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Forensic fabric

What lies beneath…

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…beneath our clothes we have our underwear and mostly we don’t forensically examine it but this is not how Amber Butchart sees it. She is a consultant forensic garment analyst for the UK police. Her background in vintage clothing allows her to date any clothing found with a dead body and she says underwear dates particularly well. Her skill and knowledge in recognising the age, construction and composition of clothing can add vital information in identifying a victim. As Butchart notes, “this has more social value than selling old clothes”. And curiously her methods of helping Crime Scene Officers describe clothing has a wider value. She educates them in the need to see items specifically and fairly; so no ‘ethnic’ used to describe everything from Indian Batik to Ghanain Kente. As she puts it “Describe it….don’t infer interpretation” . This seems pretty sound advice for everday life.

Amber Butchart: Consultant Forensic Garment Analyst

(left) Blowfly eggs on a moulded zip and (right) a standard coil zip

An unexpected context for a discussion about zip quality

It’s not often there’s an overlap between textile product design and forensic science, but research undertaken by Poulomi Bhadra (an MSc student at King’s College, London) in conjunction with the Metropolitan Police and the Natural History Museum seems to have found one. The research project, “Factors influencing accessibility of bodies to blowflies”, looked at the rate of decompostion of (in this case pigs) relative to differences in the zips on bags and suitcases. This included the quality of manufacture of the zip! Cheaper moulded zips tend not to be made to the tightest tolerances so the teeth do not fit exactly together. (More importantly to Thread cheap zips don’t run as smoothly and occasionally the teeth break.) Coil zips were found to be better at keeping out blowflies which is slightly surprising as most waterproof and airtight zips are moulded.

Website link: Metropolitan Police, “Insects hold key to forensic advances”, 8th August 2013