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History of Felt – Part 1

While my beaded felt curtain progresses I thought I would post an article I wrote a couple of years ago about the history of felt.  (I had to get some history in here somehow!)  Hope you enjoy.

Pilea’s Incredible Journey – The Myths & Origins BCE

This story is about the humble felt cap and its travels through history prior to the Christian era.  Felted caps appear in Archaeological evidence from about 700BCE.  The Pilea as it is known in Ancient Greek has endured many socia,l as well as functional changes through its evolution.  Starting as a practical item of necessary clothing, for warmth and protection, and progressing to high fashion during the 17th Century, favoured by the French court at Versailles.

Along the way the felt cap has gathered many facets to its personality; providing functional comfort, ceremonial and cultural significance, a social status symbol, protection (both physical and psychological), income generation, trade and commerce and lastly mythology.  In fact felt hats and felt in general has played an important role in the development of civilization on many levels.

So where does it begin, who invented felt and therefore felt caps?  There are many claims that felt was found or invented in a myriad of different countries around the world but in all probability, felt would have been discovered by all cultures who had domesticated sheep, goats, camels or horses.  Despite the multitude of methods used in making felt, it is a simple process; wet the raw wool and agitate.  There would be many opportunities for this to occur and be observed in day to day life of the ancients.  This can be illustrated by the three most common myths or fables concerning the discovery of felt.

In Sanliurfa, Turkey, it is said that Ebu Said Libabid was intent on matting wool together and so stamped all over some fleece.  Despite his efforts after 40 days there was still no matting, reduce to tears he wept over the wool and continued to stamp all over the now wet wool and finally produced felt.  This myth is also told using King Solomon’s son as the felter.

From the Christian West, felt making was attributed to Saint Christopher.  He was leading a donkey through a dry arid place where the ground was too hot for his bare feet.  He grabbed some of the donkey’s fur to wrap around his burnt feet.  When he stopped for the night and removed his improvised sandals he noticed that the fur had formed a single and substantial mat.  His sweat providing the moisture and walking the agitation to create felt.  This myth is also told with a monk and a camel through the desert.

Even Noah has been implicated in these myths of origin, after stating that he noticed in the stalls of the ark, that wool, fur and fleece dropped by many animals combined with the urine and trampling of the animals to leave a thick matted material.  I think I prefer our methods using soap and water!

See you next post.

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