,” she recounted. “One day an older woman, who would come in each week to have her hair set, took pity on my sister and I. She invited us to take crochet lessons from her, so from then on, once a week we would walk to her house after school and sit at her highly polished dining room table learning to work with a hook and thread.”
Melissa’s first project was a heart doily that she entered in her local county fair the following summer after learning to crochet. “The doily received a large purple grand champion ribbon and though I haven’t made another doily since, it got me hooked on crochet.”
In her early teens, she originally turned to designing out of necessity. “In the late 80’s, when I was in my early teens, there just didn’t seem to be a lot of crochet garment patterns for teens. This was before the internet was in most households and as I lived in a very rural area, the nearest big box store was almost two hours away. A yarn store wasn’t even on my radar [either], so my ability to find patterns was rather limited. That’s when I started creating garments for myself, designing on the hook so to speak,” said Melissa.
She later realized that she wanted to become a professional designer in her mid-twenties and put together several submission packages for Interweave, but was initially too nervous to send them to the editor. “As long as I never mailed them, it was a dream that could still be realized. If I sent them and was rejected, well then I thought that dream would be over,” she explained. “It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I understood that crochet is as much art as it is craft or anything else; therefore it is very subjective and as such, rejection is inevitable. I gave myself permission to be rejected and to be okay with that. As it turns out, the first two designs I submitted were accepted.”
Today, Melissa’s designs can be found on the pages of Interweave Crochet, Inside Crochet Magazine, Crochet!, Crochet World and Debbie Macomber’s Blossom Street Collection Books 1 and 2. She continues to find inspiration from her favorite literary characters, her family and loved ones, nature, fashion trends and interesting stitch patterns.