Horsehair Braid - Patou’s Method

Don't you love the sound of horsehair braid? I often feel I am holding history in my hands when I work with horsehair braid. Can you imagine it coming from the wiry hair of a horse's mane and tail? I mean, who was the first to come up with this idea? I'm in awe over the inventiveness of old tailors and dressmakers, who found ways to create volume and shape using humble items they had on hand.

The horsehair braid that's on the market today doesn't have a single strand of a horse's mane or tail woven into it. Instead, it is made from polyester, nylon, or plastic. They come in different widths, but, generally, I most often see them available in .5" - 1" widths.

It has recently became popular to use horsehair braid to stiffen the hems of 1950's vintage style "hoop skirts". I have not encountered a single Paris couture design from the 50's or 60's that used horsehair braid in the hem, however. This dress will not be using horsehair braid in the hem. So what does the house of Patou want us to use it for?

We will be using thick horsehair braid to structure the skirt along the hip-line to create shape and prevent collapse. The pattern called for a 6" braid, and 8 yards of it! I was afraid I couldn't locate 6" braid, but, miraculously, MoodFabrics had exactly 8 yards available.

Since 6” isn't thick enough, according to the house, we need to carefully lap and sew together two widths of horsehair braid to create a 12“ width. I actually didn’t know one could do that, but it works!

After lapping the horsehair together, it was time to hand sew the braid onto the underlining only.

This takes some patience, especially since there are 8 yards of this to attach to the underlining, without letting one stitch slip or accidentally picking up the fashion fabric. (We don’t want any stitches to show on the outside). Hand sewing is required for everything, in order for the structuring to remain hidden. A machine cannot blindly sew this onto the underlining.

After several days of hand sewing, using the herringbone stitch, I finally finished this step. I didn’t use the suggested running stitch because I didn’t feel it was secure enough, nor did it allow for enough "movement" when the wearer walks or sits. (The last thing I want, is to sit and hear a “rip!”) I have found that the herringbone stitch takes longer to apply, but, for this purpose, it makes it feel more secure.

The horsehair is placed right along and below the hip-line. This will provide more “poof” away from the body, while preventing collapse.

Here's what the inside of the skirt looks like so far:

Just a reminder, we are doing all this inner work to make the dress assume the shape of the line drawing below:

Surprisingly, the horsehair is placed on different planes from the front pieces vs. back and side pieces. It's fascinating that the house decided to structure the skirt this way. Most garments insert horsehair on the same line or plane of the body.

I hope you find working with horsehair braid as fascinating as I do. Will you be trying out Patou's secret of structuring the hip-line in a future dress? I love discovering new structuring secrets in these vintage designer patterns!

Here is what the dress looks like so far, with the horsehair braid. The crinoline hasn’t yet been built!


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