If you wonder how to make a traditional felt carpet – here you are!
Felt – what, in hell, is that ?
Felt is a warm, dense material made from wool. The process of felt creating using natural properties of wool fibers: under the influence of hot water and friction fibres hold together and form a stable structure (fabric). Felt is a material produced by a very simple technology. It does not require any additional tools such as needles or loom. Simplicity of felt manufacture has led textiles historians to the conclusion that it was one of the earliest textiles to be involved by man. (S.Bunn, Nomadic Felts, 2010).
Woollen textile, made from animal protein, biodegrade quickly. That’s why archeological evidences of felt are rare. Fortunately, we can find other “witnesses” of felt in our history. Herodotus (500 BC) and Strabo wrote about using felted items in the past. We can see a lot of felt headgears on the stone reliefs of Persepolis, the frescoes of Bezeklik or miniatures from the Middle East, India and Afghanistan. Appropriate conditions among deserts in Central Asia and the Altai Mountains preserved great items such as: the Beauty of Loulan felted hood (2000 – 1800 BC), colorful high “stockings”, blanket and hat from the grave of Human Cherchen (1000 BC) and, finally, the stunning equipment Scythian graves in Pazyryk (500 BC).
Because felt has been developed to its greatest potential among Central Asia nomads (and they still use it) its invention has also often attributed to them. However felt was well known in Europe also. The oldest European discovery of felt scraps of Hessen and Behöring (northern Germany) was dated 1400-1200 BC. According to Irena Turnau, feltmaking could be accomplished simultaneously in Europe and Asia (I.Turnau, Hand felting in Europe and Asia from the Middle Ages to the 20th Century, 1997).
Hypothesis is confirmed by variety of felt items made by craftsmen living in the Asian steppes as well as in the European lands. Excavations indicate that in Asia felt was used to create large items such as: sheets covering the yurt, covering walls, floors or rugs under saddle. In Europe, on the other hand, felt was mainly used for smaller objects (headgear, socks, gloves).
In Europe feltmaking was popular among the Slavs. At the Balkans there was wider use of felt: they produced head covers, blankets, bags and rugs of all sizes. Most of them were mattresses for sleeping (8 inches thick), which used the natural insulating properties of wool.
In Poland, confirmed history of feltmaking “starts” from the 10th century. The oldest felt artifact – felt toy in the shape of a cat – excavated in Gdansk is dated 1010-1020 AD. In Poland technology of feltmaking was used mainly by hat-makers.
Although the process of feltmaking is quite simple (you use only wool and hot water), requires a lot of time and energy. Feltmaking involves several steps: spread of wool in adequate shape, felting and strengthening. There are two important things also. First: taking into account wool shrinking during feltmaking (so you have to enlarge your project at the beginning). Second: using e.g. wooden blocks to make appropriate, final shape of “3-D” objects such as headwear and footwear.
The process of feltmaking
This year, at 19th Archaeology Fest in Biskupin I had a possibility to make a traditional carpet with Bodnár Balázs – experienced and talented Hungarian craftsman (www.nemezvilag.blogspot.hu ) and a member of reconstructive Keleti Szövetség.
On a flat surface (in this case we used wooden door) soaked textiles was spread. Then, craftsman drawn a pattern (theme alluded to the symbolism of the birth and development).
On such prepared base wool was applied: first, contours theme were marked, after that individual fields had been filled in properly selected color fleece.
We used carded wool from local breeds of Hungarian sheep: Cigája and Merino. It is worth to notice that in traditional feltmaking we did not use soap (unlike to “modern” feltmaking).
When we finished pattern arrangement, we covered it with two, thick layers of white wool.
Then, the whole project was soak with hot water and rolled up.
Next, the “tube” was tightly wrap with flax string. The carpet was ready for felting.
After appropriate amount of rolling, we checked the pattern (to prevent motive from damage).
After topping up with hot water, the carpet was rolled again from the other side. You have to make the same number of rolling from each side of the carpet. This step took 40 minutes.
After rolling there was following stage of feltmakig: strengthening. The purpose of this step is wool clumping even stronger. Finally you make a dense and cohesive material. The carpet was knead by feet, keeping the same rhythm as before: the same amount of rolling from each side of the carpet. Time rolling depends on the thickness of the project. In this case feet-rolling took 20-30 minutes.
There is very important factor during rolling: temperature. You have to control the heat of the project all the time, because temperature is necessary for wool felting. The temperature should not fall below 60-70 degrees C.
Finally carpet shrank by one-third from its initial size. There was one more thing to make: even edges. To achieve this we expanded every side of the carpet several times. After drying, the carpet was ready to use.
- Bunn Stephannie, 2010, “Nomadic Felts”, The British Museum Press
- Turnau Irena, 1997, “Hand felting in Europe and Asia from the Middle Ages to the 20th Century”, Instytut Archeologii I Etnologii