Friday, 8 January 2010

Victorian hairwork

One project that I am hoping to help get off the ground this year is Transition Town Worthing's Re-Skilling group, which will be offering training in many of the skills and crafts that our grandparents took for granted. I don't think that Victorian hairwork will be on the agenda.

To us, the idea of preserving a departed relative's hair in the form of a bracelet, necklace, or hair ornament for prosperity seems macabre in the extreme. The Victorians had a deeply ritualised and sentimental view of death and the grieving process, with different modes of dress, length of mourning, and expected codes of behaviour following a death all clearly set out, depending on your social class. To a Victorian lady undertaking a lengthy period of mourning, maybe creating such a hairwork memento mori would have been a soothing way to fill the hours and reflect on the loss of a loved one.

Ambitious hairwork pieces would have been undertaken by professionals: a large embroidery of a weeping willow using the hair of both living and deceased family members to depict the tree and a grieving family standing beneath the branches.

Instructions for simpler pieces, including woven hairwork bracelets, or tubular head dresses, could be found in illustrated magazines and were made by more accomplished lady crafters at home.

Hairwork wasn't only used at times of mourning - it was seen as quite acceptable to use your own hair to make jewellery or love tokens to give to family and friends as a token of affection. I would like to see the look on someone's face if I did the same thing today...

The illustration above is of a large ribbon brooch made out of tubes of woven hair, with a hand painted brooch in the middle.


  1. It seemed to me I saw an exhibit of memorial embroideries done with the hair of the deceased or the embroideress. It was very edward gorey. I'm sorry that Hairwork will not be taught in Worthing, where to learn it then?

  2. You are right, Hairwork is VERY Edward Gorey. It would probably come to life at night and fluster the inhabitants of an old mansion, I would imagine.

    Maybe you could start the Hairwork revival...