Horsehair fabrics were initially woven on a cotton, linen or silk warp with a weaver standing at a loom all day and a small child sitting in the loom with the horse tail, passing each hair to the weaver. The Education Act of 1870, ensured that all children went to school, and this led to the development of mechanical looms patented by John Boyd.
A mechanical picker is able to tease one hair from the tail. Two bunches of hair are held at the side of the loom, one sorted so it has the tips towards loom, the other in reverse position. The picker selects one from each bunch alternately; in this way the slight taper in their shape is cancelled out and a straight fell maintained.
Textiles woven with horse hair both as warp and weft are used to make kitchen sieves. And cloth woven with occasional horsehairs is still used as interfacing by tailors.
Since the invention of cars the number of horses in Europe has declined and there isn’t sufficient local horsehair. It is now sourced mainly from Asia where they still use working horses with cropped tails. Horsehair sourced from live horses gives the best quality fabric.
Black horsehair is overdyed to give a pure shiny black sheen to the fabrics. Mixed Grey horsehair is a mixture of brown tones and is used undyed to give a wonderful natural strae in the fabric. Both types of horsehair give a fabric width of 65 cms (26″).
Natural white horsehair is used undyed to give lovely pale ivory coloured fabrics and is also bleached and dyed giving an exceptional range of colours. These horsehair fabrics are 56 cms wide (22″) due to the shorter length of white horsehair.
Horse hair fabrics are still woven by John Boyd Textiles at Castle Carey. Their site shows several designs of their over 150 products. Although the historical fabrics are still woven, contemporary designers also appreciate the unique qualities of horsehair fabrics. Many new designs and colours have been added to their collection in recent years.