Cynthia offers short workshops on making wet felted balls and other small objects. For more information contact her.
Felt - A fabric made of compressed matted animal fibers.
Felting is an ancient process of creating textiles. It predates both weaving and knitting. There is evidence that felt was used as early as 6000 BC and believed to have begun in Central Asia; what is now Siberia and Mongolia.
If you look at a strand of wool fiber under a microscope, you will see that there are scales growing out from the central shaft. If the pH of the fiber is changed, it causes the scales to move away from the central shaft. this can be done with soap (alkaline). When the scales are opened, and wool is agitated, the wool strands become entangled, hug each other, and bond. When the soap is rinsed out, the scales move back against the shaft and lock the felt into place. It is then permanently felt.
Felt is made by (1)agitation and (2)change of temperature.
Most likely, felt was discovered by accident. Perhaps some wool was placed under a saddle or a shoe, mixed with sweat and the motion of a horse or a walker transformed the wad of wool into a textile.
Traditionally, felters have made hats, shields, garments, boots, saddle blankets, rugs, yurts, and decorative objects. Changing a pile of wool into a membrane involves direct, hands-on labor and kinesthetic attention. Sometimes your eyes tell you that the piece is finished, but usually it is your hands that know.