#TuesdayTrivia: The Lost Art of Horsehair

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Necessity is the Mother of Invention The story is nearly as old as time itself.  Country wants to limit the dependence on goods from another country.  Country tasks "the people" with a solution.  Country ends up with a product that ends up being just as great if not better than the original.  In this case, that country was the long since defunct 18th Century state of Prussia.  And that product?  Silk. French silk to be exact.

And as we all know, France and Prussia didn't exactly have the best of relations.

With the widespread goal of making better use of locally produced goods rather than continue to import fabrics from other, not so desirable neighbors, the Prussian Court turned to horsehair, establishing the first of the world's horsehair manufacturers in 1762. Frederick the Great's Prussia may not have lasted but with the resiliency of horsehair along with its durability , utility, and its naturally occurring silky sheen, the readily available material continued a rise in popularity among both royalty and the aspiring bourgeoisie alike, becoming not only popular as a woven textile but also as a durable stuffing material in the days before commercially produced foam, as the staple in the finest brushes, and even, in later days, an additive to plaster.

 
Courtesy Daniel Heer

Courtesy Daniel Heer

Horsehair Sconce by Apparatus Studio incorporating wefts of light colored horsehair into a brass and etched glass structure. Courtesy Apparatus Studio.

Horsehair Sconce by Apparatus Studio incorporating wefts of light colored horsehair into a brass and etched glass structure. Courtesy Apparatus Studio.

Eventually, as innovation led to the development of other, cheaper alternatives horsehair fell out of style.  However, among luxury circles, the use of horsehair is still de rigueur.  Today, we can find horsehair incorporated into some of the world's most desirable products - from textiles to lighting to mattresses.

We're Not Horsing Around…

1. The Gibson Girl look, popular during the Victorian Era, could not have been possible without wigs made of horsehair.

2. Athletic giant Nike and textile mill Maharam collaborated together on a collection of sneakers, the Nike x Maharam Collection, which featured three classic horsehair weaves.

3. The 19th century lady's undergarments and French fabric from which they were made, Crinoline, owe their name to being made from a stiff horsehair and linen blend.  In French, the tail and mane hair of a horse is called les crins

4. Similarly to wool, horsehair is only cultivated from live animals, often the result of trimming horse tails for show purposes.

5.Only one kind of horsehair is used for stuffing and "down" type applications, that of the Curly Horse.  As they shed their winter coat every year, it can be found in greater abundance than other horsehair types.

 
It grows slowly, is woven on arcane Victorian-era looms at a tedious pace, and costs a fortune.
— Michael Maharam
In the UK, John Boyd Textiles has continued the art of weaving textiles from horsehair since 1837. Howe's Roman chair wears just one of John Boyd's fashionable weaves. Courtesy John Boyd Textiles.

In the UK, John Boyd Textiles has continued the art of weaving textiles from horsehair since 1837. Howe's Roman chair wears just one of John Boyd's fashionable weaves. Courtesy John Boyd Textiles.

 
Los Angeles designer Valerie Dekeyser's limited edition Animal:Mineral pendants feature wild stallion horsehair for a dramatic effect. Courtesy Dekeyser Design

Los Angeles designer Valerie Dekeyser's limited edition Animal:Mineral pendants feature wild stallion horsehair for a dramatic effect. Courtesy Dekeyser Design

The Swedish made Hastens horsehair stuffed bed is easily one the luxury market's most coveted products. Courtesy Hastens.

The Swedish made Hastens horsehair stuffed bed is easily one the luxury market's most coveted products. Courtesy Hastens.

Courtesy John Boyd Textiles

Courtesy John Boyd Textiles

With practices developed over four generations, Swiss artist Daniel Heer continues to manufacture his family's horsehair mattresses, stuffing each by hand in his Berlin studio. Courtesy Daniel Heer.

With practices developed over four generations, Swiss artist Daniel Heer continues to manufacture his family's horsehair mattresses, stuffing each by hand in his Berlin studio. Courtesy Daniel Heer.

 

Corinne Gail Interior Design did not receive compensation for this post. All images copyright Corinne Gail Interior Design unless otherwise noted and may not be used without permission.