Earlier this year I made 4 mohican headdresses for Shooting Flowers (a styling company). The headdresses were commissioned for ‘Thriller’ the Michael Jackson musical – on at The Lyric, Shaftesbury Avenue.

The headdresses are snug leather hoods that fasten under the dancer’s chin. The mohican is made from horse tail hair, from a supplier based in London (Golders Green). Interestingly, he also supplied Ron Mueck with hair for him to use in his sculptures. I got the leather from Alma Leather in Whitechapel – a treasure trove of fabulous leather.

Below are some photos I took along the way of making them.

Beginnings of the hood. I started to work out the pattern for the leather hood by using calico. It took a couple of tweaks and seam adjustments to get the pattern to fit properly.

So, the photo below is the hood inside out. It you look at the corners they are cut off at an angle so that the seam doesn’t get in the way when the hood is turned through the right way. Each headdress is cut out in leather and in cotton drill. This is because the hoods have to last a year or more, and over time the leather will stretch and distort if it does not have some reinforcement.

The next photo shows the leather hood turned the right way out. The leather hood and the drill fabric lining are both left open at the middle of the centre back, so that the hood can be turned through the right way after being machined together. This opening in the centre back is also where the horse hair mohican is attached to the hood.

I ‘topstitched’ each hood all the way around its edge. This was to attach the leather outer to the drill lining, and stop it stretching. I like the look of topstitching on cut and stitch hats and headwear, and it helps control seams and avoid annoying lumps. All in all, I think it looks more professional. Use a long stitch length when top stitching. I learnt some of my cut and stitch pattern drafting and machining skills from Karen Shannon at Morley College on a 2 day weekend course. If Morley College are still running courses with her, I highly recommend them. It was an affordable price and she knew what she was talking about. Karen Shannon has worked as a machinist for Stephen Jones in the past, and is very mathmatical and precise about how to draw up the patterns – a good teacher.

Next I moved onto working out the mohican part of my headdresses. The amount of horse hair in the photo below cost me about £90. The longer the hair, the more expensive it is. Incidentally the man in Golders Green also sells human hair although I don’t think I could work with human hair, it’s making me get the creeps just thinking about holding it! He sells hair for wigs, dolls, brushes… Another choice instead of horse hair for making these mohicans could be yak hair or goat hair.

I used my favourite method of working out a pattern in this photo. Masking tape and cardboard. Cheap, quick to mock up and easy to alter. In this picture the mohican is too tall. This was especially true when I held it up to my head, things always seem so much bigger when you put them on your head.

As you will see over the next few pictures, I had to play around and alter things when working out how to construct the mohicans. First of all I cut out the mohican central support in thin plastic, leaving some tabs at the bottom to use when attaching the mohican into the headdress. This worked really well, the plastic was cheap and strong – I got it from a poundshop in Dalston.

I reinforced the plastic with strong thick wire. This was not successful. The wire had absolutely no movement in it, and the result was a mohican with no swish. Also you could see the wire through the hair and it was distracting from the overall look. And…. it added weight – a surprising amount of weight actually. So, I ditched the wire idea (and a fair few hours worth of work I might add!)

This picture shows the wire before I removed it. You can also see the blocked sinamay skull cap in the process of being made. The skull cap was made to give the mohican a substantial base, if it was not there the hair would flop from side to side.

Next, I decided that shredded crin would be good to add into the mohican mane. At this point I did not know how the hair was going to support itself and I thought crin could bulk out the hair and force it to stand up straight. But, again, it was an unnecessary addition and an extra spend on labour time and materials, and it took away the hair’s movement.

Experiments with shredded crin (partly inspired by Stephen Jones / Dior creations for SS 2011 collection)

The next picutre is a streamlined mohican, with the wire removed, crin removed, and ready to be covered in horse hair.

To cover the mohican with hair, I machined the hair onto a fabric backing. This worked well, and after a while I realised that the hair was easier to control and push under the sewing machine foot if I sprayed it a little with water. I sewed the hair on a little bundle at a time and used the longest stitch length possible.

Also used a hot dry iron to control the hair and shape it. I avoided using steam as it made the hair frizzy.

Felt stiffener worked amazingly well on the horse hair. It was brilliant. The hair was transformed into a poker straight, self-supporting material. And the hair still had a bit of movement as well, which was important for the effect with the dancers on stage. These headdresses were worn on stage for the rendition of ‘Dirty Diana’ – the dancers wearing them did some incredible back bends and dance moves!

And the finished headdress. The final assembly was done using mostly evostick and some stitches with strong thread and a leather needle. Please feel free to post comments or contact me for details of suppliers.