About a year ago, I was at an antiques flea market in Chicago. Almost every seller had several glass cases full of sparkling vintage costume pins and rings and necklaces, and I spent hours nursing my iced coffee and oohing over everything. One seller’s display was peculiar, though: just two glass cases, one filled with vintage silver rings and the other with…what looked like jewelry made of brown and black thread. Delicate thread intricately knotted to form watch fobs and earrings and bracelets. Huh. They were weird-looking, and outrageously expensive. Who would pay $250 for a set of teardrop earrings made out thread?
I asked the woman standing behind the counter about the weird thread-jewelry. “Oh, they’re hair,” she said.
“Human hair, honey. This is Victorian mourning jewelry—people took locks of their loved one’s hair and had it made into these perfect works of art, so they could keep and wear a part of them forever.”
“Oh,” I said, simultaneously grossed out and fascinated. “Really? That’s…hair?”
She reached into the case and pulled out a brooch with a braid of bright blonde hair pressed under glass. It looked a lot like this:
“This one’s from the early 1800s,” the seller said, and handed it to me. The little braid was as shiny and bright as it must have been the day it was snipped from someone’s head over 200 years ago. I suddenly felt how amazing it was to be holding it, this entirely unchanged piece of a person who was no longer alive. I felt like I was time-traveling. The past wasn’t in black-and-white anymore—it was as bright as new straw.
The brooch cost $375, so I couldn’t buy it, but my interest was piqued. The idea of making jewelry out of the hair of someone you loved was so CREEPY and BEAUTIFUL and semi-morbid. I went home and immediately started googling “Victorian mourning jewelry,” and discovered that while hair jewelry and hair work became something of a craze in Victorian times, the idea of wearable keepsakes out of hair has actually been around for centuries.
Hair has long been attributed mythical and magical powers—in the Bible, Samson’s hair holds his power, and it’s long been thought in folklore that spells can be cast over a person if you possess a lock of their hair. Hair goes everywhere with us, and think about all the songs, poems, and stories that involve hair, not to mention the amount of time we devote to maintaining it. And when it’s preserved correctly, hair lasts almost forever! Hair is so personal, a piece of us. Case in point: My first girlfriend had hair that fell all the way to her butt, and I need to tell you that I was so in love with her, so obsessed with her, that I was actually jealous of her hair, because it had been with her longer than I had. YES.
Anyway! Since our theme for this month is FOREVER, I thought it would be fun to do a less-morbid DIY version of hair jewelry using your and your friends’ hair! I mean, sure, there are friendship bracelets and necklaces, but if this isn’t an intimate and conversation-starting way to declare your FOREVER LOVE for one another, I don’t know what is. A way to show off how close you are without the potential sharing of blood-borne pathogens inherent in becoming “blood sisters,” you know what I’m saying?
Why braid bracelets out of embroidery thread when you can make this:
out of your best friend’s hair and feel all witchy-cool?
You will need:
• One or more locks of your own or your friend’s hair. Any kind of hair, in any texture, will work. If you want to make a spiraled braid-coil, like the eye necklace I made above, you’ll need at least 12 inches of hair that’s all the same length. That much hair is a little bit longer than shoulder length. (If you just want to have a tiny lock of hair in your jewelry and don’t care about making a braided coil, or are making a ring, short hair will work fine.) Basically, you need the longest possible hair you can get without making your friend’s head look like it’s conspicuously missing hair. With your friend’s permission and solemn vows to trust you, cut a snippet of hair from the back of the head, under the top layer of hair, so what you’ve taken won’t show. The lock of hair should be about ¼ of your pinkie thick. After you’ve cut it, tie one end tightly with a bit of thread.
• A jewelry frame (sometimes called a cabochon setting). I found mine in the jewelry-making section at Michaels, but you can order settings online.
• Superglue that dries clear (NOT insta-dry superglue).
• Assorted tiny gems/pearls/dried flowers/glitter/cuttings from magazines–anything that you might use to decorate the necklace when you’ve got the hair in place. Nail art gems work great!
• Optional: a clear cabochon dome to cover and preserve your hair artistry. Lends a professional touch.
• If it’s a necklace, you’ll also need a clasp, a chain, and jump rings, all also widely available at crafts stores or online.
How to make a necklace:
1. With the lock of hair pinched firmly between your fingers, brush or comb it gently.
2. Rip off a small piece of duct tape and tape one end of the lock of hair down to the edge of a table. Smooth the tape down hard—we don’t want any hair escaping.
3. Separate the lock into three equal parts, then begin braiding it. The key here is to make a tight braid—no fooling around with loose braids, or you’ll have trouble getting the hair to stay put in the jewelry setting.
4. Braid as far down as you can go before the ends get messed up and uneven and splitty. Then grab your superglue and carefully apply a bead of glue to the end of the braid. Use your fingers to smush the glue into the hair, effectively sealing the braid shut. Wait for it to dry.
5. Slowly peel the duct tape off the table and pull the top of the hair off the tape. Apply a bead of superglue to the point where the braid begins, smush it in to seal it, and wait for it to dry.
6. Now you have a braided swatch of hair. With your scissors, trim off any strays ends and the (many) flyaway hairs from the braid.
7. Apply a bead of superglue to your Q-tip, and then use the Q-tip to spread a thin, even layer of superglue all over the setting.
8. Allow the glue to get a little tacky (15–30 seconds), then carefully push the top of the braid into place, following the outer rim of the jewelry setting. Then just follow with the rest of the braid, coiling it around into a tight coil. Use the Q-tip to apply more glue if needed, and use your fingers to hold the hair tightly in place until the glue sets. Be slow and patient—hair work does not get made in 30 seconds.
9. Leave a little hole in the middle, then snip off the rest of the braid. Put superglue in the hole and tuck the ends of the braid into it and hold it there.
10. Cover the hole with a decoration, bedazzle the hair, then attach your chain, clasp, and jump rings!
It’s up to you how you decorate, or if you decorate at all—for the ring you see above, I embellished the tiny braid of hair with a teeny rhinestone flower. For my necklaces, I cut an eye and a cat head out of a magazine and glued them over the holes, because the friend whose hair I took to make these likes both eyes and cats, and I wanted to impress her with how I used her sacrifice. I glued tiny nail-art pearls and studs to each of them, and…TA DAAA! Inherently loving and creepy jewelry!
FRIENDS FOREVER. AND EVER AND EVER AND EVER… ♦