A Shaggy Felt

There was eco-fur in the past!

When you look through 14th– 16th century iconography, you can notice specific, hairy or shaggy headgear. It looks like made of fur or other “hairy” material.

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A hairy hat from National Museum of Denmark; 15th c.
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A hairy hat from the National Museum of Ireland; 14-15th c.
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Roger Van der Vayden; The Adoration, 1455
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Hans von Kulmbach, 1511; The Adoration of the Magi
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End of 15 th century; Gemäldegalerie, Berlin
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End of 15th century, The Alte Pinakothek Munich;
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Torture of Saint Stanislaus, 1521, Poland,
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Hatmaker Hans Eckel (1533), Nurnberg, Germany
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“Crucifixion”, end of 15th c. Netherlands
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Shoemaker, 1535; Nurnberg, Germany
Nativity by Nikolaus Stürhofer, 1505-1515.
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Derick Baegert, II part of 15th century, Germany

Iwonder what kind of material it was: fur, woolen textile like Loden fabric or maybe some specific kind of felt? I heard about “shaggy” felt. This kind of felt you can see at a hat from Copenhagen or Dublin. I have read about it in “Handfelting in Europe…” by Irena Turnau as well. I was very interesting about the process: how could I make it.

Anna Drążkowska in her book “Head ornaments and headwear appearing in Polish grounds from 10th till the end of 18th century” wrote: shaggy felt was made by brushing felt surface.

I checked this method. First I mixed the most coarse fleece I had (Mongolian, German Mountain Sheep and Gotland wool) to make a felt cap. After felting the cap was “hairy” because of natural characteristic of used fibres. Furthermore, according to the recipe I have read, I brushed the cap.

Unfortunately, the result was not good enough. Definitely it was not this kind of shaggy felt I have seen at the paintings.  My cap was looking more backcombed than shaggy.  Besides it was only a temporary effect. After some using fibres crimped and made not nice surface. Total mistake… I just threw this cap away and even did not take any picture of it.

I got back to research shaggy felt subject. Finally I got the book by Małgorzata Grupa “Woolen textiles worn by the rabble and plebs of Gdańsk (14th-17th century) and their conservation”. And …bingo!  That was it!

I had the opportunity to meet Mrs. Grupa at the Institute of Archeology, UMK Toruń, looked at and touch (lucky me! J) pieces of original, shaggy felt (SF) excavated in Gdańsk. Excavated pieces of felt had different thickness. It’s vary from 2mm to 10 mm high. They had different quality of dense as well. Dense, thin (2-4 mm high) with very short, velvet-like surface might be use to produce headgear. In Mrs. Grupa opinion it might be used in particular to manufacture hats. Other felt, 5 mm thick, might be used to the make caps as well. The most thicker (10mm)  pieces of felt might be part of garments, like collar.

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thick SF, long hair
thick SF back side
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thick SF short hair
thin and thick SF
thin SF, short hair
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thin SF, front
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thin SF, back
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different kinds of SF

Mrs. Grupa names shaggy felt as “eco-fur prototype”. Shaggy felt caps were very popular in Europe.  There are many kind of headgear and outfits looking like made of fur. However they are not. Mrs. Grupa’s studies prove hairy surface could be made in alternative way, without using natural fur.

By the way: shaggy felt does not mean Viking shaggy fabric. This kind of fabric was very popular in early medieval period (findings from Wolin/Jomsborg, Birka, Scotland and Island). In this case the method to achieve hairy surface was different: woolen yearn were reeved into woolen textile during weaving.

It is the highest time to answer the question: “how did they make it?” There is a manual in “Woolen textiles…” to achieve a shaggy felt surface take fine woolen threads (in findings from Gdańsk they used 3 and 12 threads) and start to reeve it into felt base.

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M. Grupa”Woolen textiles…”
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M. Grupa”Woolen textiles…”

Pull it and stay 2-2,5 cm long outside. Then reeved the treads again 1-1,5 cm apart from the last reeved. In that way you get nice woolen circles or hooks on your felt base. Finally you have to clipp them to make shaggy/hairy surface.

You can ask: why did they make it? They are two answers so far. First: practical reason. Shaggy felt is much more dense and stiff that ordinary felt.  The insulation of that kind of felt is better as well. It is very possible that French archers from the picture below wore shaggy felt hats.

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Joan of Arc leading the assault during the siege of Paris, 1429

Of course this kind of headgear does not secure like an iron helmet, but … what a style!

Second: fashion! Shaggy felt is more fancy that flat felt. The technique of making a shaggy felt is not complicated, however this is very time-absorbing process.  Making one shaggy hat took me almost three weeks. Regarding this fact (so the price too…), shaggy headgear could be a social status symbol. Look at the hat from The “Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry” or other images from 15th century

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Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry
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15th century Manuscript
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A Postman, 15th c. playing card; Germany
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Les echecs amoureux; French manuscript, 15th c.

I tried this technique twice:

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A replica of shaggy hat; madder colour
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A replica of shaggy hat
bronze age cap
Borum Eshøj cap; replica

Maybe thrice: once I made a replica of Borum Eshøj cap. I am not sure if it was the same technique describe in Mrs Grupa’s book. I sent a question to Museum (National Museum of Denmark) but did not receive the answer yet.

Anyway, “shaggy felt” is a technique worth to try. Now it is your turn. Good luck!