I adore felt, not just for its tactile and visual appeal, but also its versatility, its organic nature and its history and romance. In fact, when I was studying a Diploma of Textile Art at Box Hill TAFE, I based my main exhibition piece (postcard format) on the reverse appliqué technique of the Kyrgyz shyrdaks of Central Asia, learning so much about felt and its history in the process! Here are two photos of my work from that exhibition: I first saw these beautiful appliquéd felt rugs, which are traditionally used to furnish nomadic yurts, at Ada’s Place in Millthorpe, New South Wales, and fell in love with their bright bold colours and symbolism. Here is a photo of Ada (taller) and her sister Kathleen in front of one of their shyrdaks.Unfortunately, the gallery closed in 2013: https://www.centralwesterndaily.com.au/story/1804338/ada-closes-iconic-millthorpe-gallery/.
You can see more examples of this beautiful craft at:
Felt can also be used to make clothing, hats, bags, cushions, flowers and toys and you will see some of my felt creations throughout this post. I have also attended a number of workshops, which I will also describe along the way, but first the books!
Nomadic Felts by Stephanie Bunn 2010
I came across anthropologist Stephanie Bunn’s name a number of times during my internet research for my exhibition piece, so this book was a must! In it, she describes the ancient history of felt, its traditional production and use throughout the world and the cultural beliefs and symbolism behind the patterns.
Felt has existed for thousands of years and felt fragments have been found in grave chambers in Çatal Höyük, dated 6500 BC; felted hoods and socks on the Urumchi mummies of the Tarim Basin, China, dated 2000 BC; and appliquéd felt wall hangings, coffin linings, clothing, saddle cloths, blankets and bridles and swan pillows stuffed with deer hair, found in the grave chambers of the Pazyryk Kurgans of the Altai Highlands, Siberia, and dated from 600 to 200 BC.
It has played a central role in the lives of nomads from Central Asia, Mongolia and parts of the Middle East, the lightweight, portable and highly insulating wool being used for tent walls (yurts), floor coverings, decorations, bags and clothing.
After the Medieval period, felt became a well-established tradition in Europe with felt boat caulking and other felt objects from the 9th to 13th Century found at Haithabu on the German-Danish border; British felt hats from the 15th Century; and Scandinavian gloves and socks and Russian valenki (felt boots) from the early 20th Century.
Traditional feltmaking is still practiced by Central Asian and Mongolian nomads, as well as practitioners in Turkey and Iran, while experimentation by contemporary artists is producing some wonderful garments and toys.
This fascinating book looks at its extensive history, the science behind felt and the wide variety of feltmaking techniques and traditions. She particularly focuses on the Turkic and Mongolian feltmakers of Krygyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekitan, Turkmenistan and Xinjiang, as well as Mongolia, Tibet, Bhutan and South-East Asia, and the closely related styles from Afghanistan and the Caucasus: their influences and their belief systems and symbolism. With fabulous photos and illustrations supporting the text, it is such an interesting book, not only for feltmakers and textile enthusiasts, but anyone interested in archaeology and history, anthropology, different cultures and the Silk Road!
If you only have room for one felting book in your library, the following book is an excellent reference guide.
Uniquely Felt: Dozens of Techniques From Fulling and Shaping to Nuno and Cobweb. Includes 46 Creative Projects by Christine White 2007
This highly comprehensive book covers all aspects of felt making.
The introduction defines the different kinds of felt (fulled knitting, wet felting, needle felting, nuno felting, cobweb felting, carved felt and yarn felt); history; suitable fibres; the chemistry behind felting; and the whole process from fleece to felt. It also includes instructions for a simple needle felted ball and a Featured Artist page, an inspiring inclusion, which is found at the end of successive chapters.
The next chapter covers tools: wool; soap; screens; rolling mats; plastic resists; scales; water; templates; and felting machines, as well as notes on designing a studio and working posture.
Chapter Three introduces beginner projects like making cords (photo below) and spikes; loops and beads; jellyroll trivets; buttons and balls.
Chapter Four: Learning the Basics covers working with roving; making prefelts; wet felting; calculating shrinkage and a Frequently Asked Questions page, as well as projects like place mats and table runners, blankets and cushions.Chapter Five really examines the raw material, wool: where to find it, how to test its feasibility and materiality; making felting samples and the types of fibres and sheep wool, including a swatch gallery. Projects include math mats, place mats, carved coasters, upholstery yardage and a boot tray.After mastering simple 2-D items, developing felters will be keen to try out making 3-D seamless felt, which is the main topic of Chapter Six. Two flat halves are separated by a resist, the fibres at the side being joined in a seam during the felting process. The different types of resists (open/closed) and materials used, seam considerations and shrinkage rate and template size are discussed in detail.
Pillow covers, book covers, slippers and boots, vessels, sculptural objects (like the photo above and below made using an old butter cooler as a resist) and a myriad of creative bags can be produced in this way, not to mention hats, the subject of Chapter Seven, from berets and head-hugging cloches to hoods, wide-brimmed hats, fedoras and some very artistic and creative examples. Hat sizes; making hat templates; using hat blocks, and stiffeners and embellishments are all discussed. Anita Larkin is a sculptor, who uses felt to create some amazing 3-D vessels and objects. https://timelesstextiles.com.au/artist/anita-larkin-2/.
Felt can also be very light and airy with the inclusion of silk (Chapter Eight: Nuno Felting) and holes (Chapter Nine: Cobweb Felting). Both chapters include definitions and detailed notes on techniques, as well as projects like scarves and shawls, vests, hats, cushions and curtains.
My first experience with felting was helping a friend make a raw sheep wool floor rug, using an old bamboo blind as a roller and Chapter Ten on larger projects would have been very useful, though the emphasis of this chapter is really more on making felt garments: tops and vests, tunics and dresses, and skirts, as well as including notes on garment patterns and templates. Jorie Johnson (http://www.joirae.com/) makes some beautiful contemporary clothing and is the featured artist in this chapter. Another wonderful felt garment designer is Norwegian artist, May Jacobsen Hvistendahl, whose work can be seen at: http://www.filtmaker.no/eng/index.html.
It is really fun making felt with others, as it can be a time-consuming process and it’s a great way to bond not only the fibres, but also community and friendship ties, as discussed in the final Chapter Eleven, along with teaching feltmaking, community projects like rugs, felting weird and wonderful creations for theatre, and framing and finishing felt. There is an extensive glossary and list of artists, resources and relevant websites in the back. An excellent book!
It is also well worth joining a felting group like Victorian Feltmakers http://www.vicfelt.org/ or the Feltmakers of WA: http://www.feltwest.org.au and attending a few workshops to master the practical aspects. I belonged to the Victorian Feltmakers and some of the memorable workshops I attended were:
Phyllis Hoffman: Felting a Scarf July 2010 / Felting a Hat August 2010.
Great fun, as I did these workshops with some of my fellow students from my textile course at Box Hill TAFE. I was so impressed with my friend Heather’s hat! Phyllis is a great teacher too! You can find out more about her at: https://www.stonehousegallery.com/phyllis-hoffman.html.
Elizabeth Armstrong: Felt Art Dolls August 2010
Like me, Elizabeth LOVES colour (see her fabrics below) and I absolutely adored this inspirational workshop!She is so enthusiastic and fun! Here she is behind our workshop dolls. The grey bird dolls are samples of her work.
On the first day, we made our material using prefelts, roving, yarn and even chiffon ribbon, then the next day, we had to take a deep breath and cut into our beautiful precious homemade fabric, then assemble and embellish the dolls with embroidery, appliquéd felt pieces and hand-painted faces. Below are photos of my fabric pre- and post-felting. I loved my earth goddess Gaia, even though I forgot to sew in a base! Elizabeth’s website is: http://elizabeth-armstrong.blogspot.com.au/.
Sue Pearl: Crazy Felt Critters February 2012
Hailing from the United Kingdom, Sue Pearl gave a workshop at the Victorian Felters and we were very lucky to be able to attend. My strange alien creature left a bit to be desired, but gave me a feel for creating 3-D toys.
Sue’s website is at: http://www.feltbetter.com/. But now, back to the books…!!!
Felt To Stitch: Creative Felting for Textile Artists by Sheila Smith 2006
Another excellent guide covering similar topics to the previous book: Hand-rolled felting; making prefelts; nuno felting, 3-D hollow forms; cobweb felting and needle-punched felting, but also has a big section on design with detailed discussions on colour, texture, line, shape and pattern.
There are instructions on colour mixing; using acid dyes; rainbow dyeing; making fibre paper; shibori; low-relief designs; using Markal Paintstiks; stencilling and printing. Projects include book covers; bags; cords, toggles and balls.
Felted Bags, Boots and Other Things by Cendrine Armani 2007
Making bags and boots are so well explained in this book with step-by-step notes, supported by excellent colour photographs of all the tools and each stage of each process: Flat felting; felting with a template; mixing colours; cutout motifs and insets; lining bags; inserting magnetised clasps and eyelets, embroidery; and making balls and pendants, and that’s just the first section!
The rest of the book is devoted to 56 bright and colourful projects from pencil cases, pouches and purses to jewellery, felt flowers, slippers and bags. It is certainly a very inspiring and practical book and makes you want to leap out there and start felting!!!
Felted objects can also be needlefelted using a dry felting process or stitched from flat felt pieces and/ or embroidered, as showcased in the next four books. The first book describes dry felting, which uses felting needles to work wool roving into shapes, while the other three books create flowers and toys from patterns cut out of sheets of wool felt, stitched together and embroidered.Sweet Needle Felts: 25 Projects to Wear, Give and Hug by Jenn Docherty 2008
While I haven’t done much needle felting (it’s a bit too time consuming for me!), it is good to have a book, which describes all the tools and techniques, as well as a number of small projects from flower pins and gumdrop rings to belts, coasters, book covers, purses and toys like the cute ones on the cover. A good book for crafters, who love felt, but don’t want to work with water!!!
Felt Fresh Flowers: 17 Stunning Flowers to Sew and Display by Lynne Farris 2007
A very useful book for the middle of severe Winter, when the garden is fast asleep and nothing much is happening in the way of blooms! We are very lucky here in Australia in that many of our native plants flower in the Winter and our milder warmer climate still allows for the blooming of camellias, violets and Winter honeysuckle. We still get heavy frosts in our garden though, so I am still attracted to the bright colours of the felted flowers in this book, though I am more likely to use them to embellish bags and hats!
Basic tools, materials and techniques are covered before detailed instructions for a range of blooms from African violets, gerberas, geraniums and daffodils to lilies, roses, iris and sunflowers. I particularly liked the tulips, nasturtiums, magnolias and tropical anthuriums!
Felties: How To Make 18 Cute and Fuzzy Friends by Nelly Pailloux 2009
A sweet little book on making felt toys. Starting with brief notes on tools, templates, stuffing, sewing and embroidery, it contains patterns for some very cute and obscure creations from the sweet little Babushka Doll, the Mushroom Girl, Sleepy Fox and Pensive Rabbit to the Pirate Mouse, Hoodie Wolf, Retro Alien and Sun-Loving Rat!
Felt Wee Folk: Enchanting Projects by Salley Mavor 2003
Salley Mavor (https://weefolkstudio.com/) is well-known for her imaginative fairy worlds and creative appliquéd and embroidered felt purses, bags and brooches.
I made my daughter a felt bird purse using one of her patterns. I also love the appliquéd felt work of artist Renee Harris. See: http://www.reneeharris.net/Pages/GalleriesMenu.html.
Here are some photos of my felt appliqué work, which you will no doubt recognise from previous posts: Steiner education is big on felt for all the same reasons that I love it. It’s a natural organic material, has wonderful colours and texture, is easily worked by children and makes imaginative and creative toys! I recently visited their shop, Winterwood Toys, in Warranwood, Victoria, to check out their beautiful felts.
It is always a wonderful and inspiring experience, as is a digital visit to their website: https://www.winterwoodtoys.com.au/!
They stock wet felting supplies and a huge colour range of hand-dyed and commercially dyed 100 percent pure wool felts (photo above), as well as toys, patterns and kits and books, many of which hail from Germany, the birthplace of Steiner education, as well as the origin of some wonderful felt designers and creations like the toys and Christmas decorations sent to us by our daughter Jen, who has been teaching in Germany for two years.Here are three felt books, which I have bought from Steiner shops over the years.
Creative Felt: Felting and Making More Toys and Gifts by Angelika Wolk-Gerche 2007/2009
Another good basic guide to felting, but with an emphasis on felting with children and imaginative play, a key tent of Steiner education. The history of felting, different fibre types, setting up the workplace, preparing the wool, natural dyeing, the basic felting process, creative possibilities (mixing colour, collages and felt pictures, modelling and embroidery) and felting with children are all topics covered in the first section of the book, followed by lots of suggestions for felt projects: Hats and jewellery; slippers and hot water bottle covers; felt envelopes and gift wrap; book covers and treasure pouches; juggling balls; dolls and accessories; toy animals and puppets; and Easter rabbits, seasonal toys and dioramas and Christmas decorations.Feltcraft: Making Dolls, Gifts and Toys by Petra Berger 1994/2001
More Steiner toys and child-oriented projects are included in this book. They include wooden and felt gnomes, angels, flower children, fairies and dolls, jesters, finger puppets, ducks, butterfly mobiles, snails, dogs and cats, horses, mice and balls, as well as felt pictures and books, jewellery, bookmarks, boxes, egg cosies, purses and cases. Here are some egg cosies and felt toys, made by my children when they were young, as well as some finger puppets.I love making felt toys and would not be without the next book, which I have used to make camels and pigs for my daughters!
Sew Soft Toys : Using Natural Fibres by Karin Neuschütz 1996/2007
After a brief discussion of sewing with natural fibres, stuffing materials, and tips for sewing and stuffing toys, it gets straight into instructions for the toys themselves: Dogs and cats; mice and rabbits, farmyard animals, marine animals, African animals, and bears, foxes and weasels. They are lovely patterns with excellent clear instructions and illustrations and the toy animals are just so cute! Below are photos of Jen’s camel and Caro’s piglet, which I embroidered as well!:
I could easily make every animal in this book! And perhaps over the years I will, gradually recreating my husband’s old family Christmases!Over the years, I have also made embroidered birds and fruit, Christmas angels and dear little felt mice, as seen in the photos below.AK Traditions (https://aktraditions.com/pages/about-us) in Prahan, Melbourne, Victoria, is another source of wonderful Central Asian felt toys, some of them featured in the photos below:And finally, some of my favourite books for felting inspiration! These books are wonderful and showcase the imaginative work of two contemporary European feltmakers, as well as showing the enormous creative possibilities afforded by felt!
Filz Spiel: The Felted Play by Annette Quentin-Stoll 2010
Annette is a German artist (born 1978), who was introduced to felt in Finland, and she produces the most amazing sculptured hats, bags, costumes, vessels, games, toys and puppets, based on cones and spheres, concertina folds and pleats, elastic structures and even the incorporation of marbles. I just loved her Rainbow Worm, her Dragon and Elephants, her mouse finger puppets, snail and star rings, animal bags and spiky swim hats and seed pod vessels. She has also written three other felt books: Filz Ornament (https://www.galeriebuch.de/en/gallery-books/filzornament/); Filz Experiment (https://www.galeriebuch.de/en/gallery-books/filzexperiment/) and Filz Geschichten (https://www.galeriebuch.de/en/gallery-books/filzgeschichten/).
Gentle Threads: Felts of Judit Pócs
Judit Pócs (born 1976) is a Hungarian artist, whose work I simply adore! She dyes the raw wool before felting and like the previous artist has a fabulous sense of colour and fun! She too makes weird and wonderful sculptured hats, exotic colourful bags and fabulous toys, all featured in this book, as well as in the gallery on her website: http://pocsjuditstudio.hu/gallery2/.
I also own her inspiring video:
Video: On Gentle Threads About Feltmaking by Judit Pócs and István Rittgasser 2007.
It is a wonderful accompaniment to the book and is spoken in Hungarian and English. In it, Judit generously demonstrates the making of a rug, based on the felt origin myth of Noah’s Ark, as well as a scarf, a bag, two of her amazing sculptural hats and a wonderful stylised crested lizard. She makes the magical process of felting all look so easy, even though her work is incredible skilful! There are also delightfully quirky animations and the catchy music of Krulik Zoltán, the founder and leader of Hungarian ethnomusic band Makám (www.makam.hu).
To view stills from the film, see: http://www.filmkultura.hu/regi/2008/articles/films/szelidszalakon.en.html.
I will finish with a gallery of my felt cushions, which you will recognise from previous posts.