Felting is an age-old craft. In fact, felt is the oldest known textile. Possibly developed in the Middle or Far East, felting is a process that has evolved with local traditions wherever it was used. Felt caps from the Early Bronze Age are on display at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen. Evidence of several felt shops, or factories, have been identified at Pompeii. Felt fragments dating to 6,500BC have been found in Turkey.
As in ancient times, felting is still used today to produce tents (yurts), rugs, shoes, hats, luggage and clothing. For those looking for a travel experience, you can enroll in a felting workshop from Master Felter Mehmet Girgic on your next visit to Istanbul.
And it is still used today, by kids in kindergarten to nomads on the great plains of Central Asia living in felt yurts. The technique is basic, requires very little experience or tools, and "mistakes" may well lead to interesting results.
Types of Felting
There are several felting methods. However, the basic concept and end result is the same. Felting is the process of tangling, or interlocking, wool fibers to form a permanent mesh structure. Unlike smooth fibers such as cotton and silk, wool is uniquely structured to allow for felting. Wool fiber covered with small scales, or barbs. Agitation produces friction which causes these barbs to tangle together the individual wool fibers (strands). As similar effect can be seen trying to separate a bunch of locked together open pinecones.
Wet felting utilizes water and soap to agitate the fibers and tangle them together. The traditional felting method, wet felting is ideal for felting large area panels (carpets, yurts, clothing, etc.) as well as items that are fitted over a solid form (shoes, slippers, hats, bowls, etc.). The Woolery offers a full line of equipment, supplies and books on wet felting.
Fulling or Knit Felting
This process takes a knitted item and shrinks it. Shrinking fills (hence the term "fulling") the holes between the stitches and locks the adjacent fibers together. This fulling can be done on crocheted or woven items as well. The shrinking can be done by hand or in a wash machine. Check our knitting books for many projects that are knitted and then "felted".
Unlike wet felting, needle felting does use soap and water but barbed needles to tangle the fibers. Basically, a barbed needle is poked into a clump of wool repeatedly until the desired texture, firmness and shape is achieved. Needle felting is ideally suited for 3D shapes and figures or as a means to apply decorative elements to fabrics or garments.
Relatively new brand of products that are very similar to needle felting but uses a special paper backing. The wool is needle felted onto the Artfelt paper which dissolves when washed, leaving just the finished fiber project.