What is Felt Made of?
Natural felt, one of the oldest textiles in the world (!), is made from sheep’s wool or camel hair. Interestingly, it is not woven or braided but made of pressed fibers that are in turn kneaded together to create a myriad of shapes. Our ornaments are just one of the many manifestations of felt, as it can be used to make hats, rugs, shoes, etc. As there are many synthetic felts available today, we are committed to using only raw and local merino sheep wool from our shepherd friends in Kyrgyzstan.
Where Did Felting Come From?
The nomadic people of Central Asia—where present-day Kyrgyzstan is now located—are thought to be the first to develop felting. The tradition emerged naturally as these nomads moved their sheep herds across the high-plateaus and mountains of Central Asia. Felt was found to have an incredible capacity to insulate against heat, provide warmth in the cold as well as being able to absorb and hold moisture.
How Felt is Made: The Wet Felting Process:
The most traditional method of felting is called wet felting. With this method, wool fibers are pressed together using (mostly) soapy water and rely on friction through motion and pressure to make the fibers intertwine. The wool fibers become locked together creating a strong and versatile textile.
In its details, wet felting is a long and beautiful process. Starting first with the shearing of the sheep, the wool is then cleaned and carded. Traditionally, carding was more like beating the wool with flexible reed sticks until the wool fibers were separated and aligned. The carded wool is then arranged on a reed mat (called a “chi” in Kyrgyzstan). Once arranged on the reed mat, the wool is sprinkled with boiling water and patted down. The reed mat is then carefully rolled and pressed with boiling water and soap, acting as a binder. The felt is pressed by rolling the mat very tightly, or by rolling it in a cotton cloth (for hats), and then the cylinder thus formed is compressed by treading on, rolling it on the ground under one’s forearms or by dragging it with a rope.
What Does Felt Feel Like?
With its fibers, rough texture, and weight, felt has an ancient feel reminiscent of the times when humans were nomadic and still roamed the earth. Its raw and textured consistency carries a nostalgic, deeper echo—memories of the first man, of times when our lives were closely intertwined with the natural world. The earthy feel can also be soft, spongy and dense depending largely on the treatment and intended purpose.
The Yurt: The Central Vector for Felt
The yurt is the physical embodiment of the nomad’s sustainable subsistence and the spiritual world. It is a practical, functional home in which creativity and life are woven (the idea that the soul is integrated into daily life is prominent) and where creativity is intrinsically tied with survival. In every detail, the yurt literally embodies the nomad’s respect for her world and environment. Containing all elements in close proximity: wood, wool, reed, water, fire and natural dyes, the yurt exemplifies a life lived in harmony with nature. While its mobility, taking only three to five hours to pack up, reflects the nomads and their freedom to follow the path of the pastures.
Felting Link to Women’s Entrepreneurship:
Beyond the enduring connection of felt to the natural world, felting in Kyrgyzstan is becoming intimately linked to women’s entrepreneurship. This ancient skill passed down from mother to daughter is now a key skill to autonomy, growth, small business development and financial independence.
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