The Original Coverlet

Jane Austen’s Coverlet at Chawton House

The Jane Austen Coverlet is currently on display at Chawton House Museum in Hampshire England, Jane Austen’s former home. There is mention of the ‘patchwork’ in a letter from Jane to Cassandra dated 1811,
“Have you remembered to collect pieces for the patchwork… we are at a standstill”. The coverlet has been attributed to Jane Austen, her Sister Cassandra and their Mother.

For many years the coverlet was displayed hanging over a rod in Jane Austen’s former bedroom,but recently the quilt received some conservation work and was cleaned. It is now currently displayed on a bed behind glass.

The Austen coverlet is a medallion style quilt, popular in this era. While many medallion quilts still exist to be viewed today, none are in the piecing style of the Austen coverlet.

The Austen’s hand pieced their coverlet in the English style. Tacking fabric pieces over paper and using tiny oversewing stitches to join the pieces together.

A quilt is a fabric ‘sandwich’ of backing, lining and the top. Then, stitching (the quilting) is done through all three layers to hold the ‘sandwich’ together.
The Austen Quilt has no lining and was simply stab stitched at regular intervals to stop it ballooning. It is not quilted and is therefore called a coverlet, although quite often referred to as Jane Austens Quilt.

Jane Austen’s CoverletThe Austen Coverlet is a masterpiece in color value and placement. The Austen Ladies, paid extreme attention to detail., both in their fabric choices, and their placement. The fabrics are sewn mirror image , that is the left side of the coverlet is an exact mirror image of the right, even the tiny diamonds which make up the outer border area. This last point in particular fascinates and is an example of that attention to detail that I mentioned earlier.

It is clear to see, when looking at the original, that the rows of fabrics making up the bulk of the body of the quilt (the middle sized diamonds) are in alternating rows of light and medium toning.
The medium toned fabrics also contain predominately medium size prints, on different color backgrounds, whereas the lighter rows contain smaller print fabrics and are predominately cream and beige in color.
The outer border area of the Coverlet is made of approx 2400 tiny diamonds. These fabrics are predominately dark in toning, though not all.
The sashing of the coverlet is a dotted cream fabric; it is believed the dots may have originally been pink. But today, seems blue/black in appearance.
The central diamond of the coverlet is a chintz piece, with an image of flowers in a basket, topped by two dear little birds. Chintz (chintz is a glazed cotton) was quite often used in this era as a centerpiece/medallion in quilts. One should also note here, that in the era this coverlet was made, white, as we know it, did not exist. The white of this era was ivory to cream.
Green of this era, was commonly a yellow dye laid over blue, and the yellow quite often didn’t take, and faded over time.

I am still unsure exactly how many different fabrics are in the coverlet. The Jane Austen society website states it at 64.

The original Jane Austen Coverlet in situ at Jane Austen House Museum, Chawton.

The Austen’s had ‘fussy’ cut many of the fabrics, centering motifs.In my research I have not come across another coverlet or quilt that is remotely similar.
The overall look of the coverlet, the individuality of its design, also its having been made in a era when women had little exposure to maths skills. Have contributed to this coverlets reputation as a masterpiece in the historical patchwork piecing arena. It is a testament to the complex personalities of the women who contributed to its construction and their attention to detail. Hopefully the recently undertaken conservation work and the coverlets new display area, will preserve it for Jane Austen fans to enjoy, for many generations to come.

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