What is felt?
The most important fact about felt is that it has to be made from wool fibre. Unlike a woven or knitted textile, made from a continious spun thread of wool fibres, felt is made from the un-spun wool fibres and is therefore known as a fabric rather than a textile.
Wool is the only natural fibre that will felt. In fact,it is the natural quality of wool fibre to felt. When making felt you are providing the correct conditions to help the wool fibres matt together in a controlled manner. Everyone is familiar with accidents that can happen when washing woolen items. A woolen garment will shrink and look matted after too harsh a treatment when washing, because of the structure of the wool fibre.
A close examination of the wool fibre under a microscope reveals why wool will felt naturally. The fibre or staple is constructed by a series of overlapping scales that have a serrated edge. The scales overlap and provide a staple with a pointed tip. A human hair is quite similar in construction but a wool fibre differs because of its molecular structure. A protein called keratin is present in wool and the molecular structure of keratin protein gives wool elasticity or creep. The keratin protein is formed in a spiral formation and, depending on the age of the sheep and type of fleece, the creep can vary. If one staple of wool fibre is held between two fingers and pulled through against the scales the fibre reacts rather like a spring. So it is the fibre structure and creep that play an important part in making wool fibre felt.
Obviously wool does not felt on its own, otherwise sheep would be walking around in felt jackets, but it does need the action of four elements. These are heat, moisture,friction and pressure. When the wool fibres are exposed to these four elements, the scales on the staple open up and the creep makes them tangle. The more they are exposed to these conditions the tougher the felt. As the fibres begin to dry the creep shrinks back and the serrated edges catch onto other fibres and produce a mesh of fibres witch of course is felt.
The simple way wool felts perhaps explains a little of its versatility when designing with wool fibres. Your hands are all that are required to provide the warmth, moisture, friction and pressure needed to felt wool fibre.
Sue Freeman,''Felt craft, handcrafted felt from fleece to finished projects'', A David & Charles craft book, 1988, page 8
Legend tells that one day St Christopher set out on a long journey. He had walked for many miles and had grown weary so he decited to stop and rest for a while. He found a good shady spot under a tree and sat down and removed his sandals to soothe his feet. Whilst he was relaxing, he had an idea. St Christopher had noticed some fleece caught on bushes from passing sheep so he gathered several handfuls and lined his sandals. He now felt refreshed to continue his journey and now his sandals were far more comfortable from the fleece that cushioned his feet. Eventually he reached his journey's end and removed his sandals to wash his feet. As he took off his sandals, he was amazed to find that the sheeps' fleece had turned intofabric. This, of course, was felt.
It is possible that felt was discovered, quite by accident,in a similar way to this. It is the oldest formof controlledfabric made by man and pre-dates Christianity. Prehistoric man hunted animals for food and used the animal skins to clothe himself and sleep on. The mixture of body weight, heat, movement and perspiration would have created the ideal conditions for felting the skins. Once it was noticed what was hapening to the fibres it was then possible to control this and make felt as an intended fabric.
The oldest and finest felt remains that have been found date from around 700 BC. These remains were found is very good condition in the frozen tombs at Pazyryk in the Atlai mountains in Siberia. The tombs belonged to a nomadic tribe of horsemen. Due to the frozen conditions the remains were in excellent condition and the variety of items found made from felt showed how extensively it was used by these people.They made their tents from felt, as well as their clothes and decorations for their animals, including saddles. One very interesting observation from this civilization (700-200 BC), is that nearly all the felt was patterned.Being a nomadic tribe these people herded animals which had to serve many purposes. The sheep they herded would supply food and milk products as well as fabric. It appears that this tribe was illiterate but very advanced with its craft skills. These people decorated their felt with animal symbols: most commonly used were swans, cockerels, rams, goats, deer and lions. They also depicted mythical creatures like the griffin and the dragon. This tribe travelled along the main trading routes between East and West and as a result felt making spreads to other countries.
It is the many unique properties of felt which give it advantages over other textiles and explain why these people used felt extensively throughout their daily lives. Their tents were strong enough to resist the wind and rain and snowy conditions. Their many layers of felt clothing and bedding would insulate them against the elements. It is also known that ancient man made his armour from layers of thick felt and leather as it was dense enough to resist fire and arrowheads.
In Iran, the nomadic tribes still make their portable homes from felt. They probably don't vary much in design and principle from the Pazyryk nomands' tents. The tents are made from a structure of poles and then covered over with large sheets of felt that are tied on. The advantage of using felt is that the homes are portable and felt is not affected by changes in climate. Due to the density of the fabric, snow and rain cannot penetrate nor can extremes of temperature crack or destroy the felt. Such tents are very large and are all hand made. Despite the strenuous activity involved in making such large pieces, the task of felt making is quite often undertaken by women.
In Turkey the old traditions of making kepenaks or cloaks and using them still exist. These garments look decidedly ancient because of their design and it is doubtful this has changed very much,if at all, over the centuries. The purpose of a kepenak is to keep the shepherd warm, dry and comfortable. The unusual thing about this garment is its shape. It is made from one piece of felt only and although the kepenak has the suggestion of sleeves, rather like an animal in mid stages of evoliution, they are in fact not intended for use. The kepenak is made from very stiff rough natural- coloured fleece and acts as a personal tent for the shepherd when he needs shelter.
Sue Freeman,''Felt craft, handcrafted felt from fleece to finished projects'', A David & Charles craft book, 1988, page 8-10
The Origins of Felt?
'' Keeps your Feet Warm and Dry. Provides Micro Massage''
''Protects Feet from cold and hard floors''
''Ensures the Excellent Foot Rest when wearing High heel Shoes or after hard working day''
''High Back. So they won't slip off when walking and will warm your heel pleasantly''
The slippers are made with love from sheep wool, using just hot water and soap. Warm, naturally breathable, lightweight, providing a remarkable sense of cosiness and comfort. Soles are covered with natural latex. It makes slippers safe to walk.
''Wool can absorb up to 35% (wool weight) moisture and do not leave any sense of humidity''
''After you ventilate it, odors disappear, so it does not require frequent washing
According to the studies, wool does not multiply micro-organisms''
''Wool has the ability to isolate the cold and heat, to protect against sudden temperature changes and allows the skin to breathe''