During the holidays, many of us hang pine wreaths on our front doors to celebrate. Over 100 years ago, wreaths of a different kind were created and displayed, but for an entirely different reason.
During the Victorian era (1837–1901) European and North American women spent much of their day in the home. To pass time, they indulged in fancy work, which they could display for friends and neighbors.
One form of this fancy work was making hair wreaths. Pioneer women also made them to decorate their otherwise mundane homes.
In those days, many women had long, flowing hair, so there was a plentiful supply of raw material to work with. Locks were commonly taken from family members to be woven into the design, as a remembrance, since photographs were rare or nonexistent then. Horsehair was sometimes used to fill out a design. Women could also purchase strands of hair from catalogs or local stores. Locks of blond, black, brown or red hair were used.
The tresses were woven around thin wire and formed into delicate designs of flowers, floral sprigs and leaves. Wooden or glass beads, buttons, and sometimes seeds, were also included in the final product. Wreaths were sometimes formed into horseshoe- shapes, a Victorian symbol of good luck, with the open end facing up to hold in the luck. The wreath was mounted on a silk or velvet background and placed in a fancy frame. Many of the wreaths extended to 18 inches or more in diameter.
Originally, hair wreaths were made from deceased loved ones’ hair as a remembrance, and the strands placed at the center. As another family member died, his or her hair would be placed into the center, and the previous lock would be moved to the outside. Eventually hair wreaths were created for sentimental reasons, and given as gifts to friends as keepsakes.
Young girls made scrapbooks that included their schoolmates’ locks. Valentines were also created with a few strands of the givers hair inside as a token of affection.
Queen Victoria presented her children and grandchildren with jewelry made from her hair and Napoleon had a watch chain made from his wife’s hair.
Hair wreaths, today, can sell for hundreds or even $1,000, depending upon how elaborate the design.
The Sauk County Historical Society has an intricate hair wreath on display in the pioneer room made by Modora Todd Premo around 1861.