History of Felting

Fine Art Felt

Ancient felt 4th BC. Photo courtesy Lene Duchene, Danish Rug Society

Felting is an ancient textile process, believed to be the oldest form in existence.  Prehistoric samples date from the Neolithic period (6500-6300 B.C), while other important finds come from the Bronze and Iron Ages. Earlier this century stone burial chambers in the Altai Mountains in Siberia were opened. They belonged to the chieftains of ancient nomadic tribes who lived Siberia between the seventh to the second centuries BC. Due to the way the work was structured on the tombs and the severe climate, caused a layer of frozen ground to form under the Cairns, which covered the graves – preserving all below. This preserved the organic materials and amongst the finds were items of fur and leather, felt and textile, as well as woodcarvings, which had all retained their original form and colour.

Felt was good at keeping people warm and dry in cold weather, especially when knitting hadn’t been invented.  Soon people all over Asia and Europe used felt. Roman soldiers used felt pads as armoured vests, felt tunics, felt boots, and felt socks. By about 500 AD, the Vikings, further north, made felt blankets too.

A Yurt Today

Nomadic tribes in central Asia are known to have worked together in communities to produce felt tents, blankets.   Felt is still made today in eastern Europe, Asia and by nomads in Tibet, where they use the material for clothing and tent coverings. (yurts).

Felt fabric is strong, durable, and warm. Norwegian knitters have routinely felted their handmade mittens for warmth and water-resistance. When Scandinavian children come in from playing in the snow, they shed their boots for felted clogs.

The felting process is virtually unchanged since ancient times yet its versatility allows the modern textile artists a new perspective on this ancient craft.

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