Felt Making

When layers of wool are dampened and pressed together, the microscopic scales on the wool fibers mesh together to form felt. It is probably one of the oldest types of fabrics and certainly the easiest. I used washed raw wool to pad the bottom of my early period shoes, and after just one wearing I had a pad of felt in the bottom of each shoe.

Felt is easy to make and can be used for a number of early period hats, cloaks, helmet liners shoe liners and other useful objects. It can also be used as decorative cutouts and applied to clothing, rugs, and so on as did the Scythians and Sarmatians. it makes great padding for body armor.

Making it:

The first method is the more authentic. You are going to need raw wool for this project as well as some carding combs if you choose to card the wool. Carding uses two combs with little wire teeth to separate and straighten the wool fibers. It also helps remove small pieces of debris. Check a spinning book or ask your wool merchant for instructions. Practice carding until you can make small rectangles of the carded fibers. Alternatively, you can fluff the wool by hand (called teasing the wool) and stretch the locks of wool into rectangles. Get a plastic children's wading pool and line it with an old sheet. As you card or fluff your wool, place the rectangles in a single layer with the fibers all going in the same direction. Then make a second layer at right angles to the first. You will need at least two layers, but you can have many more. Remember to place each layer at a 90 degree angle to the last.

When you have your layers all built up, squirt some dishwashing detergent over the wool and place a sheet over the top of it. Wet the wool and sheet with warm water. It helps at this point to have a couple of friends. You are now going to walk, dance, or whatever on the wool until it turns to felt. That is it. No wonder most textile experts feel it is the oldest method of textile making. When the fibers have compacted together (the amount of time depends on a number of factors including the warmth of the water, harshness of the detergent, and energy of the dancers), squeeze the felt gently to remove most of the moisture and then remove the sheeting. While the felt is still wet, stretch and shape it to add strength. While it is still damp, pin it to a cork board or other firm surface until dry. This will usually take 24 hours or more. You want to dry the felt away from heat and light to keep it from shrinking too much. It should never shrink more than 10%.

The second method is quicker and gives a more evenly felted fabric. This time instead of a kiddy pool, you are going to used a washing machine. This time place your teased or carded rectangles between two layers of woven material. Do the layering as above, Then, using a heavy upholstery needle, baste the layers together with parallel rows of very loose stitches. Stitch a couple of rows around the outside of he bat through he two layers of material to hold the wool in place. This is where you need to play a little bit. Start with cold water, a gentle cycle and a 5 minute wash. If the material doesn't felt satisfactorily, you can repeat the wash. Felt that has been washed too long, in too hot water, or with too much agitation will shrink in excess of 10% and will be stiff. After the bat is finished, snip the basting threads, remove the woven material and stretch as above.

Fibers for the felt can be dyed before the felt is made. If you choose to dye the felt after it is made you will have to stretch it again so it keeps its shape and doesn't shrink too much.


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