In the mid-19th century, making jewelery and art from human hair was not unusual. Hairwork was considered a ladies handicraft, a category that included activities like drawing, painting, and fashioning decorations from natural objects like shells, moss, and feathers.
Many people think that hairwork was only made from the hair of the deceased as a memento of a loved one’s passing. Though some hairwork was made for this purpose, other pieces were collected from living friends and relatives, and served as a visual display of personal connections.
If you are interested in learning how to make Victorian-era hairwork, there are already some resources online, but these are fairly scarce. One of the styles that seems to have the least documentation is hair flowers, which are made by wrapping hair around a knitting needle (or something similar) and securing it with wire. In this post, I will cover one of the basic techniques for making these flowers.
First, let’s begin with primary source material. The 1860 book, Art Recreations by Mrs. S. R. Urbino and Henry Day provides a description of how to fashion flowers from human hair. Art Recreations is available in full text online via openlibrary.org.
- human hair extensions, 16″ or longer
- knitting needle, size 1
- beading wire, 30 gauge
- hot glue gun
- clear nail polish
Prepare the hair
I bought a small package of hair extensions at a beauty supply store for about $20 which were grouped together with plastic tips.
To prepare the hair, I cut the plastic tip off of one of the bundles and divided the hairs into groups of fifteen strands. I used a hot glue gun to secure the strands to keep them from slipping out later on in the process. A word of warning: this is incredibly tedious; I recommend turning on your favorite TV series as you work through this step.
Prepare your workspace
Clamp a knitting needle to a table or board. This will be your workspace.
Cut a 10-12″ length of wire and fold it in half around the knitting needle as in the picture above.
Begin by twisting about 1/2″ of the wire in a clockwise direction.
Next, loop your length of hair around the knitting needle like this:
Cross the right wire over the needle, and then cross the left wire over the right. You have just completed the first loop. To make the next loop, wrap the hair around the knitting needle in a counterclockwise direction, then cross the wires over one another again. The most challenging part of making loops is to keep the hair and wire tight. If your wire is too loose, your loops will not hold fast; if your hair is not pulled tight, your loops will look uneven.
Repeat the wrapping process until you run out of hair.
To finish, twist the remaining wire and use a small amount of clear nail polish at the base of the strand ends to keep the hair from unraveling.
Once the nail polish is dry, trim the excess hair as close to the wire as possible.
By connecting the twisted ends, you can create a simple petal.
You can group several petals together to make a flower, or create whatever pattern strikes your fancy.
In a future post, I will show examples of a few variations on this basic technique, including the zigzag pattern shown above.