Braiding horse hair and memories into wearable art
By Debra Moore
Looking for a unique gift for someone in your life who loves horses? Do you want to memorialize your own horse? Quincy resident and jewelry maker Judy Dailey can make either wish a reality.
Judy is well known in the area for creating unique pieces of jewelry from metals, stones, beads and crystals. But when a friend made a special request, she added horse hair bracelets and more to her repertoire. By braiding strands taken from a horse’s tail, Judy creates bracelets, crosses, eyeglass straps and lanyards.
Her new foray began when her friend lost her beloved horse. It’s customary for owners to save hair from their horse’s tail as a keepsake, which can be stored or transformed. She asked if Judy could make a bracelet for her, and Judy was game to try.
That first successful attempt has grown into more orders by word of mouth and Judy has used the excess hair (with owner’s permission) to make more pieces to sell. Prices vary from $65 for a child’s bracelet, up to $175 for an adult bracelet made with silver.
Cost also depends on the quality of the hair. Judy asks for a “fat pencil” full of hair from the tail. When Judy receives the hair, she checks to make sure that it’s been washed. How can you tell? Judy laughs and says it just takes a whiff to see if it smells clean or like the back end of a horse. If it hasn’t been cleaned, she washes it with Dawn dish soap.
Once the hair is clean and dry, she begins to separate the strands, which is a time-consuming process — especially with hair from an older horse, which can be brittle. The strands are then braided and inserted into the jewelry pieces. Each piece can take several hours to make, and the lead time to order one of her creations is five to seven days, plus shipping time.
This might be the perfect gift for a student graduating from Feather River College this month with a degree in equine and ranch management. If a student has a favorite horse, or more than one favorite horse, it can be a thoughtful gift. One woman sent Judy the hair from two of her horses and Judy incorporated it into one bracelet.
The first time I interviewed Judy was about nine years ago and she had been designing jewelry for nearly three years at that point. She was still working fulltime but designing jewelry on weekends and after work; it was quickly becoming her passion. Now that she has retired, Judy has more time to spend in her jewelry making room, which is filled with trays of raw materials and lots of tools.
Judy is self-taught and spends hours honing her skills by watching tutorials online. Her latest endeavor involves using copper and electricity to create unique pieces. I watch as she attaches electric current to copper in a water bath and wonder if she was a little nervous the first time? She laughs and said she studied the process for a while. “Most artists aren’t doing electroforming,” she said.
The free-form technique involves building layers of metal, typically copper, around a conductive surface using an electrical current. Artists can electroform just about any metal; however, copper is the most popular for electroforming jewelry-making. During copper electroforming, low-voltage electricity causes copper particles to come off the anode (which conducts electricity) and pass through the electroforming solution. The particles then attach to the item suspended in the solution.
The equipment is in one corner of her studio, and on her worktable are some of the pieces in progress. They represent another dimension to Judy’s jewelry-making options.
To view Judy’s work, you can visit Quincy Provisions or the Plumas Arts Gallery (both in Quincy) — where her work is sold directly, or visit her Facebook page or Instagram – both under J Dailey Design. She can also be contacted by writing to P.O. Box 1337, Quincy CA 95971.