Costume and textiles

THREADS OF FEELING: The London Foundling Hospital's Textile Tokens 1740–1770

72 pages, paperback, 245 x 185 mm, 60 colour illustrations
PRICE: £12.00
ISBN: 97809955180859



By John Styles

When mothers left babies at London’s Foundling Hospital in the mid-eighteenth century, the Hospital often retained a small token as a means of identification, usually a piece of fabric. These swatches of fabric now form Britain’s largest collection of everyday textiles from the eighteenth century. They include the whole range of fabrics worn by ordinary women, along with ribbons, embroidery and even some baby clothes. Beautiful and poignant, each scrap of material reflects the life of an infant child and that of its absent parent. The enthralling stories the fabrics tell about textiles, fashion, women’s skills, infant clothing and maternal emotion are the material of Threads of Feeling.

The importance of the Foundling textiles – 5,000 rare, beautiful, mundane and moving scraps of fabric – lies in the fact that so few pieces of eighteenth-century clothing have otherwise survived that can be identified with any confidence as having belonged to the poor. Ordinary people’s clothes were worn and re-worn by a succession of owners until they fell into rags, or they were cut up and reused for quilts, baby clothes, and the like. If, by chance, they outlived the eighteenth century, they were unlikely to excite the attention of collectors or museums. The Foundling collection includes the whole range of textile fabrics worn by ordinary women – exposing a lost world of camblet and fustian, susy and cherryderry, calimanco and linsey-woolsey – along with ribbons, embroidery and even some baby clothes. 

John Styles, curator of the exhibition and author of this book, examines the history of the Foundling Hospital and its tokens; the range of textiles in the collection; 18th-century working womens' fashion; the importance and meaning of ribbons and cockades; baby clothes of the period; needlework; and the numerous expressions of maternal love, hope, yearning and remorse revealed by some of the textiles and their accompanying notes.

Accompanies an exhibition at the Foundling Museum, London 14 October 2010–6 March 2011


The Independent

Austen Only "This is a marvellous, thought provoking, once in a lifetime exhibit and experience. I can’t praise it highly enough. Go and see it: you will not regret it."

The Guardian

Spoonfed "Such small things as these, which could easily be dismissed as frivolous, useless discarded scraps, speak more coherently, more powerfully, and with greater tenderness than words alone ever could."

Sacred Stitches: Ecclesiastical Textiles in the Rothchild Collection

Sacred Stitches accompanies an exhibition that will assemble together for the first time fragments of opulent and unique ecclesiastical textiles drawn from the stored collections at Waddesdon Manor, the astonishing Renaissance-style château that is one of the rare survivors of the splendour of the ‘goût Rothschild’. Dating from c. 1400 to the late 1700s, the textiles were acquired by several members of the Rothschild family, the greatest collectors of the 19th century, who sought the highest quality of workmanship with a keen sense of historical importance. More

The Noble Art of the Sword: Fashion and Fencing in Renaissance Europe 1520–1630

Since the early Bronze Age the sword has been a sign of wealth, status and the power of divine right. Yet, before the sixteenth century the sword was almost never carried on the person in everyday life. It was a rare, noble weapon, carried into battle by the aristocratic warrior class but set aside in time of peace. However, the increasing prominence of the Renaissance middle classes brought a fundamental change to the sword's place in society. Now large numbers of non-noble but often wealthy and upwardly mobile people could also afford rich things like fine clothes, jewelry and weapons. More

Spanish Fashion in Early Modern Europe: The Prevalence and Prestige of Spanish Attire in the Courts of the 16th and 17th Centuries

The modes of dress adopted at the Spanish court were highly influential elsewhere in Europe from about the mid sixteenth to the mid seventeenth century – the period corresponding to Spanish political hegemony. The nature and prevalence of the diffusion of Spanish fashion is, however, a phenomenon that has never been systematically studied, partly because it is no easy task to pool the numerous sources of information, both archival (in many languages) and visual. More

Decorative Textiles from Arab & Islamic Cultures: Selected Works from the Al Lulwa Collection

The exceptional collection of Islamic textiles published here ranges widely in region, material and technique. There are exquisite textiles and garments from North Africa, Syria, Arabia, Iran, Turkey and the Indian subcontinent are linked by a shared vocabulary of ornament – evidence of the international nature of Islamic design. The strengths of the collection are concentrated in the textile production of the 19th and early 20th centuries, which continue the traditions established in the medieval Islamic world. More

The Admiralty Islands: Art from the South Seas

The Admiralty Islands, a group of more than twenty islets with approximately 25,000 inhabitants, lie north of New Guinea in the southwest Pacific. This catalogue delineates the main characteristics of the art of the Admiralty Islands. It presents some 100 objects which rank among the best in the world. More