Felted wool is indispensable in our daily lives worldwide. We wear it, we create with it and we protect ourselves and the things we love with it. How did we get from shearing a sheep to creating such a multi useful fabric? Let’s start with what is this thing called felt?
Felting is the process of boiling wool fibers and applied pressure. The boiling process and pressure makes the fibers entangle and interlock together which forms a matted wool fabric. This process makes the felted fabric strong and durable, resistant to tearing and changing of shape, while still retaining the original properties of the wool. This article discusses the history of felted wools as well as its uses throughout time. Let’s get started.
History: When and where was it discovered and used?
It’s been said that early man used fur pelts to keep themselves protected from the elements. Using the fur against their bodies, it heated up from perspiration and the fur began to matte, thus creating the earliest known felt. While others believe that felting was discovered by Saint Clement. The fourth bishop of Rome in 100 A.D. discovered felt accidentally whilst running from his enemies. He wrapped wool around his feet to protect them from the rocky, uneven surfaces, when he arrived at his safe destination; the wool had been heated up from perspiration and had matted together creating a tough durable fabric and the first application of felted wool which was shoes. Whatever history you believe, there is a rich history to the beginnings of felted wools.
Archeologist’s uncovered stone burial chambers in Siberia which contained felt fragments. These fragments were made from both course and fine sheep’s wool to make everything from rugs and cushions, to socks and shawls. These ancient Siberians had even dyed their felted fabrics into distinct patterns and artistic designs.
Also, archeologists discovered the practice of felt making was used by the nomadic people of Central and Northern Asia throughout the centuries to present day. It’s said that they used the matted fibers for rugs, tents and clothing.
Felted wool uses today:
Felt is used today all over the world in many different industries. Everything from cars to home construction felt is the natural element that binds us and our environment together.
Automotive-Used to dampen sound and vibrations between metal panels, keep dirt away from joints, and to protect the body from the elements. It is also a natural insulator, thus is used to insulate the inside of the car to the exposed outside elements.
Musical instruments- Felt creates better sound quality. It protects metal cymbals from their stands, as well as creating a better cleaner pitch. Pianos use felt to protect and dampen the wooden keys, creating a truer, dampened sound. Felts other properties of denseness and springiness creates the overall tone of the piano’s sound. Accordions, guitars, violins, basses and many other instruments all use felt for these same qualities.
Entertainment-Felt sticks to itself naturally, which allows it to be used to tell stories with felt cut outs for children. It can be used for stuffed animals and puppets, as well as soft toys. Felt is also the foundation of billiard tables to cover and protect the slate surface, as well as provide a durable and even surface for the marble ball to glide across.
Clothing and accessories- Felt hats have long been the mainstay of fashion and function. From fedoras to bowlers, felted hats can be formed into any size and style desired. Wool does not naturally cling to the skin like cottons, nylons and other poly blends. This means the woolen fibers allow for air circulation, leading to its comfort of wear. Wool is absorbent to water, but also has the ability to release moisture. Think again about sheep, the moisture does not get trapped against the skin, but instead gets whisked away from the skin. This prevents the clammy, cold feeling you get when you sweat in other types of fibers.
Felted wool suits are used in the fashion industry because it’s durability as well as the ease at which one can design new styles. Overcoats, scarves, purses, gloves and mittens, felted wool can withstand and surpass any synthetic fiber. Felted wools can be easily trimmed with leathers and suedes for fashion and function purposes. It mixes well tyvek paper between different wool blends lending to the softness and comfort of cashmere and angora felted wools.
Art- Textile art and design has its roots in felting because of its vast qualities, and its ability to retain its structure regardless of cutting and dying. From 3D felted structures, as well as 2D wall hangings and floor coverings. From abstract to surreal to ecological art work, its ability to retain it’s desired structure as well as its natural ability to take on any color with ease lends to the artist the perfect base for creating.
The uses of felted wools are ongoing. We are now looking to its natural properties to further the environmental movement. Environmentally and ecologically, felted wools can be re-used many times over and still retain its qualities. The future of this great fiber is only limited only by our creativity. I can’t wait to see what’s next.