Friday, November 1, 2013

Freeform Friday - Victorian hair jewelry

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."

Mourning Brooch
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. ("
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! 


Resources - 


  1. Creepy and fascinating is a good description, and for the most part really beautiful as well. I had no idea such intricate pieces were made from hair, the lock of baby's hair was about as far as I thought it went. Thanks for sharing Jenny!

  2. I found this very interesting. Also a bit creepy :)

    What was the boiling in soda for? To clean? Preserve?

    1. To clean it I assume.... Or to keep it moist and supple until woven?

  3. Very interesting and pretty creepy. After my mother died, I was going through all her things and since she was the collector of all things old family I found some interesting things. There was a beautiful old photo album that was old enough to have mostly tintypes in it. There was a tintype of a young woman along with an obit stuck in between the pages and a small piece of waxed paper. I opened the paper and there was a lock of hair nicely coiled and tied with a small ribbon. Part of me wanted to run screaming from the room and the other part thought how cool it was that there was still a 'part' of her here.

    1. Somehow to me a lock of hair seems simple and sweet, to the point/ memory. But having a hair weaving coffee clatch is odd.

  4. I think it is a beautiful way to keep a loved one near you. Some of the jewelry ends are beautiful. good post!

    1. We are so accustomed to photoes now. In some ways the hair is so ugh more personal.

  5. Fascinating and odd, especially as we now know our visible hair is a part of us which is actually already "dead", that is, only the follicle, the part beneath the scalp, is considered a living tissue. Super creepy...

  6. That is kind of creepy. The description of the making of the jewelry does in its way remind me of Kumihino braiding though.

    1. Good point! The bobbins, keeping it taught...

  7. wow. just. wow. That one that hair from the entire family? amazing....and creepy :)

  8. Creepy and interesting at the same time!

  9. Ok..creepy ok...but to me, it is more fascinating. Since I am into genealogy...this would be right up my ally....toooo cool! Thanks for sharing!


We would love to hear what you have to say, please leave a comment.