Happy Halloween. Happy All Soul’s Day & All Saint’s Day…
It the time of year when “the veil is thin” and the deceased are brought to mind. With festivals and remembrances, with pictures and mementos… and with hair?
Last week I shared with you the variety of Victorian mourning jewelry, designed and worn to commemorate and immortalize the lost loved one. But the tradition of hairwork encompassed more than mourning the dead. Hair was used as a token of remembrance among the living as well.
The small town of Vamhus Sweden had a reputation for their hair plaiting cottage industry. As a town only needs so many hair weavers… they spread out over Europe in the early 1800’s and the traditions took hold. ( I couldn’t make this up). In the 1850’s Queen Victoria gave Empress Eugenie a bracelet plaited of her own hair. And as we know from the rise in popularity of Whitby jet from last week – once Queen Victoria endorsed a product, it became all the rage.
Godey’s ladies magazine – the Vogue of the 1800’s says this:
“Hair is at once the most delicate and last of our materials and survives us like
love. It is so light, so gentle, so escaping from the idea of death, that, with a
lock of hair belonging to a child or friend we may almost look up to heaven
and compare notes with angelic nature, may almost say, I have a piece of thee
here, not unworthy of thy being now.”
USA c. 1848 Gold, enamel, hair, glass
Brooch: “H. G. Otis, / Died Octr. 28th 1848 / G. H. Otis, Died Octr. 24th 1848.”
Locket: “George H. Otis Died 1848”
USA, 1864. Hair, gold
H. 2, W. 2 11/16, D. 3/8 in.
Inscription: Front: “Julia” Back: “Died Apl 22. 1864”
Intricate three dimensional pieces crafted from the hair of an entire family – framed in a shadow box.
Hair worked on a table with bobbins, as classic lace makers and tatters would do… and a drawing room social activity? Fix a pot of tea, or a glass of sherry… we are working on hair tonight after dinner. Wow.
“Beginning in the 1850’s through the 1900’s, hairwork became a drawing room
pastime. Godey’s Lady’s Book and Peterson’s Magazine gave instructions and
patterns for making brooches, cuff links, and bracelets at home.
The work was done on a round table. Depending on the height of the table, it
could be done sitting or standing… The hair must be boiled in soda water for 15 minutes. It was then sorted into lengths and divided into strands of 20-30 hairs. Most pieces of jewelry required long
hair. For example, a full size bracelet called for hair 20 to 24″ long…
Almost all hairwork was made around a mold or firm material. Snake bracelets
and brooches, spiral earrings and other fancy hair forms required special
molds which were made by local wood turners. The mold was attached to the
center hole in the work table. The hair was wound on a series of bobbins, and
weights were attached to the braid work to maintain the correct level and to
keep the hair straight. When the work was finished and while still around the
mold, it was taken off, boiled for 15 minutes, dried and removed from the
mold. It was then ready to go to a jewelers for mounting. (hairwork.com)”
|Photo credits Morning Glory jewelry
|Photo credits Morning Glory jewelry
I find it a little bit creepy, and quite a bit fascinating. Not uncommon to this day to save a lock of a baby’s hair. And I am reminded of the O. Henry story “The Gift of the Magi”
where the newlywed wife sells her hair to but her husband a watch fob. ( He of course has pawned the watch to buy her gold hair combs…)
I hope this was interesting to you! I found it more and more interesting in a quirky way the more I read… Have a hair raising weekend!