History of Felt and Feltmaking – First Textile

Felt is a type of of textile that is not woven but produced by matting, condensing and pressing fibers together. It can be made of natural or synthetic fibers. Feltmaking is older than spinning and weaving and many cultures have legends about how of feltmaking was invented. Sumerians claim that the secret of feltmaking was discovered by Urnamman of Lagash, a traveler and a Sumerian a legendary warrior hero. Christians have legends that felt is an invention of Saint Clement or Saint Christopher. They both were fleeing from prosecution and they packed their sandals with wool to prevent blisters and make shoes more comfortable but at the end of their journey the wool turned into felt socks from the movement and sweat. National Museum in Copenhagen has preserved caps made of solid felt from the early Bronze Age. They were found in the pre-historic burial mounds of Jutland and North Slesvig and date back some 3500 years. Classical Greek authors mention the use of felt. Specialized workshops for making felt hats and felt gloves were discovered in Pompeii. Nomadic peoples still practice feltmaking and make rugs, tents and clothing out of felt for everyday use and for selling to tourists.

Felt Fiber Texture

There are many different techniques of felting - wet, needle, nuno, carroting... Wet felting is method interlocking and compacting of wool fibers which are first drenched in soap water and then rubbed until fabric has the same thickness. Individual wool fibers are covered with small scales. When water and pressure from rubbing are applied the scales open up and the fibers tangle together. When the felt dries fibers stay tangled.

Red Felt Texture

Needle felting is the technique of making felt without the water. Felt is made by interlocking wool fibers by stabbing then with a barbed needle. The barbs of the needle catch the scales on the fiber and cause them to tangle and bind together. This is a popular arts craft used by hobbyist and artists.

Nuno felting is a technique developed by Polly Stirling, a fiber artist from Australia. The technique bonds loose fibers of wool into a sheer fabric such as silk gauze, nylon or muslin, which creates a lightweight felt. Name of the technique comes from Japanese word "nuno" which means “cloth”. With this kind of feltmaking wool is only one kind of fiber that can be used.

Felt has many uses, from clothing and tents to automotive industry, musical instruments and home construction. When used in the automotive industry it damps the vibrations between interior panels and stops dirt from entering into some ball/cup joints. In musical instruments felt is also used to dampen vibrations. It is used on drum cymbal stands, on bass drum and timpani mallets as well as piano mallets which are made of wool felt around a wooden core. When paintings are framed, felt is placed between the painting and the frame so a frame couldn’t damage the painting. In fashion felt is used for hats, jackets, for details and decorations, pillows, bags and other clothing items.