Horsehair for a Circle Skirt Hem?

On our way to photograph Ciel's new Purple Chevron Dress and the Horsehair hem (designed and stitched by Mom but in need a few adjustments first before it can be made into a pattern) my very newly turned two-year-old daughter stopped when I pulled out my camera, put her hands up and said, "oh... okay."  She then leaned against the wall in a patch of sunlight and smiled for a photo practically before I realized what was happening.  And I found myself wondering if like her older brother, she would find a unique comfort in being on stage or in front of a camera. 

So I think it's fair to say that this was Ciel's first completely participatory photo shoot, a milestone of sorts for what we do together.


 

The Preamble

In a recent conversation on a sewing page I encountered a photo of a dress with a particularly unique and attractive skirt.  The author was wondering how the skirt, which was falling in lovely arcing curls, was created.  I ventured a guess that it was simply a circle skirt, which falls quite nicely on its own, and maybe combined with the fabric which looked like it had natural body, had created the beautiful undulation.  Many others also chimed in and gave their own speculations however no one seemed to come up with a definitive answer to eclipse everything else.  

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Are They Actually Horse Hairs?

Then I participated in a skill building sewing class (I am always looking for ways to hone my techniques and for advancing my sewing knowledge) when the instructor began to speak of a technique that involved a material I'd never heard of before: Horsehair.  

(But it wasn't until after I saw this stuff in action that I thought it quite likely this was the material that created that uniquely lovely arcing hemline all us were swooning over online several months earlier.)

I imagined a single long horse hair threaded onto a needle.  After all horse hair is used for the bow of a violin, why not for something else...

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That said, I am strongly against animal parts of any type, for human use, so I also immediately felt a bit of revulsion and recoiled from the possibility of ever using this technique if it involved animal suffering.  That is, until she began to describe the material and brought it out to see.  Though Horsehair from the past actually was made with horse's hairs, modern day Horsehair Braid is a weave or a braid of synthetic fibers.  It stretches a bit when pulled lengthwise but otherwise feels slightly stiff.  

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How Can I Get It?

Horsehair Braid comes in a variety of widths.  Online I saw 1/2, 1, 2 and 3 inch widths (though I read that there are also up to 6 inch widths in existence for some purpose, somewhere) and up to many many yards of length (for variety of uses I suppose).  The larger widths have these useful little loops to pull up to help shape the braid to a round hem. Though Horsehair can be cut to the length of your desire, it cannot be cut to modify the width.  So I chose to try out my new technique with either a 1/2 or 1 inch width piece and bought yardage of each.  My search to find an affordable source for the Horsehair was my only snag.  For whatever reason it came in extremely long quantities at too high prices on Amazon, from Dritz, and also through Joanne Fabrics with very limited width options.  Because I was new to this stuff I wasn't keen on investing in Horsehair and merely hoped to find a moderate amount to try on a few different garments over time. Finally I discovered a source on Etsy.  I was able to buy 8 yards of a combined total of 1/2 and 1 inch widths for about $16 not including a small shipping fee.  The alternative was to invest in 30 to 50 yards for $60 and up.

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Tips

Before I attached the braid to my skirt permanently I used clips to attach it to the circumference of my hem and then hung the dress to see how the Horsehair affected the shape and drape of my fabric.  

I recommend testing the shape before deciding on which width will achieve the shape you are looking for with your fabric of choice. Generally, the smaller widths give a looser less strict shape and the wider widths are more stable but they can both be affected within a range of stability by the myriad of fabrics you could choose. So, also take time to decide whether you will enclose the braid in a double folded hem or whether you will simply fold it towards the inside of the skirt and leave it visible.  The double-folded hem will obviously give more weight and add bulk on some fabrics more than others and you will also have to cut the correct amount of extra fabric at the hem for the fold over.  Also to be considered is who the garment is for, you may not want to use larger widths on younger children not because of weight (Horsehair is very light) but because of bulk.

 

Attaching the Braid

One of the recommended techniques (I followed Professional Sewing Techniques for Designers 2nd Edition one of my most important books which I bought through Amazon) for attaching the braid to the hem is to line it up to the hem  of the skirt/dress, right sides together, stitch along the hemline and then fold to the inside of the garment, pressing and shaping with a hot iron before catch-stitching in place.  Since I was creating a chevron pattern and had 16 vertical seemliness I chose to stitch about 1.5 inches vertically along the 16 seam lines of the chevron pieces in order to secure the Horsehair Braid but keep the hemline clean and free of any stitch marks (I found the horizontal hemline stitches to competitive with the chevron pattern).  *Be careful not to stretch the braid while sewing because doing so will make the hem wonky and misshapen.  You want to let the braid curl as naturally and relaxedly as possible.  

 

Conclusion

I think both a natural hem and a Horsehair hem have their place.  I have always loved the circle skirt, and up until now I never imagined how on earth I could improve upon the natural way in which the circle skirt falls on it's own, with it's gently rolling cascade of fabric, naturally decadent and gorgeous.  However, honestly, I don't think I've discovered an improvement, just a creative, fun alternative that has a place simply depending on what the garment will be used for.  I am still a die hard natural full circle skirt fan.  I loved the drape of the skirt on this dress before I added the braid and I loved the effect of Horsehair after.  Perhaps I will experiment with it again.  I have a few fun ideas dancing around in my brain for a later date.