A felted saddle found in the frozen Pazyryk tombs in Siberia in 1949. The saddle might be as old as 2500 years.
Traditional Valenki, or Russian felted boots. source: Wikipedia commons.
Felt is a non-woven cloth that is produced by matting, condensing and pressing woollen fibres. Felt is one of the oldest known processes for creating 'cloth', and myths and legends abound about its origins which may date back 3500 years. The durable, insulating properties of felt have led to its application to a wide range of uses over the centuries, from home construction to musical instruments to felt-tip pens! Artists have also made use of the metaphoric and material meanings of felt in their work.
We will be experimenting with two approaches to making felt. One is true - or wet felting, where the natural wool fibre is agitated by friction and lubricated by moisture (using soap and water) in order to compress and lock together the fibers.
We will also be exploring needle felting, which is a process of matting, tangling and compressing the wool fibers without the use of water. Special barbed felting needles that are used in industrial felting machines are used as a sculpting tool. Fine details can be achieved using this technique, but the result has different applications than wet felting, since the felt is often not as durable or strong as the wet process.
For a fascinating look at one traditional felt rug process, watch this film by Peace Industries.
One artist from the 20th century who merits particular mention here is Joseph Beuys, a vastly influential artist who work in performance, political action, pedagogy, and provocative use of materials, left a significant mark.
For more information about Joseph Beuys and these works, click here.