Threads of feeling
18th Century Textile Tokens left with Abandoned Babies at the London Foundling Hospital
This is a very unusual and interesting exhibition, and a beautiful online slide display can be seen at the exhibition site (click on "The Online Exhibition").
It's a collection of small samples of the fabrics (clothes, ribbons, laces) left with abandoned babies at the Foundling Hospital.
Many pieces of fabrics are also accompanied by a letter or an explanation, giving the name of the child and date of birth and /or baptism; sometimes even the reason why the child had been abandoned... Dates range around 1750; at the time surely a big part of London population lived in extreme poverty, and Foundling Hospital was probably the only hope of life for many children.
The exhibition is interesting especially because it gives us a glimpse on ancient "poor" textiles...Several museums have a wealth of rich and finely embroidered clothes of this age, but we tend to forget that those were not what usual people used in their everyday life... Most often, they were the best garments of wealthy and noble people, the only things that would be preserved and cared about for centuries.
Normal clothes of more modest materials would be used as long as they were good, and then become rags ... Very little or nothing remains of common fabrics from past centuries as people didn't bother to keep them (but it's the same today; who would care about old T-shirts and worn tablecloths? Do we keep them for posterity or future researchers? I don't...). So this is an almost unique occasion to study everyday textiles from mid- 18th century. Some of them are embroidered, many others are printed ..Others are just plain fabrics, looking mostly like today's traditional kitchen towels.
In a few cases the name of the child was embroidered on the fabric (or a ribbon), the impression we get is that these were not "unwanted" children and we can just imagine what tragedies led to the decision of abandoning them.
A really unique and unusual exhibition, I hope one day I'll manage to visit the Museum in London....