international feltmakers association

 

The First Felt – fact and fiction

The discovery of felt is often related in legend form.

  • St Clement, the patron Saint of Hatters and St. Christopher, the patron Saint of travellers, are among those credited with the discovery of felt. Fleeing persecution and footsore, they and other early Christians tucked the sheep’s fleece they found caught on the bushes into their sandals to cushion their feet. At a later stage in their journeys they found the loose fleece had transformed itself into felt shoes.

  • "The origins of felt in Persia are ascribed to Solomon’s son who was a shepherd. He was sure that his sheep’s wool could be made into waterproof mats without the aid of a loom, but try as he might he could not make the fibres stick together, and stamped about on the fleece crying large tears of frustration. And behold! He had discovered felt."
    The Art of the Feltmaker, M.E. Burkett

  • A favourite with school children is the legend of the felt carpet produced in Noah’s Ark. Sheep, goats, camels and other animals herded together in the Ark shed their fleece and during the voyage trampled it underfoot. When the animals had left the Ark Noah was amazed to find the floor carpeted in felt.

That the felt produced in these legends was the first felt is undoubtedly untrue. There is archaeological evidence to prove the existence of felt long before Christian times. However, the stories do contain an element of fact. All the legends refer to the three things necessary to produce felt – fleece, moisture and agitation.

Suggested reading

Members wishing to gain a more scientific insight into early felt could start by reading the following books:

The Art of the Feltmaker,
M E Burkett (M.E.Burkett, 1979)

Much historical information contained within the catalogue of the exhibition of the same name

The Mummies of Ürümchi,
Elizabeth Wayland Barber (Pan Books, 2000)

Felt-clad mummies dating from 1,800 BC found in NW China

Frozen Tombs of Siberia - The Pazyryk Burials of Iron-Age Horsemen,
Sergei I. Rudenko (Dent, 1970)

Very elaborate felt artefacts discovered in burial mounds in the Altai mountains (southern Siberia and central Asia) dating from around 500 AD

Die Kultur der Hsiung-Nu und die Hügelgräber von Noin Ula,
Sergei I. Rudenko (Bonn: Habelt, 1969)

(written as Xiongnu in English)
Felt artefacts discovered in burial mounds in northern Mongolia dating from around 200BC

 

Melanie Bermingham