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A little niche: Dated 1836 Baby Binder [B] The Radford Family Infant

A little niche: Dated 1836 Baby Binder [B] The Radford Family Infant

I think it is fair to say that 99.9% of my fine textile customer friends will not wish to buy this item. And certaily not pay £75.00 for it! Never mind, it can stay happily in Poppies Cottage until it finds the right home. But you may want to read about it - I hope so!


This is a first for me. I have bought hundreds of historic baby items and never found one before. Not because they are so sought after. Indeed, most have probably been thrown away over the centuries! Why would anyone keep a narrow rectangle of double sided cloth with ties attached?


This is for those of you who value social history just as much as fine needlework. For this piece tells us so much about social history from the 18th into the 19th Century, the health of infants, the mortality rate, the ignored advice of those such as the famous Rousseau and others and the folk law that allowed myths to persist even through to the end of the 19th Century!

And I never knew until I found this little, utilitarian textile for a baby, with the most helpful date to confirm it.

One item on my wish list has for a long time been a swaddling band. Linda Baumgarten shows us a fine one [see The Study for full reference] in her book 'What Clothes Reveal', 2002, page 158/Fig. 222. Dating to c1700 it is very long and edged in fine lace. If we imagine a woman of the 18th Century, knowing that so many infants die before the age of 5, what is the most natural instinct to protect a newborn? To hold it close and protect it from harm. Such was the function of the swaddling band. Wrapped round and round the tiny form, and held with open ended pins, it performed that very duty of making the child immobile. Of course, it had the opposite effect, preventing limbs from strengthening until they were weakened. 

Baumgarten tells us that, by 1838, new styles for diapers for example, were tried, but usually only to deter families from using open pins that caused infection. The new 19th Century way was with the use of ties to fasten instead of pins. But constriction was not considered, despite the warnings of Rousseau and other enlightened academics.

Baumgarten: 'The practice of swaddling gradually died out in Europe and America during the second half of the 18th Century.' Page 156 & see figure 219.

This was where my research stopped! Well, Baumgarten focusses only on the 18th Century and a little beyond. Thank goodness, I thought! But I was wrong.


We turn to Cunnington & Buck [1965 - see The Study for full reference] to discover the baby binder. Who knew, that wrapping up an infant to constrict the abdomen and bones continued into the 19th Century and indeed, if you 'Google' baby binder today, you will find that these are still sold! I have not found out why - I don't know of a single baby that was wrapped in a baby binder since the 20th Century!

Cunnington and Buck write: 'The tradition of swaddling bands was a very strong one' p157/1965.

And so it seems. The 19th Century saw babies still constricted, maybe not from head to foot as a century before, but still wrapped around the abdomen and still very bad for baby. Cunnington and Buck describe it as 'an evil practice'.

At least, by the second half of the 19th Century, flannel was used. Far softer although a small relief. And by the 1880's and 90's, knitted versions were popular.

But the one I have for sale has no flexibility. But it does have a date. And a name! And we know that Mama Radford had at least 10 of them for her baby, the number 10 clearly written in ink beside the name and date.

Historical background done! This baby binder, dated to just before Victoria comes to the throne, is made of fine linen. It is double layered and it measures 20.5" long and 4.5" wide.

At one end, there are three sets of double ties. At the opposite end, a continuous length of very narrow binding is sewn to make 3 joined rows. Each row has 3 gaps left unstitched along the length. Tiny stitches and very simple.

Look at the photo's and you will see that the ties slip neatly inside the gaps created at the opposite end, and can thus be tied together in thier pairs.

Very functional. Probably most uncomfortable to wear. Only freed at night. But hey! Better to be free of the dreaded pins!

Do read the condition report because it is not perfect. 



    In generally good condition for a functional antique item of clothing, there are a few tiny nicks broken along one long edge, one of them [shown] being a little more untidy, the tear forming a little l-shape.

    All other three edges are undamaged.

    All ties are present and in good condition.

    Very slight age discolouration along historic folds. A cold soak for a couple of hours will do no harm at all. Do not wring and dry naturally. The colour generally is very good.

    Finally, and I beg you not to remove them until you have done more research, there is evidence of a few strands of thread coming from it. Was one band stitched to another? Completely simple to remove, but you may find out what they are! Always learning!

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