History Of Needle Felting
What is Felt?
Felt is a textile made traditionally from the wool of sheep and other animals, and can be dated back to between 4000-5000BCE, or about 2000 years after the domestication of wooly sheep. That gets us the material, but not the craft of felting.
Modern felt can be made of a variety of animal fibers, including but not limited to, sheep, alpaca, Mohair (goat), and angora (rabbit). Synthetic fibers and blended fibers are also being created and used, but are not commonly used or approved of by the needle felting community, who views their craft as a eco-friendly and sustainable art.
Now let's dig in a little more to the various types of felt and felting.
Types of Felt and Felting
When people hear the term felting, they most often think of wet felting, but there are actually a few different methods of working with wool that can be called felting.
Wet Felting is a process that uses water and soap to felt the wool into different shapes and designs. This process can be used to create scarfs, quilts, dryer balls, bags, slippers, and other items. One popular method of wet felting is to lay out the design on top of bubble wrap, add mildly soapy water on top of the felt, and then roll up and agitate the piece inside the bubble wrap. If you have ever put wool clothing through the washer and dryer, you will know what will happen. The item shrinks and becomes very dense. The agitation process is what "felts" the item into one piece. Scarfs made in this manner are able to be draped and can be quite elaborate.
Needle Felting is a dry process that used a specialized needle instead of any liquids to felt the wool into shape. The needles have notches that grab the fibers and hook them to the fibers around them. Artists use their hands and the needles to manipulate the fiber and to stab it into place. The process of stabbing the wool is what makes it hold its shape and is great for creating 2D and 3D shapes. The development of the needle felting needle for use in crafting instead of industrial uses is actually pretty modern, having been created in the 1980's.
Carroting is something I came across only while doing research for this post. Back in the mid 17th century, carroting was an industrial process that turned beaver pelts into hats. Mercury was used at different stages, which resulted in mercury poisoning in the artisans and it also turned the skins an orange, or carrot, color. This might be where the term mad as a hatter came from! CLICK HERE for more on this topic.
Fuzzy Felt is the name of a children's toy that was first sold in the 1950s. Since pressed felt can stick to itself, the toy consists of a large felt sheet and a collection of shaped felt pieces, such as a farmyard set. Children can place the felt pieces on the large sheet to create all sorts of scenes. CLICK HERE to learn more about this toy. The inventor's story is quite interesting.
Nuno Felting is a mixed media art that combines wool with other fibers, such as silk, to create lightweight but sturdy fabrics that are especially good for fashion. This technique was developed by a woman named Polly Stirling around 1992. Nuno felting can be used to build up textures and colors.
Industrial Felt is when felt is used for practical applications instead of art. Felt pads are used in musical instruments like drums and pianos as dampeners, for example. Pressed felt pads are also used in construction for sound dampening and insulation purposes.
Other uses for felt include puppet making, such as those created by Jim Henson, spinning felt into yarn for other crafts, and simply used as stuffing for bed spreads or pillows.
While manipulating wool and fibers to create a wide range of practical and artistic items has been around, as we have learned, for centuries, it has really only been a few decades since the beginning of needle felting as Needle Felted Fuzzies practices it today.
If you would like to learn about how Kayleigh got into needle felting, visit the About page.
In the 1960's and 1970's, fiber artists began to experiment with their craft instead of sticking to what had always been done in the past. For example, they tried dunking the wool into boiling water and rolling it around with a rolling pin, which were things that they had been told never to do to wool.
In 1985, felters gathered together for the first time at what they called the International Feltmakers Association. Since then, a number of other groups and events have sprung up around the country and the world. Now, there are many groups on social media sites like Facebook, that allow the needle felting community to gather and share information and techniques on their craft. CLICK HERE for a more detailed list of organizations, events, and publications.
The use of a single or double needle felting needle to create art out of wool was pioneered by a husband and wife team, Elanor and David Stanwood in the 1980's and 1990's.
Elanor and David Stanwood developed modern techniques for working with wool, including the single needle for needle felting. CLICK HERE for their story.
Marie Spaulding is the owner of LivingFelt, which is probably the most well known and popular destination for felt and felting supplies.
Sara Renzulli is the owner of SarafinaFiberArt, and is one of my needle felting mentors. I have learned so much from her tutorials and by being a part of her Facebook group.