It's an old Chinese tradition dating from the Tang dynasty to make calligraphy brushes (胎毛笔tai mao bi) from a baby's newborn hair - only the first, uncut hair can be used as it still has its natural taper. Cut it, and it becomes useless. When the child turns 3, a ritual is performed in which the brush is softly brushed over their sensory organs to stimulate and awaken their 5 senses - like a gentle introduction to the world through touch. In ancient China, where the written word held supreme importance, the baby hair calligraphy brush was then given to the child when s/he grew older in the hope that it would bring good luck in passing imperial examinations. Throughout childhood, the brush would be displayed in the study as a symbol to encourage good work and as a talisman to bring good fortune.
Here are some traditional inscriptions on baby hair brushes:
Hairbrush companion, intelligence follows.
(Have a favorable wind throughout the voyage）
Everything is going smoothly, have a bright future.
(A roc can reach a destination of a myriad miles away at one jump)
Brilliant prospects, both intelligent and courageous.
Reading ten thousand books, travelling thousands of miles.
Hundred year taimaobi, thousand year parental love.
Parental love is forever. (My personal favourite)
Traditionally the whole head of the baby is shaved and a brush made using the hair - I did not want to do this so I used only a lock of inconspicuous hair from the front of his head (signwriting or long lines could be an application for this brush). I designed a unique logo only to be used on the brushes for my son, and personalised it with his name. I made the brush with my own hands as well as cut the hair (which is the only way to ensure beyond doubt that it was definitely made from his hair!), and the whole process was very special for me as both a maker and a mother.
By tradition, it also symbolises the everlasting bond between parent and child. For me, this is the most meaningful part. In line with the long list of baby keepsakes (handprints and footprints, umbilical cord, in-utero ultrasound photos, first tooth to fall out...), this is a truly unique and lovely idea that can be treasured for a lifetime. Hair is special, and baby hair is extra special. My once-in-a-lifetime gift to my son and a beautiful way to preserve his newborn hair ~