Friday, February 8, 2013

Kristen: How to make Mourning Jewelry

Oh my goodness it has been a busy few weeks! With winter storms, paper deadlines, and squirmy students, I've found little time to play with my sewing/crafting. Fortunately I have been blessed with a snow day today! With my extra time I've decided to jump deeper into my research of hairwork, or mourning jewelry.
A beautiful example!

I am a firm believer that working only on one project at a time can be exhausting. Hairwork is certainly a field of study in itself, and eventually I'd like to add pieces to my etsy shop. First I must research! Today I gathered my tools in anticipation of what I hoped to be a successful day of crafting.
 Larissa, one of my fellow reenactors, gave me her hair to practice!

One of the first things I've noticed while researching hairwork is that several of the tools they used are not quite as common today. Gum arabic is now used for painting, and I wasn't exactly sure if I bought the right kind. Also, I bought a doll's curling iron, since the irons they used back then were actually heated over the fire (unlike our modern, deadly use of electric curling irons). 

The first technique I've tried is called a gimp. It is commonly used as flowers, but today I wanted to do a simple strand of embroidery thread to practice. I will post a more detailed group of pictures in the future, though this should give you an idea of what I am doing.
Note the thin wire gently wrapped around each thread loop

It looked very nice on the metal rod. Unfortunately it had to come OFF the metal rod. When I did so, of course it did not look quite so nice. *Sigh

What little I could salvage!

Not to be discouraged, I tried again with actual hair...and promptly made a large mess. I didn't take any photos because I then became discouraged. Quite discouraged. Extra discouraged. 

I was tempted to stop right there. One thing I've learned throughout this process is that I will make many mistakes, and practice makes perfect! So I set out to try the Prince Albert's curl, in honor of Queen Victoria's beloved husband.
I hope he wasn't watching...

I warmed up the doll curling iron by clipping it on another iron. I then burnt my hands considerably trying to curl the darn piece of hair. I'm quite a novice at hairdressing in general, so perhaps jumping straight to hair jewelry was ambitious. 

In any case, I moved on to glop on some gum arabic, which quickly took out the curl. I suppose there's a reason the directions say to "apply lightly." Thank you hairwork book...

How did they make that? How?!?

I decided to add a little bow to the piece, and back the hair with a light cotton. A few months ago I bought a shipment of little windowpane charms, so I stuck the finished piece in there.

It would take a saint to make this so well!

I will take it out later and replace it with a better piece before I give it to Larissa. This was my very first one, so I'm hoping the next will be an improvement. Before I finish, I should write down a few of my observations:

1. Be patient.
2. Hair is messy. It will move in EVERY direction.
3. You must have the proper tools, or nothing will work.
4. Plan on nothing working the first 10 times you try this.
5. Research is a process.

I will try to work on my hair jewelry more so that I may tack it on to my next post!



  1. I've been considering trying some hairwork at some point. Did you treat the hair before you started?

    I've read to tie it together and put some baking soda into some water and boil it for a bit first.

    Haven't tried yet, but am interested to see your progress.

    1. I haven't treated the hair, though I'll probably do it next time. I don't have too large of a chunk, so I'm afraid it will fall apart. I'll also try being more patient too!

  2. I've just found this blog and I already love reading the posts! I've admired hair art and jewelry for the longest time, but I never could figure out much about how to do it. I'm so glad your documenting this and sharing your progress, I can't wait to see further work on your hair jewelry!

    1. Thank you! I will be updating this project with as many pictures as possible. I also hope to finish my mourning dress sometime soon!

  3. Very neat! I've always wondered how they made all those interesting jewelry pieces. Have you ever seen a hair wreath? I've seen them a few times in museums and am awed by the patience it took to make them.

    On another note, I love this blog! I've learned things from it already. :) Ken, from Passion for the Past sent me. I'm a big fan of the Civil War era, and I'd like to get into reenacting as soon as I make myself the correct garments. :)

  4. That's awesome! I remember when I first started reenacting, gathering my things together. I didn't know anything about sewing either, but I knew I couldn't afford all the dresses I wanted! If you need any help/advice, please let me know. The whole reason I try to be very descriptive in my posts is because I remember scouring blogs when I first began, looking for pictures and very clear instruction.

    1. I've taught myself how to sew, and made myself a dress for a costume party a few years back, but the silhouette is way wrong, so I'm working on finding fabric for a corset. When you reenact, what kind of shoes/boots do you wear? Usually when I wear my dress, I just wear a pair of my fashion boots, because no one I hang out with knows the difference and you can't see them under the hoops, but I know that isn't period correct. :)

    2. At the very least you know the basics of sewing! The rest comes with time and practice (and help from others...) I also agree about the corset; it happens to be the only thing I have not studied very much. Becky, on the other hand, has made at least one already, and it turned out pretty nice (we will do a corset tutorial eventually, but that is more advanced than where I'm at now!)

      As for shoes, I am very very bad *gasp*. Most reenactors will buy from either or You're looking at spending $80-130 at those places, but they're very good. Personally, I've had a pair for several years that are "modern," but are passable. I plan on upgrading to the Victoria at Fugawee's before this summer. Most reenactors that first start out won't buy the really nice shoes until they know they are in the hobby for the long term!

      I also plan on doing a tutorial for making dance slippers in the future. That will certainly be interesting!

    3. I'm a bit nervous about making a corset, but I've read a lot of blogs online, so I think between that and what I know already, it should come out okay. How long have you been reenacting?

      Thanks for the links! I've seen those before, but I wanted to get another opinion before I bought anything expensive, so I don't end up wasting money on something that isn't historically accurate. :) A dance slipper tutorial should be very interesting!

    4. Trust me you cant go wrong with Robert Lands. I advise buying duckies (rubber booties) that fit over the boot to protect the leather from dust, mud and other nasty elements on the battle grounds.
      If you do get RL, you can send in a trace of your feet and he will make shoes to your tracing!

  5. Veronica-I've been reenacting for two years as an adult, and a little as a child. I didn't learn to sew until two years ago. Once I started, I couldn't stop! It is a rather addicting hobby, and I had many people within my reenacting group that were welcoming and supportive.

    Suzanne-I am tempted by the Robert Lands shoes too. Honestly, I have been so torn between the two that it has taken me this long to purchase a pair!

    1. Well youve seen mine, but I think you will look great in "Victoria" fugawee shoes.

  6. Did you ever try hair art again? Any links to your finished projects?

  7. I was told that people would dip the hair in wax to work with it, it seals it and makes it easier to work with. Then after they get it set the way they want to you heat it lightly to remove the wax. May be worth a try.

  8. I recently lost my wife and I kept a lock of her hair. I am looking for someone in the NY area to weave it into a locket that I bought.Please contact

  9. Thank you, i love jewelry that's why I also created my own blog, please take a look! It would help me a lot! and is very appreciated.

  10. This is an awesome motivating article.I am practically satisfied with your great work.You put truly extremely supportive data. Keep it up. jewelry field


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