London, UK: Stories of parting told in scraps of fabric
The Foundling Hospital welcomed its very first charges in 1741. The rowdy, filthy London streets were teeming with abandoned children, and founder Thomas Coram sought to create a home where mothers could leave their babies anonymously and know they'd be cared for.
The Hospital staff took a small token from each charge for the admission books, creating a record that would help identify him or her in case of the mother's return. Usually, it was a scrap of fabric cut from the child's clothes, sometimes accompanied by heartfelt letters written by the mother.
On display through March 6, 2011, the exhibit Threads of Feeling shows, for the first time, a selection of the more than 5000 textile records—each representing the parting of a mother and child—in the archives of what's now the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury.
Aside from being the largest surviving collection of everyday textiles from 18th-century Britain, the exhibit tells story after heartwrenching story in its uniqueness: Scrubby patches and rough-textured wool sit alongside exquisite silk ribbons and scraps of brocade and embroidery, suggesting that mothers from all strata of society were faced with such a choice.