The first cameos were created thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt. They have been a favorite item of jewelry for centuries, though they have waxed and waned in popularity depending on the era. 

Cameos have been carved from a wide variety of materials such as stones, shell, coral, lava, bog oak, Vulanite, ivory, and glass. 

Common subjects are portraits of ladies, soldiers, rulers and scholars, mythology, animals, Biblical events, and landscapes or scenes. 

Worn by both men and women, cameos have been worn set in brooches, earrings, necklaces, rings, bracelets, fobs and pins. 

Cameos may be carved in low relief where the subject barely protrudes from the background, or high relief where the subject projects a great deal from the background. 

Queen Victoria, a world trend setter, loved cameos. Her interest caused cameos to rocket into popularity once again in the mid-1800s. They were in demand as tourist souvenirs as well. Those who made the ‘grand tour’ in Europe often chose a cameo or two from places such as Pompeii or Herculeum. 

Important people also had their portraits made into cameos. According to an advertisement in Godey's Lady's Book in January 1850, “Peabody the celebrated Cameo Portrait Cutter, 140 Chestnut Street, is kept busily engaged with the portraits of some of our most eminent citizens.” 

Victorian Ladies Shoes

Shoes and boots of a golden bronze or black, ornamented with bronze, are becoming fashionable. Toilet slippers are this season more fanciful than ever, being made of red, green, and violet morocco, with heels to match, and ornamented on the toe with velvet bows full three inches long, and wide, in the centre of which are huge buckles of steel, gilt, jet, or variegated.

We see, also, black kid slippers, richly embroidered with jet, and trimmed with black velvet bows with jet buckles. Some of them have red heels. Other slippers have large, square flaps resting on the instep, and made of silks and satins richly quilted. With these shoes white stockings spotted with the same color as the morocco are worn.

For evening dress, though boots are in the ascendant, black satin slippers are the most suitable and becoming, as they reduce the apparent size of the foot. With dress slippers stockings with colored silk clocks should worn.

- Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1862

As you can tell from this short description of fashionable footwear in 1862, shoes came in many designs and colors! Evolving from the flat-soled, very pointed shoes of the Regency era, ladies’ shoes of the mid-Victorian era sported a decidedly square toe or slightly rounded square toe. The look also featured a completely flat leather sole or a small heel of approximately one inch to one-and-a-half inches tall. 

Shoes were slip-ons or could tie. Boots - which were only ankle-high or slightly above the ankle - tied, buttoned, or had elastic gussets so one could slip them on. Boots with gussets sometimes had non-functional, decorative buttons on them. 

The upper portion of shoes and boots could be leather, wool, or silk, and came in many colors or could be dyed to match an ensemble.

 At this time, shoes had straight lasts, which means there was no right or left foot. The shoes would simply conform to one’s feet over time as they were worn. 

Both shoes and boots could be casual for daily wear or dressy for special occasions. Dressier occasions generally called for silk-covered shoes or boots. Footwear could match one’s ensemble or not. 

Hairwork – A Jewelry Fad

Throughout time a lock of hair has been an intimate romantic token, a special keepsake, or even commemorative of important events and deeds. The incorporation of human hair in jewelry seems to have begun sometime during the Middle Ages and continued to increase in popularity through the years. Hairwork art and jewelry reached its zenith during the Victorian era, thanks to Queen Victorian favoring the fashion.  

It is known that when her husband, Prince Albert, passed away, the queen wore a heart-shaped locket containing the prince’s hair over her heart. She also wore a bracelet with nine heart-shaped lockets, each of which contained a lock of hair from her children. She also gave a bracelet made of her own hair to Empress Eugenia of France. Hair generally doesn’t decay so these mementos were seen as lasting sentimental tokens. 

An amazing array of jewelry was made from hair - brooches, bracelets, earrings, necklaces, rings, chains, watch fobs, cravat and shawl pins, and so on. Initially this jewelry seems to have been produced primarily by professionals. However, it eventually was viewed as a proper pastime for Victorian ladies and publications such as Godey’s Lady’s Book and Peterson’s Magazine offered “how to” instructions as early as the 1850s.

An Expandable Bracelet

Hairwork bracelets

Two Types of Hairwork

For both types of hair work, the hair would first be cleaned and treated for a few minutes in a solution such as hot water with ‘borax and soda.’ Once soaked, the hair would then be carefully scraped with a knife to make certain to remove any residue.  

Early hairworks were very tiny, intricate designs created on a flat surface of china or glass called a ‘palette,’ thus, often referred to as ‘palette work.’ The design could be anything from a very elaborate miniature scene or a simply a single curl. If creating a scene, small hair clippings were ground with gum Arabic and painted onto ivory, china, or glass. Each design or picture was quite delicate and, therefore, sealed underneath a crystal cover or placed in a special compartment in a piece of jewelry. Some of the favored motifs were landscapes, weeping willows or tombstones (in mourning scenes), Prince of Wales ‘feathers,’ and basketweave patterns for backgrounds to lay hair designs on. 

Hairwork brooches

These brooches contain no hair. Their basketweave backgrounds
are ready for hair to be inserted into the brooch onto the background.

Later on, around the 1830s, another type of hairwork was developed. Referred to as ‘table work’ hair, it actually involved weaving the hair into lace-like, three-dimensional pieces that were quite springy and stretchy. A special table with a hole in the center was used to create this incredibly intricate jewelry.  The hair was specially prepared, strands were counted, and then wound onto bobbins. The hair was then woven into patterns very similar to the method of making bobbin lace. Specialized fittings were added to the finished piece that allowed the hair jewelry to be worn. 

3D hairwork brooches

Hairwork necklace, necklace pendant, and two sets 
of earrings

Antique hairwork jewelry is now very desirable. You can collect old pieces or you can learn to make your own as Victorian ladies did. 

These rings are matching "sister rings." The hair is inserted on the band.
The original owners had their initials engraved on the inside of the band.

Men's watch chains. 

This ring has hair inserted on the band.

How Do I Keep My Bonnet On?

When I made my first bonnet, I could not keep it upright on my head without lancing it with a very long hat pin. I didn’t like poking a hole in my bonnet every time, but I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t learn about bonnet stays for several years. Finally, someone told me about a ‘bonnet stay.’ Eureka! 

I made a bonnet stay for my new bonnet and the bonnet sat in its proper upright position on my head without so much as a hiccup! Why had no one told me about this wonderful little item years ago? 

What is a ‘bonnet stay?’ Sometimes referred to as a cross-band or bandeau in mid-1800s writings, it’s just a simple band of ribbon, fabric, or even wire that is fastened inside your bonnet that helps hold the bonnet still. Think of it as wearing a headband inside your bonnet. 

A bonnet stay doesn’t have to be a permanent fixture in your bonnet. I simply straight-pinned mine in place. Choose your stay of an unobtrusive color - you don’t want it to show. I chose a ¾” wide piece of velvet ribbon - fuzzy side toward my hair so that it would grab my hair.

I measured from approximately 1 inch above the top of my ear across the top of my head to about 1 inch above the top of my other ear. After I cut the ribbon length, I pinned it into my bonnet on both sides of the interior of the bonnet where I thought it might fit me best. I had to adjust the placement a couple of times before I found the perfect position. You will likely need to do some trial and error, too. When you find that perfect spot inside your bonnet for the stay, you will notice that the bonnet feels balanced and secure. My bonnet is a fairly high spoon bonnet that can catch the wind a bit, but it never moves. Ever. 

As you can see from the photos, the bonnet stay is well hidden behind the netting and flowers on my bonnet. Also, notice that even on the model, the bonnet sits upright as it should. 

Bog Oak As Jewelry - Really?

Yes, really! Bog oak was quite popular as jewelry beginning in the early 1800s and remained trendy for most of the Victorian era. When Queen Victoria went into mourning at the death of Prince Albert, she ensured that black would remain a fashion color for decades. As the fashion icon of the era, everyone tried to emulate the beloved queen. Of course, black jewelry was part of the trend and bog oak was one of the many options. 

What is bog oak? Just what it sounds like - semi-petrified wood that came from Irish peat bogs. Thanks to the wood being buried for years in the bogs with just the right conditions - low oxygen and acid from the peat - the wood was preserved. These conditions reacting with the wood tannins also give the wood its distinctive look. And, incidentally, technically the wood is not just oak. The wood can actually be oak, pine, or yew.

Bog oak is surprisingly lightweight and isn’t cold to the touch like stone or metal. It has a matte finish and if you look closely, you can actually see the wood grain. This sets it apart from other black jewelry such as Jet or Vulcanite. Bog oak also almost always uses Irish motifs such as harps, abbeys, castles, ferns, and shamrocks, as well as traditional Gaelic designs.  More upscale pieces might be accented with pearls or gold. Earrings, bracelets, brooches, and necklaces were made from bog oak.

Following is a quote from a leading periodical of the time describing the wood and uses for it other than jewelry. 

Frank Leslie's Weekly, DECEMBER 12, 1863:

"The Irish “Bog Oak ” has been long known and celebrated. It consists of the fallen trunks of ancient oak forests, now deeply covered by accumulations of peat bog, but still perfectly sound. This ancient wood furnishes large quantities of valuable timber, which is mined from the beds in which it lies, and worked into beautiful articles of cabinet work, sculptured panels and other carving. The dark stain imparted to it by the long steeping it has undergone in water saturated with both vegetable and mineral matters, gives it a special value for ornamental wood work. Similar deposits of ancient wood exists in the vast swamps of New Jersey. These buried trees, however, are cedars and not oaks, and it is made a regular and profitable business to dig them from their beds, to be manufactured into shingles, which are said to be of extraordinary excellence and durability.

 "A New York paper thus describes the timber and the process of getting it out: “These swamps are very valuable, an acre of such timber commanding from $500 to a $1,000. A peculiar feature of the swamps is that the soil is of purely vegetable growth, often 20 feet or more in depth. The peaty earth is constantly accumulating from the fall of leaves and boughs, and trees are found buried in it at all depths, quite down to solid ground. The timber so buried retains its buoyancy and color, and large numbers of workmen are constantly employed in raising and splitting the logs into rails and shingles. In searching for these logs, the workmen uses an iron rod, which he thrusts into the soil, and by repeated trials, ascertains the size and length of the wood he strikes, and then, by digging down, obtains a chip, by the smell of which he can determine whether it is worth removal. 

"The number of shingles produced from the wood of these submerged forests is very great; from the little town of Dennisville, in this county, as many as 800,000, valued at $12,000 have been sent to market in a year. From the same place, thousands of dollars worth of white cedar rails are annually sent out. The deposit of timber at this point extends to an indefinite depth, and although, from the growth above it, believed to be 2,000 years old, is all entirely sound, and will supply, for years to come, the draft upon it."