Leading Strings

I love looking at photos and portraits of people who lived long ago. We can gleam so much information by the way they dressed and posed. I often wonder about them, their lives, their thoughts. One detail in pictures that involve small children that I sometimes see is the presence of a belt or rope attached to the child’s garments right under the arm. These fabric belt is called Leading strings, sometimes also called Leading Reins.

Leading strings seemed to have served two purposes: to aid the child while learning to walk, and to keep the child from straying too far away.

By Pieter de Hooch (1629–after 1684) – http://www.mdbk.de/sammlungen/detailseiten/pieter-de-hooch/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40616518

As a mother of six children, I spent a lot of time leaning over, with my fingers extended, so my babies could hold onto them to keep them steady as they learned to walk. A leading string might have saved a lot of time with a tired back. And in a busy public place, keeping track of a toddler can be a challenge. I always had the fear that the second I looked away, they would run off after some new fascinating diversion or be spirited away by a stranger.

Translation: “A young governess helps a very small child to walk. He wears a little sailor suit and carries a (rattle?), and still wears leading strings.”

 I sometimes wonder why we stopped this practice of sewing leading strings into children’s clothing, don’t you?


3 thoughts on “Leading Strings

  1. Kathy says:

    Very interesting post– I wasn’t aware of ‘leading strings’… Thank you!

  2. In the UK they haven’t–or at least hadn’t when my first two were small. They were often called reins, but the idea was a sort of harness with a strap which Mom (or Mum, I guess!) kept a good grip on. I loved it. I could pause to look at things as I went through a store without having to check every minute or so to see where the little one had gone. It was particularly useful leaving the house, which like many Victorian row houses built long before the automobile had maybe 10 feet from the front door to the street? Not much space for a toddler to conquer while you were checking you had your keys before letting the door shut. My other two children were toddlers in Michigan where there was maybe 30 ft. or more to the street. No reins needed there, but in stores I missed them!

  3. Debra Adams says:

    While raising my children we had a cord strung between two bracelets. One I wore and the other on my child so he couldn’t get out of my sight. I too was worried I’d lose him in a crowd. Kids can be so quick at times.

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