Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Lace made from human hair


I’ve been looking at 16th century lace and came upon information about lace made from human hair. The example in the image is needlelace from the V&A Museum and is dated 1600. Janet Arnold notes that a silkwoman called Dorothy Speckard supplied Queen Elizabeth I with ‘heare braid’ and ‘two hundred devices made of heare in maner of leaves’. The slightly later fashion for strings of plaited hair looped round the neck or wrist seem to be keepsakes or love tokens but the earlier laces don’t seem to fulfil that function. Mary Jones refers to ‘point tresse,’ a type of lace made from human hair. She says this type of lace was understandably quite rare and commanded high prices. She records that Mary Queen of Scots received some point tresse from the Countess of Lenox, the mother of her former husband Lord Darnley, and that in the eyes of the family this gift exonerated Mary from the implication of having any part in Darnley’s murder. Jones also records that Louis XIV wore a cravat of silvery white hair at his coronation in 1614. Jones notes that point tresse was still being made in the 18 and 19 centuries by ‘Dalecarlian peasant girls’. Unfortunately this type of lace doesn’t last well so there are few examples but I assume it was all needlelace as finding enough human hair to wind round the lace bobbins required for even a simple pattern would have been no easy task.

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