Student Museum Musings – A Wreath Made of What?

By Emily Dafoe, Visitor Host

When guests come through the Oshawa Community Museum for tours, one of the few artifacts that you can always rely on to elicits a large, and in most cases repulsed, reaction are the hair wreaths and jewelry. Within Henry House, one of the three historical houses at our museum, there are two hair wreaths hanging up, one in the Parlour, and a second one in the Dining Room, as well there are a few pieces of jewelry made of hair in the Bedroom of the house. Without fail, guests always feel the need to do a second take upon learning the materials of which these artifacts are made out of. While guests are usually quite freaked out by the hair artifacts, what most of the guests do not realize is that this type of handicraft was very common practice for young girls living in the Victorian Period.

970.49.5 - Hair Wreath on display in the Henry House Parlour
970.49.5 – Hair Wreath on display in the Henry House Parlour

Upon researching I came across this (https://archive.org/details/selfinstructori00campgoog) book from Internet Archive that was published in 1867, which is titled Art of Hair Work: Dressing Hair, Making Curls, Switches, and Braids, and Hair Jewelry for Every Description, and was written by Mark Campbell. This book from the Victorian Period acts as an instructional book for every hair craft related, and was fascinating to read through. This book walks the reader through the making of various different braids that can be done with hair, as well as various types of crafts and jewelry that these braids can help one create. Campbell teaches his audience to create these hair braids through the use of a braiding table. While there are other ways of creating hair crafts, a braiding table seems to be one of the most popular. Hair would be braided around wires, which gave the craft a stronger structure.

971.4.14 - Hair brooch on display in the Henry House Bedroom.  It is believed the hair came from members of the Ritson family (after whom Ritson Road is named)
971.4.14 – Hair brooch on display in the Henry House Bedroom. It is believed the hair came from members of the Ritson family (after whom Ritson Road is named)

Hair crafts, such as the ones displayed throughout Henry House, were a common way that loved ones were remembered by a family. At times when a loved one passed away some hair may have been saved to create a memorial wreath to remember them. However, that is not the only way that hair was acquired for the wreath. A lot of the hair used in a hair wreath would also come from hair from hairbrushes of Victorian women.

Something that I believe is lost in the reactions to the hair artifacts are the skills, time, and work that went into these crafts. Next time you’re down by Lakeview Park, stop by and come check out the hair crafts that we have in Henry House, you may be surprised by how impressive they are.

 

Works Cited

Campbell, Mark.  Art of Hair Work: Dressing Hair, Making Curls, Switches, and Braids, and Hair Jewelry for Every Description. (1867).

Candle Making

Over the next two weeks the Museum is going to welcome many school children to participate in our ‘Day in the Life of a Victorian Child’ program. One of the components is a candle making demonstration. It always amazes me when kids these days are fascinated by the simplicity of the pioneer and Victorian lifestyle. They find it so hard to believe you couldn’t just flip a switch and voila! They also have a hard time with the fact that kids had A LOT of chores to do. To make a decent sized candle, it would take 40 dips into wax. Can you imagine any child these days staying still long enough to dip candles 40 times?!

Candles have been around for millennia. People began to settle North America and fireplaces were the norm in all small cottages and cabins. As houses got larger, there was a need for portable light. Settlers would make their own wicking using the fluff from milkweed pods. They would twist it together until it created something akin to yarn or thin rope. Tallow from sheep and beef was used for wax. They wicking was tied onto a stick and dipped into a pot of melted tallow and water. This is known as the hand dipped method. However, tallow candles smelled quite bad and often brought rodents and other small pests into the house because they were attracted to the smell. Eventually when paraffin wax became available, it was used.

As more settlers arrived, small villages grew and sometimes a store would be opened where the imported candle molds could be purchased. Occasionally a tinsmith in the area would make the molds as well. The wick used in these molds could be bought at the general store. The wick was thread through the holes and tied around the twigs, making sure to tie a knot at the end to prevent seepage of wax. The melted tallow was poured into each section of the mold.

Eventually homes began using oil lamps as they became available at local shops or through catalogues. I’m fairly certain that the children were glad not to spend half a day dipping candles anymore!

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Victorian Humour from the Oshawa Vindicator

These are a few jokes which were published in the Oshawa Vindicator during the year of 1867. They were found as a collection in a newspaper article published around the 1960s. The section was titled: “Victorian Wit: 1867 Humor Found in Paper.”

 

1.  “When I am in pecuniary difficulties,” said a pensive bankrupt, “my garden, my flowers, all fresh and sparkling in the morning, console my heart.”

“Indeed,” responded his sympathetic friend. “I should have thought they would remind you of your pecuniary troubles, for like your bills, they are all dew.”

 

2. “Now,” said the judge, “suppose you and I were turned into a horse and an ass, which would you prefer to be?”

“The ass, to be sure,” replied the lawyer. “Why?”, asked the judge.

“Because I have heard of an ass being a judge but a horse, never!”

 

3.  “A plain spoken women recently visited a married woman and asked her how she amused herself all day. ‘Amuse,’ said the other, starting. ‘Do you not know that I have my housework to do?’

‘Yes, I see you have it to do but as it is never done, I conclude you must have some other way of passing your time.’”