Carrying on the tradition: the manufacture of felt in the spotlight

Felt is a fabric made by rolling and pressing woolen fibers while applying heat or moisture. This textile, used in the production of a diverse range of items from blankets to clothing, is one of the oldest products and perhaps the oldest fabric known to man.

It’s no surprise that felt has had a long and significant history in the culture of the Turks, who belong to one of the oldest civilizations in the world. The earliest examples of felt making, dating from the 4th or 5th century BC. AD, have been found at Pazyryk burial sites in Central Asia, showing that ancient Turkish societies also knew how to make the textile material. The felt socks, boots, combs and instruments found in these burials give an idea of ​​the Turkish way of life at that time.

A felt tent in Muş, eastern Turkey.  (AA)

There is evidence that the Uyghurs of Central Asia and the Hittites of Anatolia used felt in their daily lives. Turkish nomadic communities also continued to use felt to produce their goods and incorporated the wool of the animals they raised into the design of their tents and decorative elements. Felt socks, boots, bags, rugs and blankets were a cultural element unique to nomadic Turks. However, felt was not only a commodity but also a symbol of law and state in Göktürks. They used, for example, felt blankets during khagan accession ceremonies.

In the later period, the Seljuks, who adopted sedentary and nomadic lifestyles in Anatolia, used this natural textile to make their tents, saddle covers, boots, börk (a type of traditional Turkish cap), clothing and kepeneks (traditional shepherd’s outer garment) . After the Seljuks, felt also took its place in the culture of the Ottomans. At that time, felt was particularly used in headgear and usually indicated the class or rank of the person wearing it.

A Turkish woman makes a felt-tip pen painting.  (AA)

A shepherd wearing a felt kepenek warms a small lamb.  (Shutterstock)

Thus, the manufacture of felt has over time become an important cultural element of the Anatolian lands. In modern times, some Turkish masters are still trying to keep this ancient craft alive and pass it on to the next generation; although it naturally lost some popularity with the introduction of textile machinery.

Man-made fabrics are usually woven; however, the feeling differs in this sense. Instead of weaving, fabric production is based on pressing. Felt, like all crafts, is a time-consuming and labor-intensive product. As a first step in felt production, the sheep are shorn during the summer months, which relieves their heat stress. Then the wool taken from the animals is separated according to coarseness as different types of wool are used for different products. Then the wool is washed and dried, and the fibers are combed out to be arranged in flat bundles.

An Uzbek woman in local costumes sews a felt blanket, in Rishtan, Uzbekistan, May 16, 2017. (Shutterstock)

An Uzbek woman in local costumes sews a felt blanket, in Rishtan, Uzbekistan, May 16, 2017. (Shutterstock)

Looking at the history of felt making, we see that the first people used the method of beating wool. However, two techniques called “wet felting” and “needle felting” have now made felt production much easier.

Traditional wet felt making is almost the same as the beating method, but there is no need for a large workshop or physical strength. In this technique, tufts of wool are spread out on a surface and moistened with warm water and olive oil soap. Then the layer of tufts is wrapped and heat is applied to it. After being rinsed, let it dry.

The needle felt technique, on the other hand, is a new way to make felt at home. There is no need for soap and water for this method. In this technique, all the material is made of felt needles and colored fibers readily available in the market. The wool is pushed with felt needles and fused with other fibers.

What’s amazing about felt is its use as a natural insulator. For example, if you cover an ice cube with felt, it will help it stay frozen for a surprising amount of time. Or, conversely, it helps keep a hot drink hot, like a thermos. This is why ancient people used this useful textile to make their tents and clothing.

Moreover, felt is innovative, as well as beneficial, in terms of use. The use of felt has increased over time. This fabric, which was once used in the production of essential items, is now often used to make accessories, souvenirs and decorative products. It is even one of the most popular materials preferred by contemporary artists for their artistic creations.

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