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  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    1625-1675 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Needlepoint lace worked in human hair

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Mrs J. A. Russell

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

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. One example has loops at the ends, suggesting that it was meant to be fastened around something. It seems most likely that such pieces were worn around the wrist, as a bracelet.

A reference in the English poet John Donne’s poem ‘The Relique’, written in the early 17th century, 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 ...

This piece of lace is worked in light and darker brown hair, which is probably human. The pattern has been outlined with a thicker hair, which may be horsehair.

Physical description

Band of needle lace worked in human hair. It forms a rectangular band with the main elements of the design repeating upside down from a centre point so that it can be viewed from either end. The lace shows a coat of arms, depicted in three shields. The arms have not yet been identified. The shields run down the centre of the band with a pattern of acorns, oak leaves, strawberries, and other flowers down the sides. The lace is worked in light and darker brown hair with the pattern outlined with buttonhole stitches over a thicker hair, possibly horsehair.

Place of Origin

England (made)


1625-1675 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Needlepoint lace worked in human hair


Length: 203 mm, Width: 44 mm

Object history note

The previous owner of the lace associated it with the Duke family, recounting a story of two Duke brothers being Royalist and Parliamentarian - the Royalist was beheaded, and the lace worked from his hair. However, although the arms have not been identified, it states on the acquisition RP that they have been checked against those of Duke and do not correspond.

Historical context note

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).

Descriptive line

Band of needle lace worked in human hair, England, 1625-1675


Human hair


Needle lace

Subjects depicted

Coat of arms


Lace; Accessories; Clothing; Europeana Fashion Project


Textiles and Fashion Collection

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