Felt is a non-woven fabric formed by friction when sheep's wool is subjected to heat, moisture, pressure and agitation. Soap also helps the felting process. The heat and moisture cause the outer scales along the fibrous wool to open, and the soap allows the fibres to slide easily over one another thereby causing them to become entangled. The wool fibres are made up of a protein called keratin and this keratin chemically bonds to the protein in the other fibres resulting in a permanent connection and making the felting process irreversible. The felting process is virtually unchanged since ancient times yet its versatility allows the modern textile artists a new perspective on this ancient craft.
Where did it originate and when?
Prior to the invention of knitting, there was felting and prehistoric samples date from the Neolithic period (6500-6300 B.C), while other important finds come from the Bronze and Iron Ages. Felt was good at keeping people warm and dry in cold weather and soon people all over Asia and Europe used felt. Roman soldiers used felt pads as armoured vests, felt tunics, felt boots, and felt socks. By about 500 AD, the Vikings, further north, made felt blankets too. The oldest of textile processes, its origins are steeped in legend. One such story is that of Saint Clement and Saint Christopher and relates that while fleeing from persecution, the men packed their sandals with wool to prevent blisters. At the end of their journey, the movement and sweat had turned the wool into felt socks!
Who is this skill done by?
Officially deemed as ‘unskilled workers’, the women of a people who live in yurts and follow their cattle in the summer and under-privileged women in Nepal.