Tables with human hair for NeoMateria Workshop and Juliane holding a sign that says #FridayFashionShift

NeoMateria Hair Workshop and Fibreshed Ireland Symposum - Irish Design Week

In mid-November, I was fortunate to attend two events which were part of Irish Design Week. Events happened throughout the week and all over Ireland. But I only managed to get to ones in Dublin.


Human Hair

The first event that I attended was a NeoMateria Workshop, which took place with MaterFad Barcelona and the Creative Futures Academy at the National College of Art and Design (NCAD). There were two offerings one on bio-materials and on using Human Hair. I opted for the latter.

Visiting NCAD took me back to my art school days. The campus used to be the site of the Powers Whiskey Distillery. There are some elegant looking, copper stills in the back.

Two copper and brick stills on the NCAD campus


Tables of Dyed Hair

Yes, that's right. These are tables full of dyed hair! There was also some undyed hair, too.

Tables full of shorn and dyed hair
Hair Facts

Did you know that hair is anti-bacterial, hypo-allergenic, and, of course, like wool, insulating? But it is actually hollow, unlike wool. It is also a material that is a waste product. According to the Human Material Loop website, 2.2 billion kilograms of keratin fibre is tossed globally from hair salons. This material is either thrown out or incinerated.

{Having no knowlege of hair extensions, had no idea that people replace extensions every four months!}

Our tutor, Zsofia Collar, founder of Human Material Loop, shared the hidden-in-plain-sight world of this unusual but sustainable material.


Like Felting

The process was similiar to wet felting. During the workshop,we used drum carders, bubble wrap, and soapy water to make a version of 'felt' with the clippings. It required lots of rubbing. Unlike sheep wool, human hair doesn't shrink, so it is more like a fabric created by compression. Other than myself, no one rolled their projects. 

Here is a large-sized piece from one of my classmates -

Large-scale textile piece made of dyed human hair. A classmate's work.

Below is one of my flat samples of felted human hair, with a line of extension hair stitched in diagonally.

My sample of felted human hair

In addition to wet felting with 'offcuts' of human hair, we also had the option of  'embroidering' with the extensions. My tablemate, Fiona Byrne, made the brown piece toward the front. See her completed project HERE on Instagram. 

Hair extensions on table with some students' projects


Meeting People

Chatting with the other students, who came from various disciplines, was fascinating! See the Instagram pages of weaver Frances Crowe, leather artist Roisin Gartland, and paper jewellry maker Rike Lenzing. We also had teachers, a costume designer, and several NCAD students.

Wanting Shape

As a maker who likes to work three-dimensionally, on the second day, I brought in some Icelandic and Merino wool fibre. I used a layer of sheep wool with a layer of human hair. However, I wasn't as scientific as needed. But not surprisingly, hair proved easier to 'felt' when combined with sheep wool. Here are my samples.

Two 3D samples of human hair felted with sheep wool

The Quiz!

My favourite part of the class was on the second day when Zsofia shared a quiz that included historical, cultural, and scientific uses of hair. 

Princess Leis with her famous hair

The Human Material Loop website has a fascinating page of these uses. Keep on scrolling to find all sorts of interesting facts! Here is one of them!

The connection between soy sauce and hair!

MaterFad exhibition

Elsewhere on the NCAD campus there was an interesting exhibition of biomaterial textiles.

These samples are from Human Material Loop.

Human Material Loop samples at the MaterFad exhibition

While I didn't find working with human hair squeamish-inducing, learning about keratin being used in soy sauce and other foods is unsettling. Would you wear a garment made from human hair?

Most of all, as a textile artist, it was good to ponder on a more sustainable fabric-making method. Of course, being more sustainable requires a creative shift, similar to felting with Irish-grown wool versus imported Merino wool. 

For further information, Articles of Interest has a podcast on 'Wearing Hair'.


Fibreshed Ireland Symposium

Slide of Soil to Soil at Fibreshed Ireland


Last year, I attended Fibreshed Ireland's first symposium. So, I was excited to learn that they would have a 2023 symposium. Like previously, this event was part of Irish Design Week.

While I enjoyed the entire day, one of my favourite presentations was by Sandra King on the amazing Cladoir Sheep.  (I hope to do further explorations with Irish-native, Cladoir wool, which are much smaller in size than meat-breed type sheep). The other speaker that charmed, was Annie Hogg on Oak Gall pigments.

On Fridays, Fibreshed Ireland has a #FridayFashionShift where one shares one's outfit on Instagram. For the symposium, I wore a mended shirt, a hand-me-down plaid shirt that was my Dad's, lots of natural fibre bits, and a #memade hat!


In Conclusion

Irish Design Week 2024 was a truly inspiring event! The DCCI has made available several of the week's events on a Watch Back on Demand page. Scroll down to find The Neomateria Exhibition and Panel Discussion.




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