Horse hair has been used to create artist’s brushes and other accessories since ancient times. However, the process of harvesting horse hair hasn’t changed all that much in millennia, and it can still be an arduous, time-consuming task.
Horsehair can be used in many different ways, from making saddles to stuffing mattresses and pillows, but the long hairs that grow on horses’ bodies are not always easy to acquire.
The process of harvesting horse hair requires patience and hard work since it involves extracting the hair from an entire horse’s body, then cleaning it and preparing it for use in your project.
To learn more about this time-consuming, backbreaking process, read on!
How Is Horse Hair Harvested? Time-Consuming Process of Harvesting Horse Hair
Horsehair may look soft and fluffy, but it’s pretty difficult to work with. Horse hair is typically used to make rope and other high-quality horse tack, such as saddles and halters, which means it needs to be ready for use in its raw form unlike wool or cotton, which can be sheared or spun into threads before being woven into fabric.
The process of harvesting horse hair involves many hours of careful plucking by experienced workers, and producing one kilogram of horse hair can take up to three years!
Collecting Horse Hair
Horse hair is collected from the mane and tail. The hair is then gathered together and combed out to separate it from the dirt and other debris. Once clean, the horse’s hair can be spun into different types of yarns depending on how it is treated.
If a looser weave is desired, such as when making a basket or pot holder, then the hair should be spun without being carded first. If a tighter weave is desired, such as when making an afghan or blanket, then the horse’s hair must first go through a carding process before spinning so that the fibers are all aligned in the same direction.
Processing the Hairs
Horse hair is made up of three parts: the medulla, cortex and cuticle. The medulla is the inner layer that looks like cotton candy and is not used in hair products.
The cortex is the middle layer that contains proteins to help maintain a healthy scalp. Finally, the cuticle is the outermost layer that protects the hair shaft from damage.
To harvest horse hairs for commercial use, they must be shorn or plucked by an expert who can recognize their different textures. Then, the hairs are washed thoroughly and boiled in water until all dirt and grease is gone.
They are then removed from the boiling water with tongs or other tools and laid out on a table until dry. After this process, some will be straightened so they’re easier to work with while others will remain curly.
Drying the Hairs
After the horse is shorn, the hairs are often sent to a mill for processing. The first step in this process is to remove any dirt or debris from the hair by shaking it vigorously in a vat containing a mixture of water and detergent.
The hair is then spread out on large trays lined with drying cloths and left to dry at room temperature. This can take anywhere from two days to two weeks depending on how wet the hair was when it was washed.
Once the hair is completely dry, an electric blade shears it into one-inch lengths. These long strands of hair are then collected together and stored as raw horsehair until they’re ready to be used.
The next steps in processing depending on what the hair will be used for. For example, if it’s going to become paintbrushes, the brushes will be cut into shorter lengths and rubbed over strips of wood that have been soaked in glue.
To make carpets, all that needs to happen is for a machine to cut them into shorter pieces.
Separating the individual hairs
Horsehair is harvested by removing the hair from the horse’s mane, tail, and other places like the inside of its legs. The hair is then separated into individual strands by hand.
This process can take up to four hours to complete! Workers must carefully remove each strand one at a time so that the end doesn’t tangle with other hairs.
After all of the individual hairs have been removed, they are put in a bag or bucket for transportation to their final destination.
A completed batch of horsehair weighs anywhere between three pounds (1.36 kg) to thirty pounds (13.6 kg), depending on how much hair was removed during harvesting.
Weaving the haired cloth
Horse hair is made into cloth by a process called weaving. The horsehair is woven in a pattern onto a flat loom or frame.
First, the fabric must be cut to size and then sewn together along the edges to create a hemmed edge. Next, it is pulled taut over the back beam of the loom to form an even tension across the width of the fabric.
This process could take hours or days depending on its length and intricacy. And this is just the beginning! Now you have to weave it—which can also take hours—and finish weaving with a seam.
After that, you’ll need to make sure there are no loose ends sticking out, trim them off if necessary, fold your finished product so it doesn’t unravel when you store it (or before), and finally store the finished product.
Dying and Finishing
Horse hair is a natural fiber that requires special care in order to keep it soft and maintain its shine. There are two steps in the process: dying and finishing.
The hair is first dyed with an acid dye like aluminum sulfate or ferrous sulfate to give it the desired color.
Next, the horse’s mane is cut into manageable pieces for working with and is then steamed for about twenty minutes to soften it before being worked on by hand.
Finishing can be done either by hand, which usually produces a better quality end product, or mechanically. When finished mechanically, the hair is not touched at all but instead cut using wire blades as close to the scalp as possible.