Textile Society of America




Date of this Version



From Textiles as Primary Sources: Proceedings of the First Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Minneapolis Institute of Art, September 16-18, 1988


Copyright © 1988 by the author(s).


Felt is considered mankind's oldest textile. Created of wool or hair through pressure and shocking, and the application of heat and cold, felt is a warm, sturdy fabric used for shelter, clothing, carpets, saddles, and bags or container covers. Feltmaking is a world-wide tradition in the sense that it is practiced in such disparate regions as Mongolia, Central Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

In the souk in Marrakech, Morocco, a two-sided prayer rug is created, one side white and one side grey, using the natural color of the fleece. The process involves the addition of soap which acts as a binding agent during the felting process. Rolling and pressure cause the fibers to bind together forming a flat, finished mat.

In Central Asia and the Middle East, the biblical bow and mallet is employed to break up the fiber into a cloud-like mass which is laid on a dampened canvas in a given shape. The feltmakers in this area create inlaid coats and carpets for local consumption. Once a coat has been partially felted, it is folded over, and the softly rolled fleece is applied to the surface in a given design. The laminating process continues in order to felt in the yarn design and to shape the coat. The finished garment has closed sleeves which act like mittens.

In Afghanistan, where the carpet designs are very intricate, the dyed fleece is laid in a given pattern on a reed mat and the plain black fleece backing is then laid on top. The entire mass of wool is rolled up in the mat and a canvas and felted through continuous rolling and pressure.

In Aqsha, an Afgan town very near the Russian border, a carpet market takes place every week, featuring pile carpets and "namdas" or felt carpets. This is my carpet which took me 7 hours to buy. During the price haggling which is, as you know, a ritual in this part of the world, this is the crowd which gathered on my carpet and this is the gentleman who made off with my SS&D - an issue devoted to American Indian rug design. I wonder how many Hopi and Pueblo "namdas" are being created in Aqsha today?!!