The making of a textile by matting, condensing and pressing fibres, usually wool and other animal fibres, together.
|Historic area of significance
|Worldwide, likely to have originated in Central Asia
|Area currently practised
|Origin in the UK
|The first known reference to Feltmakers as a distinct craft association is in London in 1180
Felt is a non-woven cloth that is produced by matting, condensing and pressing fibres. While some types of felt are very soft, others are tough enough to form sculptural pieces. Felt can be of any colour, and made into any shape or size.
Felt is the oldest form of fabric known to humankind, predating weaving and knitting. Many cultures have legends as to the origins of feltmaking. 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.
Felt is usually made by a process called ‘wet felting’, where the natural wool fibre is stimulated by friction and lubricated by moisture (usually soapy water), and the fibres move at a 90 degree angle towards the friction source and then away again, in effect making little ‘tacking’ stitches.
Needle felting is a popular fibre craft conducted without the use of water. Special barbed felting needles that are used in industrial felting machines are used by the artist as a sculpting tool. Using a single needle or a small group of needles (two to five) in a hand-held tool, these needles are used to sculpt the wool fibre.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
Public lack of awareness of what felt is
The most common raw material used in teaching is Merino but awareness and use of fibre from other sheep breeds, plant and other animal fibre has expanded in recent years. There is a raised interest in using fleece from British breeds such that the International Feltmakers Association has been commissioned to write a reference book on British breeds which will be published in 2021.
- International Feltmakers Association (primarily UK)
Craftspeople currently known
- Worshipful Company of Feltmakers – Our History