Day Ten: Name Tapes

name tapes 002I have a strong memory of being taken, as a child, to collect names tapes that had been ordered for me. I think they must have been for my Girls Brigade uniform rather than for school as we bought them from the Methodist shop. I had been waiting for them for weeks and going to collect them felt impossibly exciting.  I can still picture myself holding mum’s hand as we walked by the Cathedral on a late summer afternoon.

I can also still remember my astonishment at seeing my name stitched into the cotton strips. Perhaps it was the permanence of it or the expert lettering or the fact the tapes had been made professionally rather than by mum. The name tapes not only confirmed my identity, they affirmed me; the name was mine and I was this name. Did that scare me I wonder? Was there a sense of loss too perhaps – that I was the person named on the tape, not just my mother’s daughter? Was I still holding mum’s hand when we walked back past the Cathedral?

When Dylan started school I walked the Cathedral Quarter looking for that shop. Of course, it had gone; name tapes were printed now, not sewn, and were ordered by post. I chose green on cream.  I remember sitting for hours in the evenings, at this particular time of year, stitching name tapes into Dylan’s clothes. Because of his disability I had to label everything: pants, socks and vests as well as top clothes. When the time came to buy name tapes for my daughter I placed a smaller order (she chose red); with language, I realised, you are able to claim your life more easily.

Although my daughter was initially as thrilled by her name tapes as I had been, it wasn’t long before she declared them unnecessary. Dylan, however, has continued to need them. There was a time when I devoted myself to sewing them in his clothes but at some point I stopped. I don’t know why. Perhaps the poem I wrote about finding my daughter’s discarded name tapes in my sewing basket (after she left home) unearthed feelings difficult enough to stop me from engaging with them ever again. Whatever the reason, it is a long time now since I sewed a name tape into Dylan’s clothes.

Because he has been living at home there haven’t been many opportunities for Dylan to lose or muddle clothes but the scope for loss and confusion is high in a residential setting, especially when the residents are similar in age and size (and therefore clothing). It is entirely unreasonable, in this situation, to expect care staff to sort unlabelled laundry. Since June I have had a bag of name tapes on my desk which I have fully intended sewing into those items of Dylan’s I wouldn’t want to be misplaced (because they are newish or favourite or would be challenging to replace). ‘Do name tapes’, however, has stayed fixed on my list of things to do – no matter how many tricks I play on myself I just cannot get the needle into my hand.

Today I accepted my limitations: when I went to see Dylan I took the name tapes for the night staff who have offered to sew them into Dylan’s clothes. I felt so relieved. Blessings on the night staff 🙂

8 thoughts on “Day Ten: Name Tapes

  1. When my mother had her bad fall earlier this year, which led to residential care, we had to do the name tape thing, suddenly – and indeed most of the time resorted to writing with black biro on the labels because everything was such a rush and the name tapes weren’t instant to get. People with dementia mostly don’t recognize their own clothes and indeed often claim other people’s! Her new dressing gown vanished before it was taped. She vanished herself not long after. A memory came back to me of being on the tube in London a couple of years ago and fascinated by why a youngish woman sitting opposite me was sewing a name tape on a garment — on a rattly TUBE train of all places, and at one point she dropped a needle and a man picked it up for her. This came back to me when we were getting name tapes in a rush for my mum, and I realised there are multiple reasons for people sewing name tapes in a hurry, and lots of them have nothing to do with jolly little children starting school.


    • Nell this is very moving – I was so carried by the story of your mother. I have been aware of the link with elder care – my girlfriend C (who reads my blog and sometimes comments, so she might do) is currently supporting her father into a home and we have found so many parallels in our experiences and preoccupations. One day I was complaining about having to do the name tapes and she replied that she had left her partner at home doing exactly that – sewing name tapes into her father’s clothes. I don’t often wish for a partner but I must confess to a flicker of envy 🙂 And then another friend mentioned the clothes issue in relation to her mother who had dementia and was in residential care – how disconcerting it was to find her mother dressed in someone else’s clothes sometimes when she visited. As you say, name tapes are not just for happy school days – their uses and meanings are far more complex, as your wonderful poets-eye vignette of the woman who dropped her needle illustrates. (I think that is a poem, Nell, if you ever find the space to write it.) Thank you so much for this comment – I read it while I was at work today and was so moved…

      Liked by 1 person

    • Ah Eder then you are my Brazilian friend! There is no way to tell where people are located, unless they say, and for some reason I always assumed you were in the US. So you are in Brazil? One of my dreams is to visit the place where Elizabeth Bishop lived so Brazil is on my wish list. Also, it is a very interesting place for educationists to look to – radical thinkers and pioneering practices. I’m not really surprised to hear that you don’t have name tapes – I suspect it was a practice in elite English boarding schools which somehow found its way to the rest of us 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeap, that’s me! But am I the only one from Brazil? (feeling special! 🙂 )
        I don’t know where Liz Bishop have lived (sorry about my ignorance about it). Pioneering practices should be a great improvement for all the world education, I guess…

        Abouth the name tapes, in fact we do have something “similar”, that is the practice of the parents to write with a marker somewhere inside the clothes. It is very usual the schools to gather lots of forgotten clothes (and umbrellas, for sure!).

        Best regards



      • Well maybe you are not the only one (but still special of course). Elizabeth Bishop lived in Santos then Petropolis then Ouro Preto – she was American but made Brazil her home – wrote some wonderful poetry there and translated from the Portuguese too. Ah yes – ‘lost property’ as we call it. Here, though, you would be less likely to forget an umbrella 🙂


      • I’ve found the biography of Liz Bishop. In fact, Petropolis is a beautiful place, in the hills of Rio de Janeiro. Ouro Preto is a very traditional village, in Minas Gerais, with outstanding sculptures and a very special style in its buildings and houses.
        I’ve found a movie in Brazil that tells the story of Liz and Lota, do you know it?

        Best regards


      • Thank you Eder -I have heard about the film, yes, but not seen it. I read a lovely book of correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and the American poet Robert Lowell – many of EB’s letters were written from Brazil and painted such a vivid picture of the places you mention. I think Lota was involved in the design of Brasilia, as I remember? Ouro Preto, where EB ended her time in the country, is the place which seems particularly wonderful from her descriptions – and she had a toucan 🙂


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