Friday, April 08, 2011

From the Collection: Feather and Horsehair Aigrette

Front of aigrette
Today, something a little different. In preparation for the Jane Austen Festival Ball this July, in Louisville, I've been looking at aigrettes which can be added to turbans. I happen to have one in my collection, and thought you might find it very interesting not only in terms of looks, but also in its construction.

The images are really big, so please click on them to get details. (In fact, if you are on a Windows machine, click again on the big version to see them huge.)

The aigrette is made of a celluloid comb, very flexible, with two gold-painted and curled feathers (species undetermined) and horsehair. Each feather is divided into small sections, each of which is individually curled.)

Construction: the comb has two small central holes in the top. The feathers and horsehair are gathered into a bunch, wound with tiny wire, then fixed with pitch-like glue at the base, then black thread-wrapped, with the thread carried around the glued base, through one hole to the back of the comb, through the other hole, and back round the base of the aigrette again. The thread is carried this way many times through the holes.

The aigrette is worn such that the base is in front. It must be hidden by hair or some other decoration in order not to show the base.

Here is the back of the aigrette. I've set it next to Curtis Grace's business card so you can get an idea of size.
Back of aigrette

And here is another view, in a different light, in case you would like to look at more details.

How old is this aigrette? Curtis Grace, who studied Fashion Design at Parson's in new York and has quite a collection, thinks it late Victorian; he felt it was late 1880s. Aigrettes really didn't go out of fashion after find them constantly in Edwardian and Jazz Age designs.

The aigrette is incredibly delicate and is damaged with but a whiff of air. The comb, merely an eighth of an inch thick, is also delicate.

With these photos, those of you who would like to make aigrettes probably have enough visual information to work with. To get the spiky effect so important to many aigrettes, you can still use horsehair: it is still available for sale for use in the equine industry (tail extensions, anyone?), for violin bows, for hairwork jewelry, and the like. Here is a supplier, M&M Horsehair, just north of here in Ohio. I haven't used them; the link is just here for convenience. Burnt ostrich would also work, although the effect would be a bit different.

However, if anyone needs more information, I'd be glad to try and help.


Lauren said...

Perfect timing! Thank you for this post! I am trying to figure out headwear for Jane Austen Fest, too, and I was thinking turbans, but no idea what/how to do them or decorate them. I would have never guessed that was horsehair, it looks so much like an egret spray, but I suppose that was the point :-) brilliant!

ZipZipInkspot said...

Dear Lauren,

I thought it was brilliant too. Egret feathers were so valuable, and now of course they are protected, so horsehair makes a lot of sense.

What needs to go in front of the aigrette is another issue. Of course, fashion plates are decent sources, but do also see the recent Napoleon exhibition photos for a number of examples:

Very best,


Isis said...

How pretty!