Felt

Felt is a non-woven textile that is produced by matting, condensing and pressing fibres together. Felt can be made of natural fibres such as wool or synthetic fibres such as acrylic. There are many different types of felts for industrial, technical, designer and craft applications. While some types of felt are very soft, some are tough enough to form construction materials. Felt can vary in terms of fiber content, colour, size, thickness, density and more factors depending on the use of the felt.

Many cultures have legends as to the origins of feltmaking. Sumerian legend claims that the secret of feltmaking was discovered by Urnamman of Lagash. The story of Saint Clement and Saint Christopher 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.

Feltmaking is still practised by nomadic peoples (Altaic people:Mongols;Turkic people) in Central Asia, where rugs, tents and clothing are regularly made. Some of these are traditional items, such as the classic yurt (Gers), while others are designed for the tourist market, such as decorated slippers. In the Western world, felt is widely used as a medium for expression in textile art as well as design, where it has significance as an ecological textile.

Wet felting

Felt is made by a process called wet felting where the natural wool fibres, stimulated by friction and lubricated by moisture (usually soapy water), move at a 90 degree angle towards the friction source and then away again, in effect making little “tacking” stitches. While at any given moment only 5% of the fibres are active, the process is continual, so different ‘sets’ of fibres become activated and then deactivated, thereby building up the cloth.

This “wet” process takes advantage of the inherent nature of wool and other animal hairs. The hairs are made up of unidirectional scales, and they are also naturally kinked. It is this combination which reacts to the friction of the felting process, forcing the scales on the hairs to lock together and thus causing the phenomenon of felting. It tends to work well with wool fibres because their scales, when aggravated, readily bond together.

It is also possible to produce artificial felts. If made using the wet method, an artificial felt will contain a minimum of 30% wool fibres with the rest being artificial fibres. This is the minimum composition necessary to hold a fabric together with the fibres alone; it would be difficult to form a stable fabric by hand below this ratio. Wholly artificial felts are actually needle-felts (see below).

An alternative felting process involves a steam roller rolling over the unwoven fibres in a shallow pool of water with the cloth rotating as the steam roller passes over it. This method is widely used in small towns in India where mass manufacturing ofclothing is performed.

Needle Felt

Needle felting is a popular fibre arts craft that creates felt without the use of water. Special needles that are used in industrial felting machines are used by the artist as a sculpting tool. While erroneously referred to as “barbed” needles, they in fact have notches along the shaft of the needle that grab the top layer of fibres and tangle them with the inner layers of fibres as the needle enters the wool. Since these notches face down towards the tip of the needle, they do not pull the fibres out as the needle exits the wool. Once tangled and compressed using the needle, the felt can be strong and used for creating jewelry or sculpture. Using a single needle or a small group of needles (2-5) in a hand-held tool, fine details can be achieved using this technique, and it is popular for 2D and 3D felted work.

Carroting

From the mid-17th to the mid-20th centuries, a process called “carroting” was used in the manufacture of good quality felt for making men’s hats. Beaver, rabbit or hare skins were treated with a dilute solution of the mercury compound mercuric nitrate. The skins were dried in an oven where the thin fur at the sides turned orange — the colour of carrots. Pelts were stretched over a bar in a cutting machine and the skin sliced off in thin shreds, the fleece coming away entirely. The fur was blown onto a cone-shaped colander, treated with hot water to consolidate it, the cone peeled off and passed through wet rollers to cause the fur to felt. These ‘hoods’ were then dyed and blocked to make hats. This toxic solution and the vapours it produced resulted in widespread cases of mercury poisoning among hatters, possibly giving rise to the expression “mad as a hatter”.

How to make Felt

Put a Netting Cloth or beach mat or any strong fabric on a table , make sure that the cloth / mat is bigger than the size of Layer of Carded Wool . Make a Layer of Carded Wool on the Netting cloth / mat. Put second layer of Carded Wool in opposite direction ( horizontally ) , Crosswise to First layer . Again put another layer in same direction of first layer . We have repeat this process and to make a thick layers . ( Carded Wool is placed in opposite direction because to make the wool fibers entangle itself much faster.) Put another piece of Netting cloth / mat or any strong fabric on top of it.  We can use different colours of Carded Wool Layer to make the felt more Colourful . These layers of Carded wool look like a thick & fluffy material.   Pour some Warm Soapy water all over it . Now using your hands start pressing down and shake your hand on it so that the fibres starts to entangle itself . You will see the thickness starts to reduce . We can also Roll up the Fabric / Netting Cloth and squeeze the soapy water out and again we have to pour some soapy water to it . We have to repeat this process of applying pressure and friction from our hand . The more and harder we work more the felt becomes harder and dense.  We will continue this process until we are satisfied with the finish & feel of felt , we should use normal water to clean the soapy water out  completely .

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2 thoughts on “Felt

    • Several people that I know felt. I am hoping to pick some up at one of the alpaca farms. I believe the alpaca felt is warmer & more “water proof” then sheep felt but after reading up, I think it has to do more with the process.

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