Felt is a cloth which really does not resemble one at all, for cloth is normally made by spinning warp and weft threads together, while felt is a series of wool fibres which overlap in opposing directions (vertical and horizontal). The main differences between a wool or felt cloth are:
- The raw material: the woollen cloth contains woven threads, while felt contains overlapping fibres
- Elasticity: woollen cloth is more elastic while felt, not having warps or weft cannot be sewn well, although it can fit many a shape
- Washing procedure: felt is hand-washed and has to be done so very carefully, otherwise it will shrink considerably.
There are different legends surrounding felt, however the nicest one is that of Noah’s Ark: legend has it that once everyone had left the ark, they found a big amount of felt covering the wooden floor, the result of all the animals’ fur which had been squashed and trampled on.
The ancient Egyptians and Chinese were inspired by this disorderly structure of fibres which created a flexible and flat product to create paper from cellulose fibres. Those processes which allow the creation of felt and paper are the stepping stones used to obtain these “non cloths”: in this case, different fibres are combined by using glue. The final products are mainly used in the health service (nappies, tissues, etc) The felting procedure is based on the scaly structure of animal fur which, when stimulated, tangles up to form a compact body which stabilizes through humidity and steam.
The felting procedure which I am interested in, however, is versed in discovering ancient knowledge.
Felt has always been created by using animal fibres, one of the most precious ones being merino wool, used in clothing and “seguita dalle incrociate” for carded web quilts, towels and artisan produce.
Wool is considered one of the most hygienic winter fibres because:
- it maintains body heat (thermal insulator)
- it absorbs sweat and expels it
- allows skin to breathe and thus toxic substances and bad odours do not attach themselves to the cloth
By clenching a piece of wool in your hand, you can feel how soft and warm it is. As soon as you release the grip from the piece of wool, you will see how it promptly regains its original form and that’s why you also say that it’s crease-resistant, that is characterized by “backbone” and vitality.
The tincture and stamp are very particular finishings because of the high estetique grade which they print on the cloth and which allow customization of the product. The difference between tincture and print lies in how the colour is applied to the cloth: when using a tincture, the cloth is immersed in died water, while the printing procedure applies colour with a coloured paste.
At one time, colouring agents were of natural origin, but in our modern days they are exclusively synthetic, as they are cheaper and of excellent quality, although the environmental impact is worse.
Coming from the world of tailoring and having always had a passion for cloths and sewing, my first contact with felt was overwhelming and passionate for different reasons:
- I can project and build an object made of cloth starting from the main fibres
- I can build an object made of cloth without sewing it together
- the felting procedure is therapeutic: it allows to relieve tensions and to relax, as well as evoking an ancestral memory of female tasks, which can be brought back to using water in hand washes on female clothes in the last millennia.
- no mechanic equipment is used when working on the felting procedure
- highly meditative
Just as felt has been a moment of passage and growth in my work, so have natural tinctures and printing. I absolutely love the scent which tincture plants carry with themselves and which then seeps into the wool and accompanies me during the whole working process: it is for this reason that when I am working on a project and I decide to use rubia red, the scent and colour of the plant accompanies me throughout the whole process: the artistic endeavours in mastering both arts are endless.
Furthermore, I experiment with the felting procedure proper, by adding cloths and threads of natural origin such as silk, wool, linus and cotton, all painted by me. Sometimes I also experiment with patchwork sewing and embroidery.