Threads and fabrics

I’ve just discovered some big news that I want to share, nothing to do with writing directly. The Threads of Feelingexhibit is coming to the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum in Williamsburg, VA, opening May 25 2013. If you’re not familiar with this astonishing and moving exhibit, take a look at the online version. It’s the records of admissions to the Foundling Museum in London, the first home in Britain for abandoned children, founded by William Hogarth, George Frideric Handel, and Thomas Coram. When babies were admitted, the parents provided a scrap of fabric, embroidery, or sometimes a note so that they could identify the child when they were able to support them once more.

Some children had a happy ending and were reunited with their mothers again. Many didn’t. Ones who survived were apprenticed out and disappear into the great mess of history.

What’s extraordinary, as well as the emotional impact, is the variety of fabrics and the vivid colors (because they were pinned inside the ledger and didn’t fade). It constitutes the best collection of period fabrics in the world.

There’s also a symposium, Threads of Feeling Unraveled: The London Foundling Hospital’s Textile Tokens on October 20-22, 2013 in Williamsburg, with the exhibit’s curator, John Styles, among the speakers. Registration isn’t open yet but scroll down on this page for details.

I can’t wait! There’s also a fabulous resource at the museum for historical clothes if you want to frivol away some hours online.

Although I should be planning what I’m going to cook for the Thanksgiving feast next weekend (possibly something hip with brussel sprouts that only I and my daughter will eat) I’m planning a new Regency gown. I have a lovely silk gown but I’m after a cotton one that I can do the dishes in and preferably a drawstring one I can get into without assistance. This is the fabric I’m probably going to use. It’s from an ebay store, Heritage Trading, which has some gorgeous silks and cottons and uses the traditional hand woodblocking techniques.

So what are you up to and what are your Thanksgiving plans?

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Sally MacKenzie
9 years ago

Ooo, thanks for this, Janet. I actually researched this a bit for my book that comes out in March–my hero has his own mini foundling hospital–but I hadn’t seen this online exhibit. The dh and I have been talking about going down to Williamsburg, but probably sooner rather than later. And he’s pretty long-suffering, but I’m not sure if he’d go for this exhibit. (He always accuses me of looking at spoons on our trips to England.) But I think I’ll put it on my calendar just in case.

And as to the Brussels sprouts, I used to hate them until my DIL cooked some for me. I think they are roasted with balsamic vinegar–not sure as the dh is the cook in this house.

Janet Mullany
9 years ago

Brussel sprouts are best if picked after a frost, which causes a chemical reaction to make them sweet, and then cooked immediately. I grew up on them cooked like this and couldn’t understand the fear and terror regarding brussel sprouts elsewhere. Roasting in olive oil and tossed with a good strong cheese is very good too.

9 years ago

Brussels sprouts are good for theatening young children, who tend to make faces when confronted by the vegetable on their plate. However, people seem to develop a taste for them as they age. My sons (grown-ups all) actually like them now, and they’ve become a part of our standard Thanksgiving feast. As with Sally MacKenzie, my DH is the cook in my family, so I don’t know much other than that they are made from fresh, not frozen.

Last year when I was in London I went to the Foundling Hospital museum. It is poignant to see all of the mementoes left behind in the (usually forlorn) hope that someday the mother and child would be reunited. I couldn’t help but cheer for the 3 men, all childless themselves, who had the compassion to try to make the lives of these lost children just a bit better.

Kate Dolan
9 years ago

It’s exciting that the exhibit is coming here so close! Of course, they also did a magnificent job making it accessible online. I wish more exhibits were available that way.
And my husband and I love brussels sprouts but my kids hate them, so they are not on the table at Thanksgiving. However, we do have sweet potatoes even though I am the only human in the family who will eat them (The dogs love them, and I bet the rabbit would, too. I’m not so sure about the anole, though)

Elena Greene
9 years ago

I have to figure out if I can go to that exhibit! I researched the Foundling Hospital for Lady Dearing’s Masquerade and am thinking about giving the foundlings their own stories (even if that means early Victorian).

I like Brussels sprouts, but especially roasted. One of our Thanksgiving favorites is sweet potato and apple casserole, with a little maple syrup drizzled on top. I like it better than the marshmallow versions, which I find a bit too sweet.

Diane Gaston
9 years ago

I’m DEFINITELY going to Williamsburg for this exhibit!!!! My in-laws live in Williamsburg so it will make it very easy.

I love Brussels sprouts (but would not have eaten them as a child, Susan/DC). I have not had success in roasting them. Must persist.

Thanks so much for the heads up on this one, Janet!!

Carolyn Jewel
9 years ago

I LOVE that website. LOVE it!

Louisa Cornell
9 years ago

I WISH I lived close enough to see this exhibit! The website is incredible!

For the first time in seven years I won’t be working on Thanksgiving Day. I will be having Thanksgiving Dinner at my Mom’s with my family. Which means homemade from scratch chicken and dumplings!!! Nectar of the gods!

And there will also be Brussel sprouts. I am not fond of them, but my brothers, mother and my niece and nephew love them. Mom learned to prepare them when we lived in England. And over there she picked them fresh from the field behind a house (I’ll have to ask her if she only picked them after a frost.) These days she gets them from a grocery store but according to my sources they are delicious. Now if I can get through the next five days at the bakery!


[…] on display at the Foundling Museum in London in 2011, and a year later, that it was coming to Colonial Williamsburg. I was so excited I marked my calendar. The chances were great that I’d get to see the […]