Saturday, 30 October 2010

The Foundling Museum Textiles

I just visited the display of textile tokens at The Foundling Museum.  Many children were left at the hospital and all of them had a token of some form as a piece of identification should their mother come back for them.  Although some of these were not textile (coins or half coins, jewellery, keepsakes etc) most were textile, not least as many of the mothers would not have had the money for a keepsake to leave. 

At this time most childrens clothing was made from old pieces of their mothers clothes and as such they were often left little scraps as their identification.  Some embroidered with names initials or a heart, some written on, some folded into cockades (a sort of rosette that denoted a male child) and some which were simply a scrap.  They were fascinating, not least for the cloth itself which could show your class (printed or hand-embroidered pattern on silk - wealthy, plain cotton - poor etc), and the era from its patterns or fashions but also for the threads of familial emotion that these scraps hold.  From some the pain of parting is palpable - a stitched heart cut in two so just one half is left, the carefully sewn initials even though each foundling was given a new name.  Each one is pinned to a page on which the child's details are scribed, this seems almost clinical given the nature of the token.

A textile token holds many parallels - threads of family, lives interwoven, stitches in time etc and this added metaphorical meaning means this exhibition holds a certain weight to it.  However it also holds a lot of hope - each token is there to identify the child when their mother comes to claim them, and love - something left to be remembered by, and so there was a lot of pleasure to be had through viewing these tiny pieces - a touching reminder of attachment and love.

When I was small my mother embroidered a sampler for me, and also one for my brother when he was born.  Although these are much bigger than those tokens left with the foundlings and made much later (the hospital opened in 1739 and closed in 1954) I think they, at a mere 30 and 28 years old respectively are an interesting modern day version of these tokens, and ones that we still own today.  The time and effort made by my mother to commemorate my and my brothers births in stitch is a testament to the parallels spoken of before, as is the fact that we still own them ourselves.

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