Judith has a Good Hair Day

06 Apr

I would call this The Epitome of Re-Purposing.

Unknown, “Judith and Holofernes,” mid 17th century, needle lace/linen/silk/human hair, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, AU

People and animals are common in 17th Century needle lace. The workmanship, design and choice of biblical subject all suggest that this panel is English. Several similar needle lace panels exist, illustrating other biblical stories. For example a panel in the Victoria and Albert Museum (T317-1912) depicts the ‘Judgement of King Solomon’, and Christies (London) auctioned ‘Salome presents the head of John the Baptist to Herodias and Herod’ on November 10, 1998. The design format and the use of layering relate all these panels to English stumpwork embroidery of the period. (1)

But they forgot to mention the hair.    Hair work originated in Europe – especially in England and France – where the locks of chfldren and lovers, of saints and heroes, were preserved as mementos.   In the Victorian era, ladies began to consider hair art an “elegant accomplishment” in the mid-1800s to be fashioned into necklaces and collars, bracelets and rings, hair stickpins and studs, and wreaths to darkly decorate the parlor. (2)

Today, the idea of making elaborate wreaths to hang on the walls for decoration seems morbid, and frankly, weird.    We grow hair on our heads, and no one seems bothered by touching it while it is attached to the scalp – but once a hair falls out, it becomes something alien and dead and dirty.  Not only that but keeping the dead hair of a dead person seems dirty AND creepy.

However, I will concede:  the 350 year old hair in this lacework still looks pretty good.  Wonder what hair color they used?


(2)  Virginia L. Rahm, Human Hair OrnamentsMinnesota History,  Summer 1974


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Posted by on April 6, 2012 in Cacciatore


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