The Great Lady’s Magazine Stitch Off

Update: The patterns have been uploaded here for you to enjoy and try. Good luck and let us know how you get on.


Readers of this blog who also follow my Twitter feed (@jenniebatchelor) or the project’s (@ladysmagproject) will already know that this has been an exciting week for me. In the space of a week, I have purchased not one, not two, but three bound volumes of the Lady’s Magazine. I bought the first two – a bound volume for 1822 and a half-year (July to December) for 1830 – together via a conventional route which took me to a wonderful second-hand bookseller. They were a one-off and rare treat for myself, paid with by various extra-curricular work I have been doing and for which I felt I had worked hard enough to reward myself with something really pretty special. The third volume I acquired was a different story altogether.

Earlier this week, I was called at work by someone whose name I had not heard before but who had heard of me via our project website and this blog. She told me that she was trying to sort through and declutter her home after a recent and nasty fall and had a lot of old books that she had bought from boot fairs, charity shops and jumble sales over the years and that she wanted rid of. One of these books was the Lady’s Magazine for 1796. She described it as tatty and said she didn’t want it any more but wanted it to find a good home, someone who would love it and look after it as she feared it might one day be put on a skip.

I asked her more about it. I asked her what page the volume started on and worked out from her answer that it was a half year that started in July. She emphasised again that the magazine’s condition was not good and I conjured a mental picture of it based on the several broken-spined, torn and heavily discoloured copies I have seen in bookshops or photographed on Ebay. Of course, I wouldn’t let it languish and would provide a good home to any copies of the magazine out there, but I concluded that this probably wasn’t a volume I would have hunted out for purchase had I not been alerted to its existence.

But then she told me that the magazine had some interesting stuff inside. Music. Patterns.


My ears pricked up. I told her a little more about the magazine and urged her not to give it away. It was of some monetary value even if very, very tatty, and because of its cultural value, I would be very interested in it and would keep it as far as possible away from that skip.

I arranged to travel to meet the book’s owner, who was an incredible and fascinating woman with whom I had so much more in common than it was possible to imagine when I first picked up the phone. We had a cup of tea and chatted about various things. She gave me cooking pears from her garden, some books for my children, and then she presented me with the magazine, which I subsequently insisted I bought from her.

It is gorgeous! Yes, it’s mottled and discoloured in places, but the binding is in tact (half-years generally fair better than the incommodiously large annual volumes, I was reminded). But the greatest pleasure of all was finding a pattern folded behind almost every one of the fold-out song sheets the volume also contained.

We have commented before on the blog about the expectation of the magazine’s publishers that patterns would be used and therefore ripped out of monthly issues of the periodical prior to binding in annual form. Some patterns survive in bound volumes, but the vast majority do not. We have been acquiring as many images or hard copies of these patterns as we can (if you know of or own any, please get in touch!), and I am looking forward to seeing in person a number that are in bound volumes of The Lady’s Magazine in the University of Cardiff’s Special Collections next week.


A New Pattern for a Gentleman’s Cravat

But this half-year, now my half-year for 1796, has patterns for almost every monthly issue it contains.

I was recovering at home yesterday after a minor accident, which has left me with a very sore back. I couldn’t concentrate on work, so I concentrated on the least concentration-demanding activity I could (briefly) think of: Twitter. I was so excited about my new acquisition, I wanted to show it off to other people by sharing pictures of the patterns and other engravings and song sheets. I was staggered by the reaction the images got (retweets, likes, comments, direct messages). Talk about spreading a little happiness.

In the course of my many and fascinating interactions with people yesterday, one from the lovely @ExpatHistorian in conversation with my friend, historian and fellow eighteenth-century fashion enthusiast Dr Hannah Greig (University of York), completely stopped me in my tracks. Tweet

Wouldn’t that be great, I thought… Hang on. No: wouldn’t that be brilliant? Shouldn’t we do that? How could I make this happen? This had to happen!

As a child, my grandmother taught me to sew and I did embroidery for relaxation (and because I am hopeless at doing only one thing at a time) until my 20s. Sadly, I haven’t embroidered for nearly 20 years and, as a consequence, I am not nearly as relaxed now as I was when younger. I have often played around with the idea of one day trying out a Lady’s Magazine embroidery or tambour pattern for myself. Now might be the time to try. But how much better would it be to have lots of people doing this too? People much better at sewing than I am. What could this tell us about the patterns? About the period? About the magazine?

I don’t yet know the answers to these questions, but what I can say is that I am now confident that we are going to find out.

A New Pattern for a Gown or Apron.

A New Pattern for a Gown or Apron.

Thanks to the enthusiasm of our tweeps, I am going to scan all of the patterns to which I own the copyright in the next week or so and within two weeks I plan to make them available on the Lady’s Magazine project website so that people can download them and attempt to replicate them. We plan to post results and people’s experiences of trying to recreate these wonderful designs on the blog in future weeks and months.

We are completely delighted that lots of people, novices and experts with needles alike, have expressed interest in the experiment. Some will no doubt attempt to do the work in as historically authentic a way as possible. Others might feel inclined to modernise. We don’t mind. Anything goes!

All we ask is that if this does interest you, that you spread the word by sharing this post and asking people to visit our Twitter feeds where we will update you when the scans are ready.

In the coming weeks, I plan to write a little more about the context of the patterns for those who don’t know their tambours from their tambourines. But in the mean time, do let us know if you are interested in our little experiment.

Ready, set, STITCH!

UPDATE: The patterns have been uploaded now and can be found here. Enjoy and let us know how you get on!

Dr Jennie Batchelor

School of English

University of Kent




41 thoughts on “The Great Lady’s Magazine Stitch Off

  1. Karen McAulay

    Really keen to know more of music. Am a musicologist researching ca.1780-1830 British music …

  2. Krystyna

    A friend pointed me in the direction of this blog post. Like you, I learned to hand-embroider at age 8, but only did it for a year or two, making simple pillows and the like. A year or two ago, I suddenly got the urge again, and found a fun little kit from Etsy to get me going again. Now, I can’t stop! I have a bag that I carry with me any time I know I’m going to be sitting and waiting (like when waiting in line to pick up my kids from school). And I currently have three different projects going. I would love to download some of these patterns and give them a whirl! When finished, I’ll try to remember to send you some photos. Thank you so much for sharing these with the rest of us!

  3. Susan

    A friend, Rachel, shared this link on her blog and I’m so excited about this. I’m not a doctor of anything, but I love history and genealogy. The idea of being able to stitch a design one of my UK ancestors might have stitched is really fabulous. I’ll probably do it on crazy quilt blocks and it won’t be the delicate beautiful things they did, but I look forward to trying some of the designs. Thank you for making them available, and free. I couldn’t have bought them, or a book, but I would have wanted to.

  4. ladys-magazine Post author

    Hi Rachel. Great to hear from you! No specific end date at the moment (we know people are already committed to lots of other projects) and in-progress pictures are absolutely enough. Keep us posted on what you’re planning and how you are getting on! All the best, Jennie

  5. ladys-magazine Post author

    Hi Liz. I am so sorry not to have seen this comment until now. No idea why I didn’t receive a notification. We know people are very committed in the holiday season so no specific end date in mind. Are you hoping to take part. Some early results are starting to come in and I will be blogging about these in the next day or two! Best wishes, Jennie

  6. liz n

    Dr. B, I’m probably asking a question you’ve already answered, but what time frame are you looking at for this project? Is there an end date?

  7. ladys-magazine Post author

    Hello Linda. It’s Jennie, here, from the Lady’s Magazine Project. So sorry to hear about your spine injury. We hope these are healing or, at the very least, distracting. Do let us know if attempt any of the patterns. We would love to know your results, and if you are willing, share them with other readers of the blog. My email address is: j[dot]e[dot]batchelor[at]kent[dot]ac[dot]uk.

    Best wishes


  8. ladys-magazine Post author

    Hello Janet. Many thanks for connecting with us via the blog. We are delighted that you are going to embroider some of them. Please do keep in touch with us and let us know how you are getting on. We would love to share followers’ experiences, thoughts and results on the blog, if they are willing. You can also email me via j[dot]e[dot]batchelor[at]kent[dot]ac[dot]uk.

    We are very grateful to Mary for so generously sharing our project with her many readers and followers!

    Best wishes


  9. ladys-magazine Post author

    Hi Laurie. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. They are lovely, aren’t they?

    Best wishes


  10. ladys-magazine Post author

    Hello Christina. It’s very good to hear from you. And yes: we absolutely agree that collecting and cataloguing is really important. All major updates will be on the blog, so please watch this space. I am trying to get our web people to look into why the follow link seems to have fallen off all Kent blogs and if it reemerges soon, I will be sure to let you know. Also, the project is on Twitter if you use that: @ladysmagproject.

    Thank you


  11. Christina

    Hi, thanks for this opportunity. I love looking for and dowloading old patterns, not that I have embroidered many of them but the collecting is important too. I would love to know more about your project too – is there somewhere to sign up?

  12. Janet G

    I popped over here because of Mary Corbet’s newsletter and I am so happy I did. I will definitely be embroidering these beautiful patterns. They remind me of my first embroidery lessons given to me by a VERY patient needlework teacher when I was in school many moons, here in Australia.

    So happy I found your blog, thank you for the patterns.

  13. LINDA A.

    I love your emails and was so happy when I opened and read your post about “LADY’S MAGAZINE”. I have been searching for patterns for hand embroidery. I truly need something to do since I have a spine injury that is misbehaving horridly today. Thank you kindly for the lovely patterns.
    LINDA A.

  14. ladys-magazine Post author

    Thanks so much for your comment, Sarah. What a terrific story. I think I could do with a cap myself! If you are able to find the time, do let us know how you get on. Jennie

  15. Natalie

    Dear Jennie,
    Many thanks. Keeping fingers crossed for the Kew connection, and for any copies of the magazine or its patterns that may appear as a result of this stitch-off. Who knows but if a few pattern copies have been kept in an embroidery archive, disassociated from the magazine. That’s another area in which MRy Corbet and her connections might be of aid.

    Very best, and thinking of a paint-based treatment on a perid pocket book or workbag. Very 1790s.


  16. Sarah Waldock

    I do love sewing so I will try to find time. I’ve recently been making mob-caps Georgian style as I have very flyaway hair, and I can attest to the fact that wearing a mob-cap overnight makes it oh so very much easier to deal with, rather than the plait becoming a dreadlock and the bits that escape knitting themselves into a rats nest. Startled the postman, though, when I answered the door wearing one. “My eye” he said “I’ve walked into Pickwick Papers”. “Lud, m’dear, you catch me in dishabil” I declared.
    So I am hoping to adapt one of these to whitework on fine muslin…

  17. ladys-magazine Post author

    Wonderful, Jane. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. It’s very interesting to here about your group. There has been quite a lot of interest in the song sheets. We are a little steeped in the Stitch Off for the next week or so, but I will turn attention to the song sheets after that. I would love to know what you make of them! Thanks so much for reading and taking time to leave a comment. Best wishes Jennie

  18. Denise

    Oh, what an amazing find! I can’t wait to see more, and maybe even do something for the stitch off (though it would most likely be via machine embroidery). I’m so happy to see some interest in these old embroidery designs. Thank you for sharing!

  19. liz n

    Like Barbara, I also linked here from Two Nerdy Girls and was going to suggest you contact Mary Corbet at Needle ‘n’ Thread…she has over ten thousand followers and is an authority on needlework, and I’ll bet she’d be very interested in your project.

    While the patterns you’ve already posted are obviously perfect for embroidery and quilting (two crafts I do), I’m thinking of incorporating them into the book binding process. Perhaps embossed covers, or exposed spine stitching. Not sure yet; I’ll have to play around with these ideas after the holidays when I have time to do them justice. I’d also LOVE to see the music sheets!

    Thank you for finding these patterns and making them available!

  20. Barbara La Belle

    I ran across your embroidery endeavor from Two Nerdy Girls. What a great idea. I plan to try one or two of these designs. You might also contact Mary Corbet at Needle “N Threads. She has a large following of embroiders and I am sure many of them would love to take up the challenge also.

    Barbara La Belle

  21. jane

    Music? Ooooh yes! Can we see the music, please? Aperitivo is a multinational, multilingual theatre group based in Portugal, but one of our successes last year wasn’t multi-anything at all – it was a terribly English Regency Ball. We have some good musicians and singers in the group and we would love to see the music you have.

  22. ladys-magazine Post author

    Hi Natalie
    Thanks so much for your interest in the project and your wonderful comment. Yes: experimental archaeology is what this is about and we are very excited to see the results.

    In terms of your other questions, I am hoping to look at the recycling of patterns. At the moment, I am not 100 % sure whether the patterns were original to the magazine or if they recycled over time. It’s partly a problem of working with such a partial archive – as you know, the patterns were often moved from the magazine prior to publication. It’s also the patchiness of the archive around patterns in the period more generally, although I am following some leads at Kew after talking to Dr Sally Tuckett about this at the University of Glasgow. If I learn more, I will be sure to say.

    I am not aware of the Vernet project, so I will be headed there very soon. And I would be completely delighted if people painted rather than stitched these. I am very excited to see the results. In the meantime, the link to the patterns is live now and can be found here:

    Thanks again and do keep in touch!

  23. Alison Larkin

    I’m an embroiderer and costume historian, specialising in the 18th century and I would LOVE to be involved in this. I have a couple of project going at the moment, but I will look at the patterns and see what I can do as soon as I have an embroidery frame free!

  24. Natalie

    As a regular follower of your blog, this post about stopped my breath. Firstly, for someone to step forward with such a treasure! Second, for you to make it available! Third, for a chance at experimental archaeology, more or less! This ought to be fascinating.

    A question: do you think your look at context might include any insight into whether or not the publishers recycled patterns over time, republishing them with tweaks or in whole? I know that styles rather radically during the decades covered by the magazine, but we see this later in the 19th century; wondering if it occurred earlier too.

    An observation: stitch-offs like this can be so illuminating. You may be aware of a project this year to recreate outfits published by Vernet in 1814. (See Already we’re finding that what looked outlandish on paper isn’t always *quite* so crazy when translated to fabric. In fact, Vernet’s play with proportion and color is really interesting when the outfits are actually worn on an actual body.

    It will be very interesting, then, to see how how patterns translate from paper to fabric…or paint…or whatever. You may find some research fodder in the mix!

    Very best,

    Natalie in KY, USA

  25. Melanie

    I would love to try the apron pattern! I haven’t learned official embroidery stitches but I’ve been searching for something to do on a Sunday apron!

  26. Karen McGirr

    I’m Elaine’s mom and I entertain myself by doing some embroidery. I’d love to try one of these patterns. Keep in touch when they are ready for publication

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