Felt is a type of fabric made from wool. The fibres of raw wool are matted together through a rolling or pressing process done hand-in-hand with either water or heat. When the fibres intertwine as the wool is worked, the fabric becomes smoother and smoother. Felt fabric is easy to make by hand from the raw wool, and because of this quality, it's an ideal choice for crafters and individual clothes makers.
According to Gunilla Sjöberg, author of "Felt---New Directions for an Ancient Craft," felt has been produced and used in clothing and artwork as long ago as 6000 B.C. in Turkey. Felt was made and used throughout Asia and the Roman Empire in tapestries, clothing, headwear and saddle blankets, among other things. Since felt can be sculpted while wet, some ancient hats were extremely tall. The Romans made felt armour by dipping felt into vinegar, which apparently made it impervious to iron weapons and fire.
Today, felt is used to make things such as small felted animals (similar to stuffed animals), schoolchildren's fabric crafts, baby clothes (bootees, caps and jackets), blankets, quilts, purses, jewellery, soft socks, sculpted shoes and boots, and nearly every type of hat and every piece of clothing for both genders (trousers, skirts, shirts, outerwear, etc.) Since felt can be manipulated with water, it can be sculpted. Felt appliqué (3D design) can be added to other felt work to create very elaborate pieces.
It's a common perception that both felt and wool are itchy to wear next to the skin, and that in some people, this itchiness may be an allergic reaction. Wool sometimes has stiffer strands that can cause irritation, but felt is a smooth, ultra-soft material. If the felt is made from clean wool, it can be worn next to the skin. Felt is breathable and also holds body heat. Felt outerwear is excellent for keeping precipitation on the outside with minimal absorption. Gunilla Sjöberg writes that those with dermatitis should avoid wearing wool and felt next to bare skin.
Care should be taken when storing felt, since it is made from wool, which can attract moths and carpet beetles. Keeping felt in cedar-lined boxes or drawers will keep both pests away without making the fabric smell like moth balls. If either pest is found in a felt supply or on a piece of felt clothing, the felt can be immersed in warm water for at least 10 minutes, which should kill all larvae, according to Gunilla Sjöberg. To dry felt, use the spin cycle of the washing machine, as any pressing, wringing or application of heat (i.e. the dryer) will change the quality of the felt.
According to felt artist Lisa Klakulak of Strong Felt, "Care must be taken when hand washing felt as excessive heat and agitation may continue to shrink wool felt that has not been completely fulled. Hand wash fabric in room temperature water with a small amount of gentle soap and minimal agitation." To dry felt, press it between two towels or place it in the washing machine's spin cycle (not in the dryer). Felt with any dimension should be reformed and air dried.