The Many Uses for Horse Tail Hair… Who knew?!


Thursday, December 12th, 2013 | Filed under Handy Tips




As I was trying to come up with a topic for today’s blog, I heard in my head, “HORSE HAIR”.

Huh?  Horse Hair…  Uh, OK.  Hmmmm.  What in the world am I going to say about horsehair?

And then the clouds parted as Mr. Google showed me the way, once again. Yup, Mr. Google led me down a certain path which led me to another curve, then another bend and finally toward the pot of gold at the end of the trail.  I had NO IDEA so much could be done with horsehair…  But, now I do.  And, soon, so will you!

Horsehair fabric

THE USUAL HORSE HAIR PRODUCTS

(Let it be known that all of the below uses are from live animals.  Every article I read said to only use hair from live animals.  All of the horse hair suppliers that I read about, use tail hair from live animals – and not the whole tail, obviously, but trimmings.  It is cultivated like sheep’s wool or llama hair.  Since there is very little demand for horse hair products and many, many horse hairs available, suppliers contract with local horse farms.  Many horse farms in England traditionally trim the horse tails for showing purposes.  This is where they get most of the hair.  In the US, there are only small companies who prepare horse hair.  These few ladies use the same methods for preparing horse hair as they do any yarn.  They get it from local horse farms or friends in trade.  Horsehair products that I mentioned here do not benefit from slaughtered animals.  This is a craft like yarn.  It is expensive because one cannot acquire large quantities from any one animal, like you can in sheep.  And, it is also difficult to make ready for weaving so that process is more expensive.  The exception being Curly Horses.  Curly horses shed their winter curly hair coat every year and this abundant hair is used as bedding and other “down” type applications as well as being spun into yarn.)

For me, when I think of horse hair products, I think of the necklaces and bracelets, keychain fobs, intricate headstalls and other such woven gems.  I have a few horsehair bracelets.  I wish I had a horse hair headstall… (so far, the hinting has not worked).  But, anyway, you get my drift.  I really only knew about the current and obvious uses for horsehair.

HISTORY OF HORSEHAIR AS A WOVEN FABRIC

 

 

The more research I did, the more I found myself shaking my head.  I had no idea!  There is a complete industry around horse hair.  Who knew?!  Well, the horse hair people, I suppose… And, I wanted to introduce you to the premiere horse hair fabric weaving company that I had never known about until an hour or so ago.

John Boyd Textile building – it has been around for a while…

John Boyd Textiles was established in 1837.  They set themselves apart by using horse hair (from local live animals) and cotton as woven cloth.  Since horse hair is of a different consistency than other animal hair/fur, a whole new line of looms had to be designed.  He did this.  John Boyd figured it out.  And, those same looms are still working in the factory today.  John Boyd Textiles is now one of the last companies in the world still weaving hair cloth. Wow.

I found it wonderful that this family owned business still runs and is still a family.

The staff at John Boyd Textiles

HORSE HAIR ISN’T EASY

Horse hair doesn’t bend well and is very course, as you know.  So, in order to weave it, the John Boyd company had to come up with elaborate techniques and instructions (which they don’t give out)…  Anyway, one of the secrets they did let slip was that the best way to weave horsehair is to have a “child hand you the strands”.  Well, obviously child labor laws in London in 1837 are not what they are today.

Modern weaving

WHY HORSE HAIR AS A FABRIC?

Horsehair fabrics are widely recognized for their unequaled luster, durability, easy care and fortitude.  Since it is rather expensive to manufacture — taken from live animals so the individual strands are valuable when you add enough together to make fabric — horse hair textiles and products are thought to be a luxury of the elite.

I can attest to this.  I’ve priced out many horsehair bracelets, headstalls and baskets from artists.  Spendy.

WARP AND WOOF

I also learned that horse hair is always the weft or woof yarn.  What is that?

In weaving, weft or woof is the yarn which is drawn through the warp yarns to create cloth. In North America, it is sometimes referred to as the “fill” or the “filling yarn”.  Because the weft does not have to be stretched on a loom in the way that the warp is, it can generally be less strong.

Warp and Woof

HORSE HAIR FABRIC ON CHAIRS

I didn’t know that:

“Horsehair fabric was originally used by famous furniture designs such as Chippendale, Hepplewhite, Lutyens and Rennie Mackintosh, and are ideally suited to most forms of upholstered furniture, antique, classical and contemporary. To this day, horsehair fabrics are widely recognized for their unequaled lustre, durability, care properties and value. Horsehair fabrics have been used with many prestigious projects throughout the world.”

Elegant horse hair fabric

I’ve captured a few images of the horse hair fabric that the John Boyd Textile company produces.  But, if you’d like to see more, go to this page and click around.  It is really fairly awesome to see what can be done with a horse tail!

Elegant horse hair fabric on this chair

CRINOLINES AND OTHER THINGS

What is crinoline?  Well, it translates as “horsehair and linen”.  How about that…

In Scandinavia, peasants and fishermen have mostly used it spun for ropes, for fishing lines, for milk sieves, fishing mittens, outer socks, horse reins and horse rugs. Unspun it has been used for flour sieves and brushes.  Upholstery fabrics with horsehair as weft has primarily been used by the wealthier classes, and the same went for “stiffening fabrics” as in mens coats and crinolines.

STRING INSTRUMENT BOWS

Horse hair is used for the bows on string instruments.  For example, a bow maker (an archetier – now that’s a Jeopardy! word for you…) uses between 150 and 200 hairs from the tail of a horse for a violin bow.  But, bows for other string instruments generally are more wide and require more hairs.  Less expensive bows that use synthetic hair do not sound as lovely…

Cello Bow made with horse hair

UNIQUE WEAVINGS

I found a few women who are weaving with horse hair now.  I  thought this jacket with the high collar and horse hair ‘falls’ was pretty cool.  You can read her blog about it here.

High collar with horsehair cascade

I also found women who are creating tapestries from horse hair.  Here is what they have to say about it:

“Horsehair tapestry is a very peculiar “commodity” of Buryat art. It is rooted in the ancient culture of nomadic Buryats and is intertwined with the traditions of other peoples and other cultures.

Horse hair has been used by Buryats, as well as other nomads, in their daily life for many years. This traditional Buryat material, combined with the technique of tapestry learned from the Russians and various traditions of tapestry existing in other parts of the world, plus the curiosity of a few Buryat craftspeople/artists and resulted in what can now rightfully be called “Buryat tapestry”.

Horse hair tapestries

I found this article on crinoline insect weavings.  Crin is one of Chile’s most distinctive folk crafts. In markets around the country you will find delicate forms, often taking the shape of insects, woven out of dyed horsehair.  Almost all Crin originates from a small town called Rari. Evidently, this flagship prides itself on its unique crinoline weaving industry.  Since it is a tourist town, they sell many, many of their crinoline insects right there as well as exporting their wares throughout the country.

Crinolin insects

NAVAJO POTTERY

Also, Navajo pottery has used horse hair for decoration for many years.  The Navajo horse hair pottery uses real horse hair during the firing process to decorate their rustic vase. The artist throws the pieces of horse hair onto the pottery at just the right time to cause it to stick and melt into the piece.  The fact that they use hair makes each piece unique.  Cool!  Great idea.

Horse hair accented Navajo pottery

WOVEN VASES AND BASKETS

This horsehair basket idea is probably not new but I wanted to show them anyway.  I think they are beautiful and I cannot imagine sitting down and creating this delicate design.  I’d go crazy.  I’m sure there would be hair all over the place and most of it mine…

Amazing detail in this horsehair woven basket

And another…

I had to put this one out there for you.  These pieces were created by artist, Valerie Seaberg.  I find these incredible!  Who thinks of this kind of thing?!  She uses woven horse hair in her design.  You can go to her website here.

Horsehair accents

A close-up view of the accents

ANGELINA JOLIE

Upon my travels with horse hair today, I found this article about Angelina Jolie who purchased a $5000 horse hair purse from Akris.  That put me onto another trail where I found this horsehair purse at Nordstroms for $4400.  Wow.  (The magazine reported that Jolie had her people call the designer of the bag to make sure no horses were hurt when acquiring the horsehair before she purchased the bag.)

$4400 horsehair purse

AN ASSORTMENT OF UNIQUE ARTICLES

I found several unique items crafted from horse hair.  I’ll show you here.  They kinda speak for themselves…

Horsehair hat

Horsehair basket

A flour sifter or sieve

Horsehair headstall

LASTLY, BEDDING

There is a very upscale Dutch bedding company called Lavital.  Here is the link.  They pride themselves in creating a hygienic and hypoallergenic bed.  One of the ingredients is, wait for it… yup, HORSE HAIR!  Once again a unique use.

The Dutch company that uses horsehair in their mattresses – Lavital

There is also a company in the NY area that has the same concept but not as nice of a website design.   Here is their link.

The Ny horsehair mattress company image

LIVE ANIMAL TAILS

The one fact that I could not find any answers was WHY do they only use horse hair from live animals?  It is stated everywhere that this hair is from “live” horses.  I wonder why this matters in a logistical way since hair is dead anyway, whether on a live animal or not.  Perhaps they are just stating that no horses were hurt in the making of this product, for which I am grateful.   But, I don’t know…

THANKS FOR ROMPING THROUGH HORSEHAIR WITH ME!

ADDENDUM:

I’ve heard from several Curly Horse enthusiasts here in the US who say they use the wonderful curly hair for all kinds of products!  Curly tail hairs are bountiful, I’m told…   Here are some of their wares and comments.

This just in from a Curly reader:

“You said you were waiting for pics of items made with Curly hair. Attached is a set of photos of a stuffed horse made by Bunny Reveglia of New Mexico. I sent her the spring sheddings from my red pinto curly pony, and she created the yarn and crocheted this cute pony. She sold her Curly Buddy horses as a fundraiser. They even have curly fetlocks like real curly horses.”

And another Curly Horse owner sent in a photo of her horse hair yarn plus her website:

Here is my website I make Curly horse fibre items http://www.doublejanddacres.com/fibre_studio you can look through my site to see what we do here.

More Curly horse hair yarn and items!

MORE CURLY OWNER REMARKS:

Please explain that “ALL” curly horses shed their curly coats naturally each springtime /we groom them/save the hair in big bags/wash& and spin the hair…into yarn. It is all totally hypo-allergenic.

Dolls made from Curly hair

Hat and scarf made from dyed and spun Curly hair

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14 comments have been posted...

  1. Debra

    Very interesting article. I spent some time this fall with a Buryat family in Mongolia. (I travel there every year for several weeks.) They had hundreds of horses, which is typical of horse herders in this country, most of which had their manes cut off which I was told was then sold to Europe and USA for use in fabrics and upholstery. I have read several articles about the use of horse hair in the UK and most comes from Mongolia. None of the live horses I saw anywhere in Mongolia had any part of their tails missing (only manes), which leads me to believe that tail hair is taken either right before or right after slaughter. Or perhaps the mane hair is being sold as tail hair? I am sure that there are crafts people that source their horse hair from places that do not slaughter. I am just mentioning my experience. I can provide photos if you are interested.

  2. Pam

    I loved reading all the uses! Thank you for such an informative article. I went in search of horse hair products after several people have had their horses tails cut in the middle of the night. I’m sure the textile industry doesn’t know they may be purchasing stolen hair, but that’s where much of it comes from. I’ve gotten a new education! Again, great article! Thank you.

  3. Jan R

    Well written and interesting article I enjoyed reading the entire way through. I love to hear of fine arts which is what this is, high quality with care !

    Thanks for publishing this ….( and try hard to avoid the negative people in this world they are out there !). Actually avoid letting them influence your work it’s very good.

  4. Juliet hamilton

    someone boil horse hair and use the liquid to rapidly grow human hair. Can u imagine

  5. Gemosi

    Love the article and the insights into different uses of horse hair! We at http://www.gemosi.com make horse hair jewellery out of the tail hair of horses. We use tail hair because it’s stronger and thicker than mane hair, so works really well for horse hair bracelets that require strength for their tension. We produce horse hair jewellery from both living and deceased horses, but always for the horse owner – so they have a piece made from the hair of a horse they may have lost and so have a piece of jewellery to remember them by. I can’t imagine companies using dead horse’s hair just as an input in a production process… what we do is special and has sentiment and each piece has incredible meaning and sentiment to the human that belongs to that horse.

  6. RiderWriter

    Dawn, this was so interesting! I had NO idea there was a factory somewhere weaving horse hair. It looks like a wonderful old place, for sure, and love those “generations of family” businesses.

    I have what is probably the world’s dumbest question. I have been confused forever by this, though, so I’m just going to ask. When we talk about horse hair jewelry, I know that’s made from tail hair. But I think the cloth factory, and the mattress stuffers, and the yarn-makers are all using horse BODY hair, correct? It can’t ALL be tail hair as that stuff is like fishing line and I can’t see how you could make delicate fabric with it! So does “horse hair” refer to BOTH kinds of hair from their bodies?

  7. Marge Mullen

    I know many of the horse tails cut from slaughtered horses are used for tail pieces that are sold for mostly show horses.

    I suspect that not all “live horse hair is used for these products.”

  8. dawndi Post author

    From Marge:

    The Native Americans made horse “saddles”–just a pad from the hair the horse shed in the spring–each horse’s own hair–so it would not be allergic to it

    My mother had a special crib mattress made for my sister–she took an old horse hair matress to a factory in LOWELL — AND THEY CLEANED THE HAIR AND MADE A SMALL MATRESS FOR THE BABY.

    We have a horse hair filled couch–that will soon be gone ( I think)

    Marge

  9. Robynne Catheron

    I think this was a WONDERFUL post, full of interesting facts and photos. I also think it was very generous of the author to explain it to the one negative reader.
    Craft and skills like this are few and far between these days, and it’s nice to see it in print. We could be passing artforms like this down to our kids and grandkids. Thank you for enlightening us!

  10. Mari

    Let’s not forget the use of horse hair by bird’s for their nests. :) (Especially barn swallows)
    Also, regarding it’s use for stringed instrument bows: I once dated a bassist for a symphony orchestra. He said the very finest horse hair for bows comes from a breed of Russian horses; not everyone can afford it.
    Maggie, I understand your concern; however, I think horse hair can be gleaned from horses who are not slaughtered. We are referring to horse hair not horse leather. Using hair, they can live; using leather, they have to be slaughtered. :( I appreciate your concern….. !!!

    Mari

  11. Jeannie Wright

    What beautiful products!!! Thank you for posting this article. I found it very interesting, as I only knew about horsehair hitching (as in the headstall shown). If only I had the time and patience!

  12. dawndi Post author

    Maggie: After reading your post I went back and added all the information that I neglected to add because I guess I felt it was obvious… but it wasn’t and for that I’m sorry.
    Horse hair has to be from live animals or it doesn’t weave well — I went back and got the full details. I knew all the articles said “live animals” but I didn’t know why.
    I’m sorry for upsetting you. I am absolutely sure that the horsehair industry is not driven by slaughter – and sine there are very few horsehair manufacturers, it is easy to find out that they all use live animal tail hair.
    There are several ladies in the US who cultivate this like wool or llama hair. It is thought of as THAT KIND of a product, not a by-product of slaughter.
    i will add this to the post.
    Thank you for letting me know your concerns!

  13. Maggie

    Wonder how many horses were slaughtered to make the rest of this stuff. I wouldn’t have it in my house. I can see jewerly made from horse hair using hair of live horses but I bet most of this stuff comes from dead horses as in cordovan leather.

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