The History of Felt

The History of Felt

I was actually supposed to present my first video today but after staying up half the night and still not getting the video completed, I decided that the video debut will have to wait. Hopefully, I will get it uploaded and posted next week. So instead, a little felt history.

My local group has been doing a little historical art study each time we meet. This month we were studying the iron age. I remembered that the first pieces of felt were found around or before this age so I decided to research further into the history of felt. I found a very interesting article by Berthold Laufer in American Anthropologist called The Early History of Felt. Here is the link. The article is about where the earliest felt making was found and the possible area where felt was first made. It is interesting that felting was commonly practiced in Asia and Europe but was absent in Africa and aboriginal Americas.

Felt Boots from Pazyryk Tomb

Some of the earliest felt pieces were found in Siberia, in the Altai mountain region, in what’s called the Pazyrk Tomb. These pieces are all dated in the era from 300 – 238 BCE. The University of Washington in Seattle has a project called the “Silk Road Seattle” with a very informative website. I found all of these photos of felt items from their site although these are items from the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. I haven’t had time to explore the site fully but it looks very interesting as it talks about various textiles and practices along the silk road.

Felt Boots, another view.

As you can see, these boots are very highly decorated, stitched and beaded. These were boots that were in a tomb and were probably made specifically for the funeral and burial process.

Felt Hat

What amazes me is the amount of intricacy in the felt and the styles. I see hat shapes similar to this in Montana all the time.

Felt Swan

I have photos of this felted swan in my book so you might have seen this before. I am again so impressed with the artistry and technique involved in the making of this piece.

Saddle Blanket with Gryphon Attacking a Mountain Goat

This is a saddle blanket. Look at the intricacy of the designs and the bright colors of the wool. I love how the weather in Siberia has allowed the pieces to survive so we can see what the people in the Iron age were capable of producing in felt.

Portion of a Saddle Blanket

Look at the wonderful inlay work in this piece. Think how long ago this and the other pieces were made. Felt has a very rich history and I love that the process is nearly the same as it was many years ago.


24 thoughts on “The History of Felt

  1. Thank you for sharing this Ruth – so interesting. It’s amazing what people were able to produce all those centuries ago.
    Such intricate and painstaking work and no labour-saving, machine made tools. On top of that they had to carry water, collect firewood, hunt for food, make their own tools……………………….!!

    How did they find the time? 🙂

  2. Muy interesante y fascinante la historia del fieltro. Si el mundo no se destruye, mis obras artesanales de fieltro perdurarán por años. Un orgullo para los que nos dedicamos a esto.

  3. The ancient Israelites used animal skins and had many processes for dyeing and weaving; but I have not found any mention of them using felt. I found that interesting. Evidently, the Egyptians had no felt either.

    1. It is interesting that certain areas although they had sheep, llama or alpaca did not make felt. In the link I gave about the history of felt, it was specifically mentioned that the Egyptians did not make felt. Many times, it seems that spinning was learned first which led to weaving instead of felting.

  4. I am amazed at how the early felters achieved those intricate designs!

    If I were fetching water and hunting my dinner, the last thing on my mind would be decorative felt. Utility would definitely triumph over pretty.

    1. Me too – most of these items were used in funerals/burials and therefore were more decorative than normal, everyday items. But it is amazing how people love to decorate their clothing etc. even with other priorities.

  5. Oh wow Ruth, they are so amazing arent they. And they woulnt have thought twice about the amount of work they had to do, makes me feel quite lazy lol

  6. I wonder if it had anything to do with climate and people in colder areas needing something lightweight and warm?

    1. I’m sure it did have to do with climate. Felt was what kept them alive as they used it for shelter, clothing, boots etc.

  7. Very interesting piece. I never knew anything about the history. I am a fellow lover of felt. The colours are so good. my blog is called Principally felt

    1. Thanks! I am fascinated by the history of felt and how little the process has actually changed over these hundreds of years.

  8. Really beautiful and interesting. The other piece that is fascinating to me as a devout natural dyer is how beautiful the color still is! One of the most common criticisms I hear is how natural dyes are not colorfast. I must post some of these to my FB page! Thanks!

    1. The colors are amazing, aren’t they? It also has to do with the conditions in which they were kept over the years – the dry cold of the permafrost in Siberia seems to be the perfect conditions for maintaining the felt.

  9. Hi Ruth, I just returned from Russia and was fortunate to be able to visit the Pazyryk burial goods that are on view at the Hermitage. I was quite amazed at the intricate designs that were either applied or inlaid into the felt. Fabulous. Thanks for sharing your knowledge of the history! Penny

    1. Hi Penny, I hope you will do a post on Gail’s site about your trip. I’d love to see some of your photos. I went to Russia in the early 90’s but it was before my interest in felt/textiles. I am sure I would be looking for different things if I went again. I do love the intricate designs – so many people think they are inventing this type of felt but it has been made for a very long time, hasn’t it?

  10. This is breathtaking. No wonder the Russians are still leading in felt making.

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