Felt is a textile material that is produced by matting, condensing and pressing fibers together. Traditionally, it's made of natural fibers such as wool or animal fur. Felt from wool is considered to be the oldest known textile. Instead of killing the animal to use the hide, it could be sheared and the fur could be made into a kind of fabric. Prior to the development of spinning and weaving the fibers into fabric felting was the process used to create cloth to make clothes of. There is evidence of felting originating in central Asia as early as the seventh century BC. Through history it made its way west and in addition to Central Asian traditions of felting, Scandinavian countries have also supported felt making, particularly for clothing.
In the wet felting process, hot water is applied to layers of animal hairs, while repeated agitation and compression causes the fibers to hook together or weave together into a single piece of fabric. Wrapping the properly arranged fiber in a sturdy, textured material, such as a bamboo mat or burlap, will speed up the felting process. The felted material is finished by fulling, which today basically means tossing, squeezing and in other ways agitating the piece to give it its right shrinkage and shape.
Only certain types of fiber can be wet felted successfully. Most types of fleece, such as those sheared from sheep, can be put through the wet felting process with various results depending on the type of wool These types of fiber are covered in tiny scales, similar to the scales found on a strand of human hair. Heat, motion, and moisture of the fleece causes the scales to open, while agitating them causes them to latch onto each other, creating felt. Plant fibers and synthetic fibers will not wet felt, but will add nice texture, shine etc to the felt.
Nuno felting is a technique developed by Polly Stirling, an expat feltmaker from Central New York livning in Australia. The word nuno comes from Japanese, meaning cloth. The technique uses open weave fabrics, such as silk gauze and paj, as a base to felt on. Wool fibers put on top of the fabric migrate through it during the wet felting process.
Nuno felting creates an extremely versatile fabric. It can be made in many weights to accommodate many different uses. It can be made much lighter in weight than traditional all-wool felt accounting for its movement and drape. Because of the range of weights possible with the cloth very diverse garments can be made. This is the technique I most often use when creating scarves, shawls and other garments.
Needle felting is another felting process using a felting needle with tiny barbs on the end. The barbs are going in one direction and when the needle is stabbed into the wool the barbs pull the wool in, but not back out again causing the wool fibers to tangle and their scales to lock together and felt.
Felted Gotland lock boa on the seashore of Halland, Sweden.
Making a boa with locks from Gotland Sheep.