Photos by Janet Alexander unless otherwise credited. Left click to enlarge photos.
June 29, 2015. Louisville milliner Jenny Pfanenstiel (http://www.formeonlineshop.com/) ordered a 48-inch, 8-ply square braid from me for a Western hat she’s making for one of her clients. Jenny has made hats for Oprah and Michelle Obama so I was very surprised and honored that she placed an order from me! Her order was just the incentive I needed to master the art of adding horse hair to a braid to make it longer than the length of the hair you’re working with. I was introduced to the skill a year ago, but kept putting off practicing because it was so overwhelming and I only had two hands, not the 4-6 it seemed that I needed. But, after a fair amount of practice, I finally “got” it. (The J is for Jenny and Janet.)
Father’s Day, 2015. This is the first adjustable band I made with the difficult 8-ply braid described on 8/6 and 10/30/14 below. I just love it as does the customer who ordered it and her husband who received it. NOTE: The braid is doubled except for the short portion between the sterling silver sliders.
6/4/15. Loop earrings (6-ply-half-round braids) created to go with my favorite bracelet. (See the difficult 8-ply-round featured as bracelets on 10/30/14.)
4/28/15. My first hat band! To a city girl who learned to ride English, later dabbled in endurance, and now trail rides, Western riding and its accoutrements are foreign. (For instance, when I first heard the term stampede strings last summer, I was perplexed–how could one horse hair string possibly stop a stampede of running horses? How long and wide does it have to be? How many cowboys would have to hold it? Do they tie flags onto it? How do they continually adjust its orientation to the changing flow of the herd? Etc.) Recently, after meeting a milliner and learning that stampede strings are merely hat ties, I went to Tractor Supply for a tube of wormer and discovered a Western hat sale. I purchased my second “cowgirl” hat–Santa had delivered my first when I was a preschooler. I replaced its hatband, a twist of rawhide strips, with two 12-ply braids. I attached the braids to the faux concho (another new Western vocabulary word) that came with the hat. I fixed the braids together with a rawhide slide and secured its ends with a wooden bead matching the concho’s inset faux turquoise–I had earned the bead in nature lore as a Campfire Girl. I ran a strand of rawhide under the braids to cover the glue I was unable to remove from the base of the crown, and secured its ends with a second nature lore bead. Lastly, I sewed the band to my hat with four double wraps of thread. I’m not sure that I really need a “cowgirl” hat–at 6 feet tall I don’t need the additional height…but, my husband and I just got invited to a Derby party…a lady here in Greater Louisville has to have a Derby hat…so I’m thinking of slipping a red rose into the band on one side and attaching my Carlton Ridge (local artist) running horse pin to the other and wearing it. Who knows, after Derby I might even try to make a pair of stampede strings for my hat!
4/15/15. Recently, I put on three necklaces. Two were the same length, so I had to take one off. At first, I tried wrapping it around my wrist a few times, but the ends didn’t meet right. Then, I tried wrapping it around the “newish” dress boots I was wearing. It fit perfectly. I like how the colors of the boot and the anklet complement each other.
Note the close-up of the charm. It was custom made from clay by my Colorado friend Terry and painted to match my horse Highlander. I put it on a 6-ply necklace I braided from his mixed color tail hair — black, brown, red, white, and clear–sometimes three different colors in the same strand!
4/10/15. My first earring creation. Because I wanted red hair, I had to use Highlander’s mane. Now I know why tail hair is predominately used for braiding — mane hair is finer and more challenging to work with. I made posts because the low holes in my ears pull into slits with hooks.
4/6/15. My latest cancer ribbon design and the first one I’ve sold. I made it, a bracelet, and a necklace — my largest parure (set of jewelry) — for a breast cancer survivor below from the hair of her dear, deceased horse. I hope my ribbons inspire women (and men) who have or had cancer to take good care of themselves so that they can continue to ride and care for their equine companions.
1/15/15. A series of recent, seemingly unrelated events resulted in the creation and naming of this ribbon. Here’s the story in a nutshell. I got a grant to study advanced braiding under a master horse hair artist. A grant requirement was a community project. I did two: I demonstrated at an Oktoberfest and braided bracelets for graduates of a program at an equine therapy center. I made the bracelets from the hair of the horse the students were assigned throughout therapy. Soon after making a bracelet from the hair of one of the therapy horses, a mare, it suffered a sudden onset of cancer and was euthanized. The remnant of braid left over was not long enough to make another bracelet. So I used a bow from the dog grooming/boarding business I work at part time to make this ribbon. At first I called it an Equine Cancer Awareness Ribbon. I changed the name when a lady who had seen my Oktoberfest booth called to order a necklace and mentioned that she was a cancer survivor. I now call my new creation a Cancer Awareness Ribbon for Horsewomen. Hopefully it will inspire equestrians affected by cancer to take good care of themselves so they can continue to enjoy and take care of their horses.
1/15/15. If the length of horse hair permits, I can make bracelets that wrap twice around a person’s wrist. The second wrap can be worn parallel to the first wrap or crossed over it as in this photo. The wrap-around bracelet can sometimes be worn as a single-wrap choker necklace.
12/13/14. Ho, Ho, Ho…Merry Christmas!
10/30/14. I changed my mind (read the last sentence in my entry below). As tempting as it is to make an item for the very first time and give it to a friend, RESIST! (I was so excited when I began braiding that I gave one of my first bracelets, made with cheap metal finishings, to a friend, not thinking about her position as the president of a national horse organization…Hopefully she didn’t show such beginner work to people all over the country who now think it representative of my current work!) I made a few more 8-ply single-round braids until I felt I had mastered the braid, and from it made my first identical “twin” bracelets — one for my new horse hair teacher and one for myself. We really like our “twins!” (I like the spiral pattern above better than the striped pattern below.)
8/6/14. Finally!! Years before I started braiding horse hair, I had commissioned a bracelet from another artist. I absolutely loved her pattern (which I call the difficult 8-ply single round braid — as opposed what I call the easy 8-ply double round braid, essentially the 4-ply pattern braided with pairs of plies). My first braiding teacher didn’t know the 8-ply single pattern, so I hunted hard and long for it — unsuccessfully. More years went by. In July of 2014 I studied under a second teacher. She didn’t know the pattern either, so I returned to the hunt. This time I was successful due to a man’s recent post on YouTube. I ran to Hobby Lobby, bought some parachute cord, and began practicing the new braiding pattern. (A very helpful piece of advice from my second teacher: learn the fingering for a new braid with boldly colored, fat, single-ply strands of parachute cord; then transfer your skills to modestly colored, thin, multiple strand plies of horse hair. Remember learning to write with fat pencils and crayons before thin ones?) Three days of practice later, I completed a mistake-free braid with the cord. Then came six long days of applying my new skills to horse hair plies — not only less contrasting and thinner, but slipperier and absolutely averse to staying where initially placed. Eventually, however, I managed to produce the braid pictured. I am going to make “twin bracelets” out of it — one for my new teacher and one for myself.
4/21/14. A necklace-bracelet set made from the hair of the deceased horse who changed my life and a pendant my husband purchased from my jewelry mentor, Delanor Manson, firstname.lastname@example.org. The horse head is amethyst. Our wedding colors were periwinkle and ivory. Several days after taking the photo, the jewelry arrangement looked like an egg to me–the symbol of new life!
Delanor makes a similarly sized horse head pendant in jade. The photo immediately below was taken by Dede Jones, http://www.bebydede.com/. It is of Delanor’s lighter weight but larger, abalone (shell) pendant on a black necklace. Both necklaces and the bracelet are 6-ply round, approximately 3 mm wide braids.
1/2/14. I really like this new toggle that became available last December.
8/13/13. My first Mother and Daughter necklace set. Instead of making both 6-ply Michele Necklaces the same (with three plies of black and 3 plies of cream), I made Mom’s with 4 plies of cream and 2 plies of black and Daughter’s with 4 plies of black and 2 plies of white. I like the same-but-different/yin-yang look.
6/16/13. I made this (12-ply Gretchen) bracelet for my mother-in-law from the multi-colored tail of my horse Highlander, a chestnut gelding. She and my father-in-law, a barber, live in Kansas City. Years ago during a visit, they took me to former hairdresser Leila Cohoon’s museum in the suburb of Independence. The Hair Museum contains an AMAZING collection of human hair made into wearable and hang-able art, mainly during the Victorian Era. To learn more, Google the Hair Museum. Or go on a virtual tour with Leila at http://www.roadsideamerica.com/video/19552.