Because of their fragility very few pieces of needle lace worked in hair survive from the 17th century. They are usually in the shape of a narrow band, like this, and one example has loops at the ends, suggesting it was meant to be fastened around something. It seems most likely that they were worn around the wrist, as a bracelet.
Ownership & Use
A reference in John Donne's early 17th century poem The Relique, suggests that bracelets worked in hair were given and worn as love tokens:
When my grave is broke up againe
Some second ghest to entertaine ...
And he that digs it, spies
A bracelet of bright haire about the bone,
Will he not let us alone
And thinke that there a loving couple lies...
[the poem continues]
Who thought that this device might be some way
to make their soules, at the last busie day,
meet at this grave, and make a little stay ?...
Materials & Making
This piece of lace is worked in light and darker brown hair, which is probably human, but the pattern has been outlined with a thicker hair which may be horsehair. The stitches have been secured with a gummed substance, possibly wax, as the hair with which they are worked is more naturally springy and elastic than the linen or silk thread in which needle lace was usually worked in this period. The stitches used to make needle lace in England were part of the embroiderer's repertoire, being taught as a basic part of a young girl's needlework education.