Spinning Human Hair – the Betsy Project

in Fiber Arts

One hot summer’s day a young woman visited our farm. Her friends were delayed by car trouble, so we chatted. I was spinning – she was fascinated – and thus began ‘the Betsy project.’

It was all her idea. She had cancer; chemo and radiation had made her hair fall out and it had regrown. Now she was facing further treatments. Would I spin her hair after it fell out again? 

Some people think this project is morbid, but that was not her approach. She was an artist, very creative, and she had in mind to make an heirloom for her daughter. 

We discussed options – hair must be blended with another fiber – and details such as length, heft, and color. I spun it with cinnamon alpaca, and the final result was a surprisingly soft, gleaming, springy yarn. 

My last contact with Betsy came with a note, saying ‘I have never before seen my mousy hair as beautiful.’

What more could an artist ask? And like all art, what purpose can it have? Just to say, in the face of the void that life has meaning. That everything is connected forever, if only by a thread.

And there her friends were, probably, by the side of the road in the August heat, saying ‘durn the durn car, why did it have to break down NOW?’

If you, or someone you know, is interested in getting your hair spun, please get in touch with Rebecca.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Linda Dee November 10, 2015 at 11:55 am

How do you prepare human hair for spinning. Card it? Comb it? Wash it? I have gobs from my hair brush after brushing my long hair. Plan to spin it with some alpaca. Should I card it with the alpaca and make rolags? Or should I just add the hair in as I’m spinning?

Rebecca September 30, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Hi, Lisa, my sympathies on your loss, and I will help you with the spinning if possible. I will need to know about Becky’s hair (fineness, length, amount) and also about the yarn you would imagine made from it (color, thickness, softness, amount) so you can ponder on that. I will get in touch soon. best wishes, Rebecca

Lisa September 30, 2013 at 1:24 am

Hi Rebecca;

My sister Becky passed away and I had asked her to save the last hair she lost from chemo.  I am interested in having it spun into something that could be knitted.  Could you please contact me?

Lisa

Rebecca June 3, 2013 at 11:46 am

I am sorry I somehow did not get this message until now. If you are still interested contact me. apologetically, R

Rebecca June 3, 2013 at 11:43 am

I do not know how to make it that fine, I am sorry to say. People make some fine cotton thread using supported drop spindles, but I think human hair is too thick and stiff for that.

Jay Klum March 25, 2013 at 11:11 pm

Hi there I am curious is it possible to make a thread using some portion of human hair, fine enough that it might be used in a sewing machine.?

Gloria October 20, 2012 at 9:37 pm

Hi.  I have been growing my hair out for some time now, and also have a paper bag full from when I had a haircut years back.  I also lose a lot on a daily basis – maybe I should start collecting from my brush?  Could you please contact me as I am very interested in having my hair spun into yarn.  I knit and crochet.  Do you think it could be spun with silk?  Thanks.

Rebecca June 21, 2012 at 5:43 pm

hi Carolyn! It will be strongest mixed with wool. Wool is easiest to handle, but if you aren’t going for strength, silk or alpaca can be nice too. Be aware that a shining, bristly looking halo effect is one of the glories of spinning with hair, because it is hard to avoid! You might also experiment with adding a few strands at a time into other things that you are spinning as you spin, like a ‘novelty’ fiber. Good luck, and send me a picture if you come up with something good. Isn’t it amazing how fast they grow? faster every year it seems! best wishes, R

Rhonda April 22, 2012 at 6:27 pm

This was an interesting article, as I just visited the Pueblo Museum in Albuquerque, and I found out that native American Women kept their hair short, but grew it out, and spun it in rope. I may have to grow mine out, and spin it into yarn. I’m not sick with cancer, or anything, it’s just interesting. I don’t find it morbid at all. Infact, it’s an ancient art that they had to do to survive. It would make a phenomenal keepsake.

Carolyn Slack November 26, 2011 at 9:37 pm

My 11 year old grandson had his first ever haircut a few day ago.  He had the most beautiful, long, glossy, straight hair.
I had him save the hair for me so I could spin it. Do I take a few strands at a time and card it with wool, make it into rolags and then spin it?  What do you suggest?
Many thanks.

Rebecca November 25, 2011 at 7:39 pm

greetings, Sharon, sounds like you have some great grandsons! let me know what you have in mind, and how much yarn you would need. best wishes, Rebecca

Sharon November 23, 2011 at 1:07 pm

I recently had 9 inches of my hair sheared, I have 2 “pony tails” I would like to have spun into some kind of “yarn” I can crochet with.  This is probably my last haircut and my grandsons have requested something made out of my.  This seems to be the way to go.  Can you do this for me? 
enjoy your day
Sharon

Rebecca November 12, 2011 at 9:56 am

greetings – I can do this for you. Usually I like to blend it with some other fiber(s) such as wool, silk, or alpaca. I will contact you for details. best, Rebecca

laury November 8, 2011 at 10:09 pm

I am losing my hair because of chemo. I am collecting the pieces in the drain & the brush. I would like it prepared so it can be used in crocheting or tatting. Can someone direct me to people who prepare the hair. thanks

Rebecca Gilbert December 26, 2009 at 4:32 pm

thanks for telling me. I would love to see a photo of your weaving, in progress even more than finished, if it is possible. remember the original three greek muses, who spun, measured, and cut the thread of life? … I think morbidness is when we DON’T face up to things, but just act like nothing is going to change, ever. The power to live life fully requires appreciation of impermanence, I think. I am not a Buddhist but I like their idea of impermanence and also of compassion, and have learned a lot from them. Best wishes, and may the chemo and rays zap what needs zapping. feel free to write or not, anytime, I am always interested in art in the face of ‘the great empty.’ …R

chris December 13, 2009 at 3:52 pm

Interesting.  After being 10 years cancer free I am currently undergoing chemo, followed by radiation, for recurrence of BC.  This afternoon I just chopped off my hair as I will go bald in about two weeks.  I’m just getting ready to card my hair, which I then will spin, and then weave in a 10 pattern shaft drawloom pattern. 

I will use colored inlay along with the twill ground shaft and pattern shaft weaving.  My original picture (before my knowledge of recurrence) was of women with spindles and other such designs.  Now I need to redo my design.  My hair will be the hair of the women, it will also have Xrays and cancer cells and tears.  Yes, morbid perhaps– but it is a part of my life that I can’t ignore.

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