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Hedgehog Haircare??

I Often use parts of animals in my work, just as our ancestors did. I source them from various places; hunters, pest controllers, friends, and yes, roadkill. Over the yeas I’ve used Ducks and geese, badgers mink, ferrets, foxes, rabbits hares, red, roe, fallow muntjac and Chinese water deer, small birds, owls, pheasants, partridge... a rogue peacock prettymuch everything. I love to make use of something that would otherwise be destroyed and wasted because of human activity. I have used parts of these to make leathers, beads, flutes, headdresses, string, tools, clothes.. but one animal I have been completely stymied by is the hedgehog. Of course you can eat them, but what about those spines? These wonderful little beasts are now sadly endangered, and although I do see the occasional one alive, it is still sadly more common to see them splattered on the road. Their trademark defence of rolling into a ball no match for a tonne of car. I have rescued a couple found wandering in daylight and taken them to specialist wildlife carers. Sadly both died. I have taken one to Hannahs creatures to be taxidermied… But until recently, I had never found any other use for them.. Until I saw this;

I decided to keep an eye out for a roadkill hedgie and give it a go!

The assumption often is that stone age people were smelly, filthy and unmindful of their appearance- the evidence ( and common sense) simply don’t bear that out.

Failing to care for yourself ( in purely animal terms) indicates a deficiency in health, survival skills or ability to compete for resources- It makes you prey. If you are covered in dirt, and sustain an injury, even a small one you are more likely to get an infection, blood poisoning and in that Pre-antibiotic era, die.

The evidence from graves is that people adorned themselves and their clothing. They put considerable effort into making beads, Jewellery and decorating clothing and even tools. I think its very very unlikely that they didn’t also recognise the importance of personal grooming (evidence from Grotte de la Marche gives some clues, as do Ice age carvings) . You only have to look at pet dogs and cats to see how long they spend each day maintaining their coats- Why should humans be any different?

The roads provided back in the autumn while on my way home from a day working for time capsule Education at Audley End, I stopped to make sure a living picklepig got safely across the road, and as I walked back, spotted another less fortunate one already dead.

Aside from the spikes, the other unappealing thing is preponderance of fleas and lice. Presumably they can’t groom themselves, so the pests run riot… I decided to try and thin them out at least before I handled the beast more.

I was working at Audley end for their Halloween event. And fitting it to my role of ‘Witchfinder’ (actually a thinly disguised witch, which was a lot of fun) I had decked out the schools tent with all manner of ‘ things in jars’ and odd herbs. One of these was a big bunch of fleabane I’d picked during the summer. Propping the hedgehog over the Frontier stove on our meat drying rack, and covering it with a bowl, I put a handful of dried fleabane on the hot stove and watched with satisfaction as the smouldering herb gave off thick smoke which let loose a rain of dead and dying fleas ticks and lice. They fell from the hedgehog onto the stove, where they were incinerated.

Next job was to skin him. This was fiddly, not only because of the prickles but because he was pretty damaged inside. I was tempted to try eating it, but the mess I found inside put me off! Once he was skinned I cleaned the skin as best's I could- scraping and excising bits of membrane and meat. Unlike most skins I’ve worked with, this one could not be persuaded to lie flat. This makes cleaning it very very difficult. Every single spike has its own network of muscles, and the whole back of the animal is surrounded with a band of muscle like the closure of a drawstring bag. If that muscle could be removed, I might be possible to get it to lie flat, but I was more concerned with not casing the spines to fall out, so I didn’t worry too much. The skin sat ( dried) in a pile of stuff on my table until I decided to try and assemble it. I wanted to make a functional, plausible hairbrush, not the same as the Pitt rivers example, but as a pleasing and functional way to make use of the skin.

The shape was based on my favourite hairbrush- a good handle, strong (– because my hair is a force to be reckoned with!) and pleasing to look at. I used Cherry wood for the visible bit ( because its strong, hard, nice to carve and pretty, and lime wood for the domed section- because its soft and light. The work was done with the bandsaw to rough out the shape ( because of time constraints), then mora knife and a spoon knife. Carving the wood was the easy bit, fixing it together was the hard bit!

The skin was hard and dried, so first job was to soak it in lukewarm water. This took about 2 hours and had the added benefit of cleaning the skin of blood, dead fleas and their excrement ( delightful I know) I then spent another hour or so trying to remove more of the muscle and make the piece more compliant.. I had some success, but stopped short of accidentally making holes in it. I cut a rough oval and trimmed the prickles off the CM wide strip round the edge, this was gathered around the wooden dome and folded under I decided ( WHY??) to make life difficult for myself and have no stitches visible on the back of the brush, this meant I had to sew the pieces together loosely, then tighten up the thread later. This was a pain, and failed a couple of times- the thread broke- frayed by being pulled through holes repeatedly, or got tangled.

Another time I’d just have stitches visible on the back and cover it with something decorative- beaded leather or similar.

The result looked plausibly like a hairbrush, but was so sharp that any strokes anywhere near my scalp made ME want to curl up... so after the skin was fully dry ( 2 days) a few minutes with a sanding block were required. To carefully blunt the ends. I also used some needlework scissors to carefully nip out any broken spikes. The finished thing works really well! Its still not a brush to rake across your skull, but its not too sharp, and it seems to do a beautiful job of detangling my hair, leaving it smooth- much like the old hog bristle brushes do. I want to try and make some more of these in future ( there's probably 2/3rds of the skin left)- probably more plausibly stone age in nature- Maybe stretching the skin over a large clam shell or and adding a strap handle on the back...we shall see.

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