We have two new PhD students starting with us at TED this year. The first student is Matilda Aspinall, who will be looking at historical garments and the way they were mended and repaired, to rediscover a series of techniques which could inspire and inform contemporary clothing producers to create garments with a longer life span.
This idea of 'textile precedents', that we have been mulling over at TED for a while, has now been integrated into TED's Design Strategies. Titled 'Look Back to Look Forward', this strategy asks how practices of the past can inform textile design and production of the future.
Matty has just been to the exhibition called Threads of Feeling, at the Foundling Museum in London, and reports below on what she saw.
The Foundling Hospital in London opened in 1741. Not a hospital in the true sense but a place to provide ‘maintenance and education for deserted young children.It was set up by philanthropist, Thomas Coram, who after returning from many years at sea, was appalled by the sight of young children left to die on the streets of London. The Foundling Hospital offered hope to poverty stricken young women who previously had to abandon their babies on the roadside or in the doorways of churches.
From 1741 to 1756 women leaving their babies at the hospital were invited to leave a token as a means of identification should they ever be in the position to reclaim them. Textile swatches were cut either from the mother’s clothing or the baby’s at the time of registration and then placed with a printed billet.
For many years these swatches have remained in storage in billet books in the London Metropolitan Archives too fragile to display. This exhibition, curated by historian John Styles, author of The Dress of the People: Everyday Fashion in 18th Century England, presents these precious swatches with insights into why such tokens were used (literacy rates were very poor) and snippets to give a rare glimpse into 18th century plebian fashion.
These fabrics now comprise the largest collection of everyday 18th century textiles surviving in Britain. Not only is there a wide range of fabrics, there are decorative ribbons, embroidery and even a few items of clothing. Each scrap of fabric conjures a poignant story reflecting the life of the child and its absent parents.
How wonderful to be able to view such extraordinary pieces of fabric. Such fantastic weaves, prints and textures. My two personal favorites were two separate, tiny detachable sleeves; sleeves being the perfect token to leave, as of course, there are two of them. Was the mother given the other sleeve?
Children’s clothing was generally created from disused adult clothing so these wonderful block printed textiles can really fire up the imagination to envisage what women of that era were actually wearing. Additionally, it is a great insight in to the extraordinary variety of clothing that the children of that time actually wore. The registration billet that was meticulously filed by the hospital clerk gives a 23 item-clothing checklist. These garments include: cap, biggin, frock, upper-coat, mantle, petticoat, pilch. Sadly, the majority of items weren’t ticked.
This was a fascinating, beautiful, heart breaking, extraordinary and a compelling study of surviving textiles, not only in understanding their physical nature and function but importantly, their cultural significance .
By Matilda Aspinall, TED PhD student