CNCHnet . . . The Textile Arts Webzine of the Conference of Northern California Handweavers

Horsehair Coiling

Art and romance happily merged when Amanda Salm met her cowboy husband, and began weaving with horsetail hair!  Some 12 years later, she has become a master of the art of dyeing and coiling horse hair into fabulous sculptural creations and “contour drawings”.

Amanda Salm

Informed by a BFA in Weaving and Textile Design from Rochester Institute of Technology, Mandy’s first textile work emphasized surface design.  Intrigued by three-dimensional forms, she moved on to coil ikat-dyed raffia baskets, but then took a hiatus from her time-intensive artwork for full time employment. Since her marriage to her cowboy-turned-vineyard-manager husband, she has returned to basketry & fiber sculpture with a focus on horse hair fiber, whose “luster, translucency and receptiveness to natural dyes” is a major draw.  Mandy utilizes Japanese dye processes & natural dyes (e.g. cherry, grape, walnut, indigo, meadow rue, cochineal, etc.).  Beginning with primary colors from these sources, she over-dyes, as needed, for a fuller palette. She may also spin the horse hair prior to dyeing.

Mandy’s first encounter with horsehair coiling was with the miniature baskets created by the Papago Indians. However, these baskets had an exposed core of horsehair and utilized a furcated stitch.  Mandy decided instead to completely cover her core material with horse hair to create a smoother and more lustrous appearance. Deploying the a single strand of horse hair at a time, is, she admits, a slow process, but the sculptural possibilities of the medium thus utilized yield very satisfying results.

Amanda Salm

Amanda Salm

Here, in Mandy’s words, is a description of the medium and process of creating her textile sculptures…

“….My work continues to expand on the ideas of negative space, line and color in a medium seldom associated with basketry and stitching.”

“…Some of the properties I enjoy most about this fiber are its translucency (with the exception of dark colors) and the thread-like quality which allows me to create detailed surface designs and subtle color transitions.  The hair is lightweight and yet I can create a voluminous form.  I generally don’t require any tools and the material is easy on my hands.  …I can curl it [and] let ends be sensuously long or spikey short…

“… I now use bleached white nylon twine for the core as it allows the colors to read more true.  Most often I use a figure eight stitch taking three or four wraps around the core before securing it to the previous row.  …The fineness of the horsehair leaves a gap between the rows, further enhancing the translucent effect of the whole form.  I spend up to 30 hours a week coiling; one piece takes me approximately eight weeks to complete.”

Amanda Salm

Amanda at work

Mandy draws inspiration not only from the materials she uses, but from her waterfront home where she is able to envision her next pieces as she swims “through the magical landscape of kelp forests” in Monterey Bay.  Her visions take on sensuous  and sinuous form through her sculptures, as illustrated in these photos of her work.

For a gallery of Amanda Salm’s work (including a current series of sculptures humorously profiling people facing “bad hair days”),  & Mandy’s video explaining her dyeing and coiling processes, see her website:

The next article uses ribbon as the medium