Threads of Feeling: The London Foundling Hospital’s Textile Tokens, 1740-1770

John Styles

Research output: Book/ReportBook


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.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherThe Foundling Museum
Number of pages72
ISBN (Print)0955180856, 978-0955180859
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2010


Dive into the research topics of 'Threads of Feeling: The London Foundling Hospital’s Textile Tokens, 1740-1770'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this