Most of us have seen the 2002 movie "Slackers" where one of the characters follows a girl
that he would like to date around. There is nothing unusual about that. Where it gets weird is when
he makes a doll out of her hair that he has collected along the way. If we were from the Victorian era
watching this movie we would not find this odd at all. It would be a part of life, however, making a
doll is a little extreme, but holding on to a loved one's hair was quite common.
The hair was incorporated into jewelry known as mourning jewelry.
Hair has been important in relationships since the time of the Egyptian pharaohs. Paintings
found on the walls of Egyptian tombs show the exchange of hair balls amongst pharaohs and queens
as a sign of enduring love. In ancient Mexico, Indian women kept hair combings in a jar. This jar
would then be buried with the women after their death. The belief was that if the hair was in the
tomb, the soul would not get tired of looking for its missing parts.
The importance of hair traveled from Mexico to Sweden when small farming communities
began braiding hair and making jewelry and art from those plaits. The Swedes became so
accomplished at this art that they trained girls from other communities and then would venture out
in groups of 3 to 4 to other parts of Europe where they would learn the language and sell their wares.
They would teach their craft to other interested girls and the skill spread across Europe.
Mourning jewelry became most popular in Europe following the death of Prince Albert in 1861.
Queen Victoria lived out the remainder of her life as a recluse and in "mourning" clothes including
jewelry. The queen even gave Empress Eugene a bracelet of her own hair, which it was reported,
moved Empress Eugene to tears. It is believed that by having a loved ones hair, particularly after
they are deceased, is a way to hold on to that person. Some even believe that it is akin to looking
up to heaven to see that loved one once again.
Hair jewelry became popular in the United States at the onset of the Civil War. As soldiers were
leaving home, they left more than memories behind, they also left locks of hair. Upon the news that
their beloved soldier had passed, the family would put that locket of hair into a ring, brooch, or
pendant. Hair has even been woven into complete tea sets, landscape pictures and floral designs.
These designs and patterns to make the jewelry could be found in books and magazines from
1850-1900. This became a parlor hobby that only the more influential and upper class men and women
would participate in. Hair would be worked on a round table of varying heights, depending on whether
a male or female would be braiding the hair, with a hole in the middle of the table where the hair is
secured for braiding. First the hair would be boiled in soda water for 15 minutes. Then it would be
sorted into lengths and divided into strands of 20-30 hairs. The strands would then be worked around
wooden molds made by local wood turners. Once the work was finished, it would again be boiled for
15 minutes and then dried before being removed from the form.
The examples of hair art that are on the internet are beyond exquisite and beautiful. However, I
cannot seem to get myself past the fact that these pieces are made of hair! As intricate as they are,
it is hard to imagine someone making them by hand and the number of hours that it must take to
complete some of the more ornate projects. So unless you have nothing but a bag of long hair,
several hours, and a pattern book from the 19th century laying around, stick to being a slacker. Go
for making a hair doll, it only takes some hair and yarn, and maybe some googly eyes if you really want to make it special!