When we heard about Victorian hair wreaths collection at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum we were incredulous, but knew we had to see them. Bizarre memento mori? Objects of exquisite revulsion? Seeing them, however, led to an even greater degree of disbelief and even fewer words.

David Ryan, Registrar at the Pioneers Museum, explains this macabre craft of the 1800s and walks us through the slideshow:

The hair wreath tradition basically runs from about 1850 through roughly about 1880. It was one of a group of crafts known as “fancy work” that women (typically middle-class to upper-class women) did. Some of the other forms of fancy work were similar constructions to the hair wreaths except made out of yarn or sometimes shells and sea ferns, occasionally wax. Usually hair wreaths are in the form of a horseshoe. This was basically along the same lines as nailing a horseshoe above your door to keep the luck in. Otherwise, if you turned it upside down, the luck would “run out.” We’ve been told that new additions to the hair wreaths actually happen right at the bottom of the horseshoe of the horseshoe and others move along the sides towards the top. Most times the hair was from family members. Occasionally there would be a wreath made by a church or some other kind of community. And you can see that there are a variety of different colors of hair because these family members were of various ages. Some of them were memorial wreaths. They were added when somebody died and they would collect the hair from this family member.

If you look at the construction it’s basically a kind of a wire armature that’s in the shape of a horseshoe, and there are different flowers or constructions attached to this wire armature. That made it possible to take them apart and move those pieces up the wreath as they wanted to add to it.

Somebody of a modern sensibility might be kind of creeped out by these things, but back in Victorian times they considered hair as something that should be saved. In fact, every proper Victorian lady had on her dressing table a container called a hair receiver. And every time she’d brush her hair and clean out the brush she’d put the hair into the hair receiver to save it for crafts like this.

We’ve had some speculation from a scholar that some of these were made by people who did nothing but create hair wreaths. And, as far as we know, there was no such profession. These were made by women in their own homes and not for commercial purposes.

thebigsomething@krcc.org

 

2 Responses to Hair Wreaths, i.e. Wreaths Made Out of Hair

  1. Mary H says:

    Somehow, I don’t find these macabre or repulsive. We use hair from many animals (llamas, sheep, goats, horses, even dog) for clothing, so I don’t see human hair as being inherently more yucky. Many parents save locks of baby hair in the baby book.

    I think actually crafting with human hair, especially slippery straight caucasian hair, would be a real challenge. It doesn’t like to bend, and keeps sliding back to straight. Anyone who’s tried braiding can attest to it. I think it would be worth locating someone who has made these in the past, and consider creating an instruction book.

  2. Eva says:

    I remember watching my grandmother brush her hair and put it in a hair receiver, then make a clump of it and use it as a sort of pad in her chignon!

News

AP
May 6, 2016 | NPR · Khan beat Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith to become the city’s first Muslim mayor.
 

Courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas
May 6, 2016 | NPR · Scientists are exploring creatures and habitats in the deepest parts of the ocean, and you can follow along by watching a live video stream.
 

AP
May 6, 2016 | NPR · Trump’s former 2016 presidential rivals Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham both said Friday they cannot support their party’s de facto White House nominee.
 

Arts & Life

May 6, 2016 | NPR · The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s new movie, Captain America: Civil War, opens Friday. As a character, Captain America has long responded to the politics of the time and this movie is no different.
 

May 6, 2016 | FA · The new movie from Marvel Studios features almost all the members of the Avengers superhero collective. Critic David Edelstein calls it an irresistible hodgepodge of special effects and superheroes.
 

May 6, 2016 | FA · “Your heart is pounding; your adrenaline is shooting out of your ears,” retired police officer Steve Osborne says. “And you got one second to get it right.” Originally broadcast April 21, 2015.
 

Music

Courtesy of the artists
May 6, 2016 | NPR · Are you feeling listener fatigue or musical ecstasy from all the surprise album drops? Guess what: It’s not over yet.
 

May 6, 2016 | FA · Jazz stars David Murray, Geri Allen and Terri Lyne Carrington first played together last year in New York. Now they come together with the new album, Perfection. Critic Kevin Whitehead has a review.
 

Courtesy of the artist
May 6, 2016 | NPR · The singing bassist presents original songs and standards in a session from 2001.
 

Get the KRCC iPhone App

The Writer's Almanac

Radiolab