Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Horse hair

Just before my last computer fiasco took me down, I was starting a horse hair weaving challenge. This is the update. (Warning - it's gonna be long. You may need to go get a cup of tea and a couple of cookies first.)

My original thought was to weave a new cover for my messenger bag. The cover flap is about 10 x 15 inches. I almost immediately realized I didn't have enough warp fiber to do that, so I scaled back. Instead, I thought I'd try for a decorative strip across the front of my bag. Three by 10 inches seemed doable.

I selected the red/purple zephyr (wool/silk blend) left over from my first scarf project and warped a three inch section on my borrowed table loom at about 10-12 threads per inch. I read somewhere that the stiffness of horse hair requires a coarse epi (ends/threads per inch) to allow the hair room to weave under and over. I ended up with a three inch wide piece because that's how much fiber I had. (I think I put on 4 yards.)

That first sample went fast, but as you'll see, it was not the most elegant of pieces. Not at all what I could imagine in my mind's eye. In all, I worked through five pieces while I was figuring out what NOT to do. Here they are.

My first attempt was with Jesse's black mane hair. Jesse's one of the two little guys we took in when a barn across the street folded. He's half brother to Chief. Both have thick, abundant manes -- they must have a lot of Shetland pony in their backgrounds. This bodes well for the future.

Jesse's piece went fast because I was still thinking about wool and treating it like wool. I grabbed bundles of hairs and treated them as though they were spun. I didn't pay any regard to how the individual hairs were aligned within the bundles. I also didn't pay any attention to the lengths of the individual hairs within a bundle. Both mistakes.

In this close up you can clearly see the problem with this approach.

It's a sloppy swatch of prickly pins and needles. Individual hairs poke out everywhere and in all directions. It feels hairy. And unpleasant. This was not at all what I had in mind and I was temporarily stumped.

For my second attempt, I picked Bom Bom's white mane. I decided I needed to at least try to get the hairs in each bundle all going the same direction. This attempt was definitely better, at least from a distance, but the swatch I ended up with was still quite prickly to the touch. I was a little discouraged at this point. You can also see in this picture that I had trouble with the tension in this piece. That's just inexperience on my part and doesn't have anything to do with the horse hair itself.

I figured out two additional things from this attempt. All the hairs in a single bundle have to be the same length or the shorter ones will end in the middle of the row and poke out of the fabric. Also, because the hairs definitely taper from the root end to the tip, if the hairs are really long -- long enough to bend through more than a couple of picks -- you end up with some rows that are noticeably thinner than others. I've read that people working with horse tail hairs where they use one hair at a time, alternate the direction of the hairs to balance this asymmetry.

In my third attempt, I tried to correct for these things. At this point, I only had Tyche's mane hair left and I wasn't even sure if I had enough. With Tyche's mane I concentrated on consistency and smoothness. Yes, you can see where this is going. That's right, at this point I started sorting the hairs, one hair at a time.  This is where things slowed down. And got tedious. Still, I obsessed on. Each pick consisted of an 8-hair bundle of same-length hairs. Some of the bundles were long and covered 3, or even 4, picks, some were short and covered only 2. Oh yeah, things got very slow at this point. Counting the hairs out one by one. Sorting them into similar length bins. This. takes. time. Lots of time. (You may wonder why I didn't just take a bunch of hairs and cut them to length as a bundle. Well, maybe I should, but I'm still trying to figure out how far the hair will go and how much I have to work with, so I didn't want to waste any. We have a lot of ponies, but they don't have that much mane hair, relatively speaking.)

The result with Tyche's hair was excellent. No prickly ends poking out of the cloth. (Ignore the sides for now. Some sort of binding or hemming will be needed.) Yep, just smoooooooth and silky. I wish you could all touch it. No prickly ends poking out of the cloth itself.

One thing I hadn't anticipated was the color variations. Tyche's mane is multi-colored. I hadn't really put two and two together until it was woven. Her mane contains four or five distinctly different colored hairs which, since I made no effort to separate them, produced a variegated fabric.  It's interesting and may be something to exploit in the future. I'm not crazy about it with the red/purple warp, but whatever. It's SMOOTH.

Of course, I couldn't stop until I got something I could use. Having long since given up on a cover for my bag, I've settle on making a small pouch wallet to replace my current one that is falling apart. Simple zipper closure. Easy. Knowing everything I had learned from the first three attempts, I set out to do two matched samples of black hair on the red/purple warp.

Of course, there's always more to learn, right? In this case, I 'harvested' more fiber from Bom Bom - the black parts of his mane this time -- and without thinking it through, I cut off a couple of braids that were left over from some long ago grooming by the 12-year-old. Mistake, braids leave waves. Duh. Bent fibers are impossible to sort and count. I had to stop and straighten the hairs after an inch or two. This entailed washing the hair again and then drying it under a slight weight. It was like blocking raw fiber, if that makes sense. I also used bundles of 30 hairs, instead of eight.  When all was said and done, I did manage two identical swatches, each about 3 by 4 1/2 inches. And, did I mention, they are SMOOOOTH AND SILKY. They also look a bit iridescent in the light.  I am pleased. Very, very pleased.

I intend to make them into a wallet. I bought the zipper and thread and other bits and bobs today to do just that. I will post it when it's done.

And that, my friends, is everything I now know about weaving with horse hair.


  1. Wow! Did you see what thecrazysheeplady did? Can't wait to see your end product.

  2. Weaving with horse hair! What an interesting experiment. The final results are really inspiring. I was wondering if you could use tail for warp(?) Do you plan to work more with it? You've probably got inspiration coming out your ears, LOL