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Sense and sensibility – when literature meets beadwork

I’m delighted to be able to share my latest project – a very exciting collaboration that pays homage to a leading literary lady with Hampshire connections.

Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.I was approached at the end of last year by Hampshire Cultural Trust to work on a very special commission to honour one of the greatest female writers of all time: The witty, sarcastic and pioneering Jane Austen. This July will be 200 years since her death, she was just 41 years old.

The Trust is fortunate to have in its possession several pieces owned by the lady herself – including some incredibly detailed handmade purses, plus jewellery, a needlecase, clothing and a dainty manuscript in Jane’s handwriting. My task – should I choose to accept it, (I did!), is to create three pieces of beadwork jewellery inspired by these artefacts.

Adventures in time

IMG_7386-web-logoEarlier this year I got to spend an exciting morning delving through the huge archives at the Trust’s archives in Winchester, all in the name of research. A veritable treasure-trove, there are rooms and rooms, literally packed floor to ceiling with clothing, accessories and more – all catalogued and organised by date.

I was given a pair of cotton gloves and strict instructions to watch out for moths, before shown around several rooms all boasting items from the Georgian period.

My tour guide Gill knew every item’s story and her historical knowledge was astounding, as was her knowledge of Jane Austen herself. Did you know, for example, that Jane’s nickname to her friends and family was ‘Hedgehog’?

I also met restorer Ruth, who is charged with bringing Jane’s stunning beaded purse back to its former glory – or to as close as possible. The silk is badly perished and some of the top rows of beads have come away, so it will be a really delicate and painstaking task. But hopefully by the end it means it will be able to stay on display for many more years.

Here you can see just some of the items I came across on my exploration…

Items from my artist's research trip at Chilcomb House, Hampshire
Can you guess what shape the hats in that box were?

And here are some of the pieces I will be taking my main inspiration from. All of these items below are thought to have belonged to Jane herself:

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Researching the project

This project has been a really fun challenge for me, with lots more extra curricular research than I would usually do when creating jewellery. I’ve enjoyed dipping back into some of Jane’s novels, refreshing my mind with books I read a long time ago, and discovering stories I haven’t previously read. It’s fair to say that the book worm in me is in heaven!

I’ve also been doing lots more historical research, enjoying exploring the V&A’s online archives and other internet jewellery treasures, to take inspiration from costume jewellery of the period. I’d love to have visited the V&A in person, but sadly time is against me.

So, right now I’m beavering away, stitching some handmade beadwork jewellery that I hope Jane would have approved of. My beading activity is accompanied in the background by the best Austen adaptations that Netflix can provide! The final deadline is fast approaching – so watch this space for the big reveal in a few weeks’ time.

The Trust’s Jane Austen collection can usually be found at Winchester City Museum, which is currently closed for refurbishment and will re-open later in the year. If you’d like to find out more about the Hampshire Cultural Trust and its work please visit the website

A large bead stash is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard

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Chloe Menage

Owner at Pinkhot
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