Looking back and looking forward by Julie Turner

Looking back and looking forward

I have been reflecting on the project so far. With only 6 months before the exhibition opens, I feel I need to make sure I am track to be completed and happy when the big day comes.

I thought I had veered from my initial ideas but when looking back I see I haven’t. I wanted to deconstruct and reconstruct items – well I have. The potatoe sack and bale band are among some of these items. I wanted to make 50 nests – I am still on target to do this too. One thing I was interested in when I asked the museum for items as my starting point was human hair. Being a hairdresser in my early 20s this was a natural interest to me. I still cut some of my family’s hair and I have been quietly collecting hair from my family, be that trimmings from when I cut their hair or asking them to collect their hairbrush hair. It probably sounds weird and gross to some of you but because of my past –being a hairdresser –and now working with animal hair regularly it doesn’t seem that way to me. My family are also used to my sometimes ‘odd’ requests. Even the newest member of our family, my daughter-in-law just said “OK” when I asked her to save her hairbrush hair, she never even asked why, she’s obviously getting used to me!

Here are some of the other human hair samples which I looked at for my starting point. I shared my favourite one the posy brooch in an earlier blog. The small rectangle brooch with the plaited hair inside is the only one with some additional information with it. It says. Samuel Russell died May 3rd 1834 age 31.

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My first foray into using some of this hair showed an opportunity recently when after I trimmed 2” off my husbands hair I decided to try to wet felt it. His beautiful silver grey hair was once ginger he tells me. When I met him thirty years ago he was mousy brown with a ginger beard which had 2 tiny white spots. His beard is now almost all white.

The wet felting technique involves hot water, soap and agitation. The fibres in this case human hair are laid out on bubble wrap in wispy sections and layered in a minimum of three layers facing alternate north/south and east/west. This is covered with a fine mesh, hot water and soap are added and then rubbed to encourage the fibres to intermingled and attach to each other by the scales which each hair/fibre has along its length. The rough surface of the bubble wrap assist this process which is usually quite fast to get the first ‘grab’ by the scales and then a much longer process to get the fibres to produce a good thick solid piece of felt. The hair did not felt at all which surprised me so I decided to layer it again and add some Merino wool between the layers. Merino is a fibre that I know felts well and would hopefully be a ‘bonding’ fibre for the hair. I chose a black colour to contrast with the silver grey of the hair and started again. I used the hair wet from the previous experiment which is what you can see in the pictures.

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This worked wonderfully, the black merino migrated to the centre with the hair attached and popping out all over it like a fuzzy fabric. I placed the piece over a glass jar fastened with an elastic band for it to dry. This nest turned out even better than I expected. I have left the band on for now as it flops a bit without. I shall revisit it before the exhibition to place a permanent band around it when I decide what that will be. I have no doubt that it will come to me as I go about my life seeing potential nests in most things.

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