Alison Larkin Embroidery

Historical Embroidery in Full-size and Miniature

“New and Elegant Patterns”: a hunt for treasures, Part 2.

The Story continues…….

“The Lady’s Magazine, or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, Appropriated Solely to their Use and Amusement” was first published in August 1770 and continued for 13 issues a year – monthly, plus a supplement at the end of December – until 1832. The Lady’s Magazine was a real miscellany, including biographies, travel writing, essays on popular or feminist issues, short stories, serialised novels, articles on science, reviews of theatre or opera productions, fashion, sheet music, fashion plates, recipes for cosmetics, home and foreign news, advertisements, and poetry – and embroidery patterns! Collecting these patterns became a mission: see my earlier Blog Post for the first stages.

During a research trip to the Gallery of Costume at Platt Hall, Manchester, I discovered they had an almost complete set of The Lady’s Magazine, as well as issues of La Belle Assemblée and Ackermann’s Repository of Arts. These two are slightly later periodicals, starting in 1806 and 1809 respectively, which also published embroidery patterns in most issues. Not all the patterns were present, but a couple of visits there allowed me to check through and photograph the patterns they had. My collection was growing….

A pattern from Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, dated August 1812. Photographed at Manchester Gallery of Costume, Platt Hall, Manchester.

Then my better half Chris offered to assemble a list of the patterns that should be there, so we could check off the ones we had. This was possible because the contents pages of each issue of the Lady’s Magazine usually listed ‘pattern for an Apron’ or whatever each month. Having identified that many of the volumes were available digitally via Google Books, he went through looking for the contents pages for each month and noting the patterns listed in a spreadsheet for me. That was when we struck gold – or at least the treasure map!

To our delight, it was clear that many of the pattern pages were still present in some of the digitised volumes. To our complete frustration, the fold-out pages had not been opened out when ‘they’ were photographing the books! Tiny corners of the patterns were sometimes visible, or places where the ink had bled through to the back of the paper, but not the whole page. Only one solution – visit the libraries concerned and photograph them ourselves.

A little more checking in Google Books told us that a large number of the patterns were in – of all places – The Bavarian State Library in Munich! Others seem to be in libraries in the USA, in New York and Chicago. I was able to get some funding from The Society of Antiquaries of London, and in May 2019 Chris and I met Jennie Batchelor in Munich to look at the BSL patterns.

The ‘Rathaus’ (Town Hall) in Munich.

The BSL set of The Lady’s Magazine covers 1770 to 1804, and to our delight it has most of its patterns. We had been given permission to scan them for research purposes, and 2 ½ days in the Rare Books Room gave us an almost complete set of the patterns up to 1799. We were only allowed 10 volumes each during the visit, so the last few volumes will have to wait until Covid allows us to get back to Munich.

My pattern collection is now several lever arch files! I have been lucky enough to find another couple of issues of the Lady’s Magazine – 1775 and 1816 – with some of their patterns, plus two volumes of Ackermann’s Repository. A friend allowed me to photograph the patterns from her volumes of La Belle Assemblée, to add to the ones from Platt Hall.

My pattern collection today!

I have also found that there are pattern books available in collections and online. These were the notebooks of patterns collected by (usually) early 19th century ladies as a record of the embroidery patterns they came across. The patterns were traced or drawn by hand, and don’t usually have any notes of where they came from or when, but they also provide a great resource of Late Georgian/Regency embroidery patterns. I have even been able to identify a couple of Lady’s Magazine patterns copied into some of these pattern books.

It’s been fascinating what is out there once you start rummaging. The digital age has given us unprecedented access to museum and library collections, and allowed identification of far more resources that we initially thought. From thinking a few years ago that all the Lady’s Magazine patterns had been lost, I now know that there are far more out there than we could have dreamed of. So many patterns, so little time……

May 2021

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