“Hair art” or “hair jewelry” was immensely popular in the Victorian era. They were often made as tokens of love from hair exchanged between sweethearts, cherished friends, spouses or family members. Hair art could also be a type of a memorial. Known as mourning jewelry, it was made from the hair of someone deceased and worn by a surviving family member or loved one as a token of commemoration.
Creating hair work was a popular, mostly female, leisure pastime done at home, similar to knitting or lace making. Hair art was made at special braiding tables. Preparing the hair to be worked was critical. Hair needed to be boiled in soda water for around 15 minutes. The hair was then carefully dried, sorted, and divided into strands of 20 or so hairs. Most pieces needed long hair, and each strand would be knotted at the end. Strands of hair were carefully positioned on top of the table and woven back and forth following the pattern. Requiring painstaking attention to detail and patience, hair work was a labour of love. Made into all sorts of items, from earrings, to bracelets, necklaces, watch chains, and brooches – hair art was limited only by the imagination of the maker.
Owner was sister of donor’s grandmother, Julia Kelly of Armaugh, Ireland. Hair wreath was made using hair from female members of the family, c. 1900.