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Monday, August 13, 2012


Today we're happy to have back author and crafter Joanna Campbell Slan. Her newest series—The Jane Eyre Chronicles—begins with Death of a Schoolgirl, a mystery featuring Jane Eyre as an amateur sleuth. Death of a Schoolgirl is a Mystery Guild Featured Alternate Selection. Slan is also the author of the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series, including the Agatha-Award Finalist, Paper, Scissors, Death. Visit her at her website and see her craftwork at Pinterest. -- AP

The Forgotten Art of Hair Work Jewelry

By Joanna Campbell Slan

Poets have long described how lovers would exchange a lock of hair as an act of devotion. For centuries, admirers have clipped a “souvenir” lock of hair from the body of a famous person. Historians track preserved postmortem hair from such notables as Beethoven, Edgar Allen Poe, George Washington, and Andrew Jackson to name a few. But in the 1700s and 1800s, it wasn’t enough to tuck a lock of hair inside a handkerchief for safekeeping. Mourners longed to keep these locks of hair close to their persons, and thus mourning jewelry became fashionable. At a time when few people lived to see old age, these pieces served as a tangible reminder that love is eternal even though life is short, momento mori (“remember you must die”). 

To display these locks of hair, jewelers created special pieces. This is a photo of a brooch that I own, one inherited from my grandmother. You can see the lock of hair in the center. I do not know whose hair is displayed, only that the person was beloved.

Creative women found another way to stay close to their loved ones. Just as so many of us do handicrafts as a token of our love, these women made hair jewelry. In my latest book, Death of a Schoolgirl, the first in a new series called The Jane Eyre Chronicles, a teacher offers to weave a piece of hair jewelry to give to the family of a deceased student. She has done the same with locks of hair from her own dead brother.

Most hair-work was done on a frame, but a repurposed hat, hat box, or decanter could be used as well.  The frame required a smooth surface so the hairs wouldn’t snag and a hole in the center, of a size large enough that a finger could be inserted.

Here are pictures of what these looked like: http://www.victoriana.com/Jewelry/victorian-hair-jewelry.html


The hair was first boiled in water with a lump of soda. After it dried, it was divided into groups of fifteen to thirty strands all of the same length. At one end of these strands, a thread and weight were tied. At the other end, the hairs were bound together with glue.

Shaping the Piece

Once the strands had been properly prepared, the weaver would find a suitable pattern. Ladies magazines such as Godey’s Lady’s Book offered these. The actual weaving took place on a frame, with the passes of strands building the designs.

Moulds offered another way to create hair jewelry. Hair would have been applied around the outside of the mould to form shapes such as acorns or tubes.

Although today’s crafter might find this handiwork unappealing, when we imagine ourselves in another era, we can begin to see the attraction of hair jewelry. In a time when movies, videos and recordings didn’t exist, and when photographs and portraits were rare, hair work offered a way to remember and cherish those who had passed over.

To see more examples or to learn more, go to:

Thanks for joining us today, Joanna. You remind us that crafters can and do craft with any material! -- AP


Miriam Newman said...

Interesting premise and research. Best of luck with the book!

Marguerite Hall said...

I had never heard of such a thing, but am fascinated by the premise! Thank you for sharing and sparking new ideas within me. I can't wait to dive into your series, for I'm sure I'll find out even more new and interesting tidbits from times passed.

Unknown said...

Hey all, thanks for sharing; fascinaing as history always is to me. I will share this link on my Facebook wall to help drive traffic to this great blog and to bring attention to the book. Big Jane Erye fan

Anonymous said...

Hi, Joanna. That is a _beautiful_ book cover. I love mysteries, so this is one I'll keep an eye out for.

Does anyone know when the first post-Austen use of her characters was?

Kathleen Kaska said...

What an intriguing idea, Joanna, keeping Jane alive in mysteries. It's been years since I've read Jane Erye. I think she'd make a great sleuth. Best of luck with your series.

Unknown said...

Fascinating post, Joanna! And what an intriguing idea for a series. Thanks so much - I look forward to reading the book.

Morgan Mandel said...

Hi Joanna,
You constantly amaze me by your great ideas. You are so crafty in more ways than one!

Morgan Mandel

Larkin said...

What fun--and yes, young Jane would make a good amateur sleuth! After all, that's what she did in her first book, right?

Victorian hair jewelry--I'd heard of it before, and seen examples (which frankly, made me queasy) but had no idea how these intricacies were accomplished.

Look forward to reading the books!

Oh. Now the hoops to post. Wish me luck!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Miriam, thanks so much!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Marguerite, since writing this post, I've gotten permission from two sources to post photos of hair work jewelry on my Pinterest site http://www.Pinterest.com/JoannaSlan Will do later today!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Hey, Rob, and I'm a big Rob Walker fan so we're even, huh? thanks for the promotional help.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Anonymous, I'm not well-verse in Austen. The book came out Tuesday, and I'm delighted to say it's sold out of several Barnes & Noble stores!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Kathleen, it made sense when you think of how she poked around at Thornfield Hall!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Sheila, thanks for your encouragement.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Morgan, that's very kind of you!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Larkin, I was fascinated to research how this was done. Of course, like all crafts, there were varying degrees of complexity. (Thank goodness!)