Thursday, 30 July 2015

Are stitches as identifiable as handwriting?

According to the Embroiderer's Guild, 1st August this year is to be celebrated as National Day of Stitch.

Painters are often identified by their brushstrokes so can embroiderer's be identified by their stitches? If a group of individuals all worked the same design with the same stitches, how easy would it be to recognise who stitched what?

The humble cross stitch can be created in a number of ways, as I discovered when I was looking at marked fabrics dating back to the 18th century in the archives of the London Foundling Hospital. This tiny sample was an experiment to see how despite the stitching looking identical from the front, depending on the technique used, the stitch was very different on the back.  Stitched on ordinary linen and not the even weave used here, the size would be another identifier.

In 1784, a Boy (William Horton, aged 11) was tried at the Old Bailey for theft of tablecloths, shirts and other items.  There was a long discussion regarding marking and how fallible it might be as proof of ownership.

Mr Garrow (the Prisoner's Counsel), asked the victim of the theft (Mrs Ball) how she could prove that the shirts were hers.  She replied  "There is but one that is unmarked."  Mr Garrow then asks "Why is not the marking of every other girl that learns to mark at the same time alike?" to which Mrs Ball replies, "I lost my property that morning, I must judge."  Mrs Ball seems convinced she would recognise her own stitching when she saw it.  

In the end it was not the stitching that was disputed but whether William was actually one of the thieves. I am pleased to say that William was found not guilty.

What is not said is whether Mrs Ball ever got her property back.

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