Saturday, July 30, 2016

Felted Garments
Wearable Art

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

History of Felt Making
Felt is a non-woven fabric formed when sheep's wool or animal fur is subjected to heat, moisture and pressure or agitation. Using soap, or creating an alkaline environment, assists the felting process. Heat and moisture cause the outer scales along the fiber to open, and the soap assists the fibers to slide easily over one another, thereby causing them to become entangled. The wool fibers are made up of a protein called keratin. The keratin in the fibers becomes chemically bound to the protein of the other fibers resulting in a permanent bond between the fibers, and so making the felting process irreversible.

A felted garment designed and constructed inspired by textile fragments found in Hallstatt.
Designer and Collection Title: C. Dorfler, Wandering Tribe Collection.
Technique: Clothing dyed with techniques using metal corrosion.
Note: These are some of the oldest dyed textiles in Europe, since they have been dated from the Bronze Age (ca. 1600 – 1200 BC) to the Early Iron Age (Hallstatt Culture, 850 – 350 BC).

Felting is a simple technique requiring very little equipment. The main advantage felting has over other textile techniques is producing a finished product in much less time. No one knows for certain how humans first discovered the felting properties of wool and animal fur, but several ideas suggest how early humans may have become interested in making felt. Matted wool may have been noticed on sheep. Wool shed from wild sheep may have been found formed into a mass of fibers as a result of the elements. Perhaps they stuffed their foot wear, presumably animal hide, with wool to keep their feet warm. After walking on the wool for a while they found that it became stiff and formed a kind of fabric.

See - Fabric Construction - for a more readable table.

The oldest archaeological finds containing evidence of the use of felt are in Turkey. Wall paintings that date from 6500 to 3000 BC have been found which have the motif of felt appliquè. At Pazyryk in Southern Siberia archeological evidence of felt was found inside a frozen tomb of a nomadic tribal chief that dates from the fifth Century BC. The evidence from this find shows a highly developed technology of felt making. These felts are in the "Hermitage Museum" in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The Pazyryk Carpet - oldest carpet ever found, Siberia, ca. 5th Century BC.
Hermitage Museum.

The Romans and Greeks knew of felt. Roman soldiers were equipped with felt breastplates (for protection from arrows), tunics, boots and socks. The earliest felt found in Scandinavia dates back to the Iron Age. Felt sheets believed to be from about 500 AD were found covering a body in a tomb in Hordaland, Norway.

A felt, hair and leather appliqué saddle found in the frozen Pazyryk tombs in Siberia in 1949.

Today felt is still in use in many parts of the world especially in areas with harsh climates. In Mongolia, nomads live in felt tents called yurts. In Turkey, rugs, hats and other items are made of felt. In South Central Asia nomadic tribes use felt as tent coverings, rugs and blankets. Shepherds use felt cloaks (kepenek) and hats to protect them from the harsh climate. In Scandinavia and Russia, felt boots are produced and widely used. More recently there has been a revival in the interest in felt making especially in Europe, Scandinavia, USA and also in Australia, with contemporary felt making design and techniques becoming more widespread.

Turkish kepenek - wearable tent/cloak which weighs up to 12 lbs.

With respect to Australia, in 1992 Polly Stirling - a fiber artist from NSW, Australia – developed nuno (Japanese for cloth) felting. The technique bonds loose fiber, usually wool, into a sheer fabric such as silk gauze, thereby creating a lightweight felt that can either completely cover the background fabric or may be used as a decorative design and so permit the backing cloth to be revealed. It often incorporates several combined layers of loose fibers in order to build up color, texture, and/or design elements in the finished cloth.

Felted Scarf.
Materials: Extra fine and soft Australian merino wool, mulberry silk, silk chiffon fabric, silk gauze fabric, cotton gauze fabric, silk yarn.
Color: Earthy-multicolored fabrics.
Approximate Dimension: 200 cm (length) x 45 cm (width).
Courtesy: Felted Pleasure.

Felted Garments
Felt is used to create so many diverse wearable objects from hats to scarves to dresses such as kimonos to coats to pants and so on. It is also used in jewelery, furniture (e.g. felt shade floor lamps), soft sculpture and in wall art. There are a variety of techniques such as nuno and shibori – to name a few!

Felt is no longer confined to wool. Felt can be created using a variety of fabrics including silk, gauze, lace and velvet. Its had a massive resurgence in recent years since the current generation of crafters and artists drive towards more organic and natural techniques and fabrics.

A valuable resource is Lark Crafts book – 500 Felt objects. It illustrates that whilst felt has an ancient history, placed in a modern design context, felt is as relevant today as it was yesterday. I have only given you a sniff of this wonderful compilation of felt objects.

Catherine O’Leary – Untitled (2009).
Materials and Techniques: Merino wool fleece silk; wet felted, nuno technique, stitched.
Size: 88 x 65 cm.
Photograph courtesy of artist[1].

Ulrieke Benner – Coat of Many Colors (2008).
Materials and Techniques: Merino wool, silk nuno techniques.
Size: 91.1 cm long.
Photograph courtesy of John Cameron[1].

Katelyn Aslett – Origami and Rosie Skirt (2006).
Materials and Techniques: Merino, silk; hand dyed, hand felted.
Photograph courtesy of Rosie Kersch[1].

Rosie Godbout – Perfecto Vest (2007).
Materials and Techniques: Merino fleece, silk rayon; wet felted.
Size: 80 x 43 cm.
Photograph courtesy of David Bishop Noriega[1].

Horst – Deadwood (2009).
Materials and Techniques: Falkland wool; wet felted, dyed.
Size: 150 x 120 x 120 cm.
Photograph courtesy of artist[1].

Anne Sheikh – The Life Aquatic (1995).
Materials and Techniques: Silk chiffon, silk charmeuse, angora and merino fleece, abalone button; needle felted, wet felted, hand dyed, sewn.
Size: 132 x 60.9 cm.
Photograph courtesy of John Baer[1].

Short by Charity van der Meer Musoma – Stormy Weather (2009).
Materials and Techniques: Wool, silk; nuno techniques.
Size: 38.
Photograph courtesy of Harry Tielman[1].

Anna-Katherine Curfman – Swirls (2009).
Materials and Techniques: Merino roving, silk organza; nuno techniques, wet felted.
Size: 203.2 x 45.7 cm.
Photograph courtesy of artist[1].

Beth Andrews – Untitled (2009).
Materials and Techniques: Merino fleece, wool button, industrial steel pieces; wet felted, resist, tailored, needle punched, resist dyed.
Size: 81 x 44 cm.
Photograph courtesy of artist[1].

Christine Birkle – Hut Up (2010).
Materials and Techniques: Merino wool, cotton.
Size: Vary.
Photograph courtesy of artist[1].

[1] N. Mornu and J. Hale, 500 Felt Objects, Lark Crafts, New York (2011).

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