The manufacture of horsehair upholstery fabric (also known as hair cloth) on a cotton or silk warp.
This craft uses products derived from animals – please read our ethical sourcing statement.
|Historic area of significance
|Area currently practised
|Castle Cary, Somerset
|Origin in the UK
|Current no. of professionals (main income)
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
|Current no. of trainees
|Current total no. serious amateur makers
|Current total no. of leisure makers
|Minimum no. of craftspeople required
Horsehair fabrics are woven with the tail hair from live horses and cotton or silk warps. The last remaining manufacturer, John Boyd Fabrics, still use the original looms and techniques from 1870.
Hair cloth was widely used by top end furniture designers such as Chippendale, Hepplewhite, Lutyens, and Rennie Mackintosh, and are still used for a wide range of upholstered furniture. The fabric is known for its lustre and is used by contemporary designers for its luxury and durability.
Horsehair cloth became popular in the 1800s due to an abundant supply from live working horses whose tails were cropped. Today, the horsehair is sourced from countries such Mongolia who still work horses with cropped tails.
The horsehair fabrics were initially woven by hand. This would require a weaver to stand at a loom all day and a small child would sit in the loom with the horse tail, serving the hair to the weaver. The Education Act of 1870, ensuring that all children went to school, led to the development of mechanical looms patented by John Boyd. A mechanical picker was able to tease one hair from the tail. The tail must be carefully mixed and drawn through teeth of a large comb beforehand.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
Availability of raw materials
Changing tastes and fashions for animal products
Craftspeople currently known
Businesses employing two or more makers: