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Swaddling band

Swaddling band

  • Place of origin:

    Italy (made)

  • Date:

    1600-1625 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Linen, with an embroidered cutwork border

  • Museum number:

    B.879-1993

  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 58, case 2

Object Type
The swaddling of babies - wrapping them firmly in strips of cloth - was once the prevailing custom in many parts of the world, including this country. The custom dates from ancient times, and is protective in origin. A swaddled baby would be warm, and its lack of movement kept it safe from accidents such as falling out of the cradle or into the fire. Swaddling was also thought to prevent the limbs from growing crooked.

Use
Dressing and swaddling the baby could be time-consuming. By the 16th century, the baby usually wore a nappy, at least one cap and a shirt. The person dressing the child would then wrap it in a blanket and roll bands of plain fabric round and round the body. Richer families often finished the process with bands trimmed with lace, a woven edging or embroidery, as in this example. They might wrap them round the baby in a pattern as well.

Time
Swaddling was once customary in rich and poor families alike, but few swaddling bands survive today. The exceptions are the decorated examples that the wealthier families owned. The plain bands must often have become stained and worn and were then thrown away. By about 1800 the British had stopped swaddling their babies, although the custom continued in many other countries, notably Italy, Germany and Russia.

Physical description

Swaddling band of unlined white linen with a picot edge and trimmed
with a band of whitework and cutwork embroidery along part of one edge. The band is rectangular, composed of five separate sections stitched together: the first is rectangular and plain; the second and third are rectangular with the 4 cm deep band of embroidery along one edge; the fourth and fifth are plain, combining to make a triangle with a pair of tying strings stitched at the end. The embroidery is in a formal geometric design of alternating triangles and diagonals, executed in satin stitch and eye stitch with small cutwork panels.

The embroidered edge would have shown in a decorative spiral effect as
the band was wound around the infant's body, over the top of the plain
bands and any wadding which may have been used.

Place of Origin

Italy (made)

Date

1600-1625 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Linen, with an embroidered cutwork border

Dimensions

Length: 245 cm approx., Width: 13 cm

Object history note

References: Illustrated in "Yesterday's Children" by Sally
Kevill-Davies (Antique Collectors' Club, 1991) p.27

From the Collection of the late David Knight

Descriptive line

Swaddling band; probably Italian, early 17th century

Labels and date

British Galleries:
In 1671 the midwife Jane Sharp urged mothers and nurses when dressing babies to 'lay the arms right down by the sides' and then to wrap them in bands of cloth, 'that they might grow straight'. This swaddling kept a lively baby still, warm, and out of harm's way. It was, however, unhygienic. After a month or two babies were no longer swaddled, but wore long dresses. [27/03/2003]

Categories

British Galleries; Textiles; Europeana Fashion Project

Collection

Museum of Childhood

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