Illawarra Mercury

Horse hair gives designs their flair

Date: 06/04/2011
Words: 659
Source: ILL
          Publication: Illawarra Mercury
Section: Zest
Page: 49
An 18th century tradition is reinvented, writes KATE McILWAIN.

In centuries past, women would cut off a lock of their hair and covertly give it to their admirers to express adoration.

In the 1700s hair-weaving was a popular pastime and jewellery made from loved ones' hair was used as a way to commemorate and mourn the dead.

Woonona's Kimberley Williams has found a way to reinvigorate this historical art form through her jewellery label Hairlooms.

The trained silversmith uses hair cut from a horse's tail or mane to make striking pieces that have been a hit with lovers of all things equine.

Williams learnt her craft studying an Advanced Diploma in Jewellery and Object Design at Enmore TAFE.

"During my last year of study we had to investigate a skill from the 18th century. I wanted to learn about a different form to help express sentimentality, so moving away from using stones to do this," she said.

"I weave the strands of a horse's tail or mane hair into a fabric-like textile. This is then encased in a gold or silver frame. It's a bold design because the silver frames the fabric texture of the hair.

"It's very much like making lace, I often describe it to people as a bit like the finger-knitting they they might have done as a child but a lot more intricate."

So far, Williams has used her unique talent mainly on horse's hair, but says it would be just as easy to make pieces out of human hair as was done in the 18th century.

"I predominantly use horse hair, but I have done one wedding ring where a husband had his wife's hair made into a ring."

She says it's not as weird as people may think, as the hair is washed and woven into stunning lace-like patterns that don't even look like hair.

As well as using hair for weaving, Williams uses a pressing technique to engrave the intricate design of hair into silver or gold.

"Jewellery is sentimental because it's always given as a gift and it's worn and held close to the body. My jewellery is one of a kind and hair is a very impressive way to express a story."

Williams also crafts one-off bracelets, earrings, rings and necklaces out of precious metals and stones.

"I might start with a sheet of gold or some silver wire, and then I go through the process of heating the metal with a torch. Then I hammer and bend the piece to the shape I want. It's a lot of work."

Keen to share her skills, part of her business is to help couples put a personal touch on their wedding bands.

"Last month I helped a couple to design their own wedding rings. They were really into the beach and surfing, so they came in and actually cut the pattern of waves into gold and shaped the rings - with my help of course."

Aside from running Hairlooms out of her home studio in Woonona, Williams teaches jewellery making in Mittagong once a week and regularly displays art pieces in design exhibitions to help her explore new ideas.

She also works in a cafe "for income consistency" but hopes to spend more time working on commissioned pieces, teaching and visiting equestrian shows to display her designs.

In the short term, however, Williams is putting down her silversmith's hammer.

"Making jewellery is pretty hard on the hards and I needed to have fancy hands for my wedding," she said.

One of her last projects, however, was to craft her own wedding bands.

"My wedding ring is a gold band and silver outer band, so you can see the gold showing through. My partner and I sat down together and talked about the designs so we could have matching bands."

Kimberley sells her jewellery under the label Hairlooms at Sturt Contemporary Craft Centre in Mittagong and online at

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