Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
British Galleries, Room 56, The Djanogly Gallery

Band of Lace

ca. 1640 - ca. 1680 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Object Type
Because of their fragility very few pieces of needle lace worked in hair survive from the 17th century. They are usually in the shape of a narrow band, like this, and one example has loops at the ends, suggesting it was meant to be fastened around something. It seems most likely that they were worn around the wrist, as a bracelet.

Ownership & Use
A reference in John Donne's early 17th century poem The Relique, suggests that bracelets worked in hair were given and worn as love tokens:

When my grave is broke up againe
Some second ghest to entertaine ...
And he that digs it, spies
A bracelet of bright haire about the bone,
Will he not let us alone
And thinke that there a loving couple lies...

[the poem continues]
Who thought that this device might be some way
to make their soules, at the last busie day,
meet at this grave, and make a little stay ?...

Materials & Making
This piece of lace is worked in light and darker brown hair, which is probably human, but the pattern has been outlined with a thicker hair which may be horsehair. The stitches have been secured with a gummed substance, possibly wax, as the hair with which they are worked is more naturally springy and elastic than the linen or silk thread in which needle lace was usually worked in this period. The stitches used to make needle lace in England were part of the embroiderer's repertoire, being taught as a basic part of a young girl's needlework education.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Needle lace, worked in human hair, with thicker outlines possibly in horsehair
Brief Description
Band of needle lace made from human hair, England, ca. 1640 - ca.1680
Physical Description
Piece of needle lace worked in human hair. It forms a rectangular band similar in form to an embroidered panel for a needlework casket, but its intended use is not known. The scene depicted is of a dog chasing a deer, with a parrot perched above on a branch; all the rest of the ground is filled with a variety of flowers and leaves. The fillings are varied and very finely worked.

The lace is worked in light and darker brown hair, with both the edge and pattern outlined by the use of buttonhole stitches over a thicker hair (horsehair ?). The stitches have been stabilised - they appear to have been gummed together with something akin to wax.
Dimensions
  • Length: 16.2cm
  • Width: 4.1cm
Dimensions checked: Measured; 15/06/2000 by KB dimensions relate to required landscape orientation
Gallery Label
British Galleries: This lace band is made of human hair and decorated with a hunting scene. Bracelets of hair lace were worn as love tokens or as mementoes of a dead relative. In 1602 Dorothy Speckard supplied Elizabeth I with small hair lace decorations, such as pyramids and globes, for use on clothing.(27/03/2003)
Object history
Purchased. Registered File number 1963/1824
Historical context
In the play How a Man may chuse a good wife from a bad, 1602, the hero explains that he was once a melancholic person "one that did use much bracelets of haire". quoted in Dress in the age of Elizabeth I by Jane Ashelford (1988).
Subjects depicted
Summary
Object Type
Because of their fragility very few pieces of needle lace worked in hair survive from the 17th century. They are usually in the shape of a narrow band, like this, and one example has loops at the ends, suggesting it was meant to be fastened around something. It seems most likely that they were worn around the wrist, as a bracelet.

Ownership & Use
A reference in John Donne's early 17th century poem The Relique, suggests that bracelets worked in hair were given and worn as love tokens:

When my grave is broke up againe
Some second ghest to entertaine ...
And he that digs it, spies
A bracelet of bright haire about the bone,
Will he not let us alone
And thinke that there a loving couple lies...

[the poem continues]
Who thought that this device might be some way
to make their soules, at the last busie day,
meet at this grave, and make a little stay ?...

Materials & Making
This piece of lace is worked in light and darker brown hair, which is probably human, but the pattern has been outlined with a thicker hair which may be horsehair. The stitches have been secured with a gummed substance, possibly wax, as the hair with which they are worked is more naturally springy and elastic than the linen or silk thread in which needle lace was usually worked in this period. The stitches used to make needle lace in England were part of the embroiderer's repertoire, being taught as a basic part of a young girl's needlework education.
Collection
Accession Number
T.150-1963

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record createdMarch 23, 1999
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