Felt - World Textiles and Yorkshire

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University of Leeds
Saturday 25, October 2014


[edit] History of felt

World Textiles and Yorkshire: Past and Future
The Projects Module
The Future Module
The Techniques Module
Resources and References
From sheep to felt
From sheep to felt
The origins of felt making are obscure , but it is thought that the production of felt predates weaving and spinning. One story tells of a pilgrim, whose sandals began to rub his feet. He put a handful of wool fleece into his sandal, and by the time he had reached his destination, the fleece had become felt – due to the action of rubbing (friction) and the heat and the moisture from his feet.

Where there was a supply of sheep, and with minimal equipment required, felt has been made in many countries around the world, including India, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, Mongolia, Turkey and Great Britain, each with their traditional patterns, and uses. There are no feltmaking traditions in tropical areas, as they did not support sheep.

Felt is found in ancient civilisations: in 1929, a large cache of felt items, dating between the 7th and 2nd centuries BC, was discovered, preserved in the permafrost, in a Scythian burial site at Pazyryk, in the Altai Mountains, Siberia. Felt saddle covers, rugs, caps, stockings, socks, rugs and very large hangings were uncovered. One such hanging, measuring 6.5m x 4.5m, is now on view in the Pazyryk room of the Hemitage Museum in St Petersburg.

Mongolian horse race depicted on felt

In 1867, felt hats were found in peat in the Lake District, and although they could not be accurately dated, it is believed that feltmaking goes as far back as Roman times in Great Britain.

Small demonstration yurt - a portable, felt-covered dwelling structure
Mongolians continue to make felt for use in the traditional way, and for export, with the whole community taking part in making the felt pieces.

The men of the Kashgai, Iran, continue to wear their traditional hats; either with both flaps up, (at the sides), or with one flap down as a visor (side to side flap position).

[edit] Images

[edit] Contemporary Craft

There has recently been a revival of the ancient art of feltmaking, Traditional useful items are being made, but there is also a move to produce more decorative and painterly effects as designer-makers push the boundaries of what has been a relatively unexplored craft.

Different techniques within feltmaking have emerged – which include dryfelting (needlepunch), using half felts, making 3-Dimensional objects, and layering, embroidering, cutting and slashing to produce textured surfaces.

[edit] Felt

  • Felt is a nonwoven textile, formed by the action of moisture, friction and heat on animal hairs or fibres. The fibres lie in a random way, and do not criss-cross each other in a regular pattern, as in a woven fabric.
  • Each fibre has scales covering its surface: when these become wet, they open up, standing away from the length of the fibre.
  • Using friction (rubbing) causes the fibres to become meshed together in a random fashion, as the scales interlock and prevent the fibres from separating.
  • Heat causes the fibres to shorten and shrink. However, heat must not be applied until the fibres are well entangled, otherwise they shorten and shrink away from each other.
  • The process of wool felting is not reversible.

[edit] Properties of Felt

  • Felt is a textile which cannot be unpicked into constituent fibres or yarns
  • Felt does not fray
  • Felt is resistant to wear
  • Felt is a good insulator
  • Felt is not affected by temperature
  • Felt can absorb moisture without changing shape
  • Felt can absorb sounds

Uses for traditional Wool Felt

  • Covering for yurt or ger - the home of nomadic tribesmen
  • Inners for boots worn in Arctic conditions
  • Traditional cloaks for shepherds
  • Pads on the hammers in a piano

[edit] Modern nonwoven textiles

These can be made by

  • Holding randomly arranged fibres together either by
    • using a chemical bonding agent in a wet mix of fibres, then drying the fabric , or
    • pressing the randomly arranged fibres together with a molten glue
    • punching barbed needles repeatedly into traditional woollen batts, which entangles the fibres (see The embellisher Section 4, Techniques 2.5)

Uses for modern nonwoven materials

  • “Vilene” type interfacing for garments
  • nappy liners
  • frost protection fabric for garden plants

[edit] How to Make Felt

Steps in Feltmaking using prepared wool tops

  1. Preparing the surface
  2. Laying out the batt
  3. Hardening process
  4. Fulling process
  5. Washing
  6. Finishing

Hardening and fulling may not be distinguishable from each other, and are a part of a continuous process bringing the felt to a density suitable for the purpose at hand.

[edit] Using Half Felt

[edit] Site

It is advisable to choose a suitable place for making felt, as it requires access to a supply of water; and the same water may end up over you, or on the floor. The surface should be at a comfortable height so that your back is not compromised. If a suitable surface cannot be found, then using the floor may be the answer, although your knees will suffer to begin with.

[edit] Materials

  • Wool tops in chosen colours
  • Spray bottle containing a weak solution of warm washing up liquid and water
  • Source of hot water
  • Sink

[edit] Preparation

The area laid out with wool tops needs to be approximately one half to one third larger than the final piece (area) of felt, to allow for shrinkage. The shrinkage varies with different types of wool.

  1. Waterproof cover- plastic
  2. Towel larger than the area of felt being made
  3. Small bubble plastic bubblewrap, bubbles uppermost, larger than piece to be made
  4. Old thin carrier bag
  5. Piece of curtain netting/ flyscreen mesh
  6. Piece of dowelling wider than widest dimension of felt being made/rolling pin

You may also want to use

  • Rubber gloves
  • Waterproof apron
  • Waterproof shoes

[edit] Method

  1. Cover the surface to be used with layers 1,2, and 3 above.
  2. Pull out small tufts of wool and lay them down in a tiled fashion, with all the fibres lying in one direction until the area is covered. ( see resources previously)
  3. Continue to pull out tufts of tops, of the required colour but position them at 90° to the first layer, making sure there are no holes in the layer.
  4. Continue as in step 2, with the direction the same as in step 2, or in random fashion, or in the required pattern, varying the colours as needed,. This has formed the batt.
  5. Cover the batt with the netting and spray with soapy water to wet all the fibres.
  6. Use your hands to push the water into the fibres. When the fibres are wet, the batt becomes flat and thinner; dry fibres cause the netting to look like it is fluffed up.
  7. Once all the batt is wetted, remove the netting carefully.
  8. Position the dowelling at one edge of the bubblewrap, and roll it onto the bubblewrap, gradually including the wool tops layers.
  9. Keeping the sausage shape, roll it forward and back for 30 rolls.
  10. Open up the sausage, and smooth out.
  11. Give the piece a quarter turn (it may be easier for you to move a quarter around the table), and again roll up the bubblewrap/tops combination 30 rolls in this position.
  12. Repeat Step 11.
  13. The felt should be beginning to mass together, but it should still be easy for fibres to be pinched out of the mass. When you are happy that the felt will stay together, leave to dry flat – do not wash out the soap.
  14. To Prepare the Background. Prepare a surface to make the background on, in the usual layered way. Depending on size, a tarpaulin, several towels, and a drainpipe may have to be the scaled up versions of plastic covers and dowelling.
  15. Lay out your background coloured wool tops in the traditional fashion, in three layers at right angles to each other.
  16. Place the motifs, patterns, shapes made in half felts on the surface, remembering in placing them, that the final felt piece will shrink by one

third to one half.

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