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Felt is a textile that is produced by matting, condensing and pressing fibres together. Felt can be made of natural fibres such as wool or synthetic fibres such as acrylic. There are many different types of felts for industrial, technical, designer and craft applications. While some types of felt are very soft, some are tough enough to form construction materials. Felt can vary in terms of fibre content, colour, size, thickness, density and more factors depending on the use of the felt.
Many cultures have legends as to the origins of felt making. Sumerian legend claims that the secret of feltmaking was discovered by Urnamman of Lagash. The story of Saint Clement and Saint Christopher relates that while fleeing from persecution, the men packed their sandals with wool to prevent blisters. At the end of their journey, the movement and sweat had turned the wool into felt socks.
Feltmaking is still practised by nomadic peoples (Altaic people: Mongols; Turkic people) in Central Asia, where rugs, tents and clothing are regularly made. Some of these are traditional items, such as the classic yurt (Gers), while others are designed for the tourist market, such as decorated slippers. In the Western world, felt is widely used as a medium for expression in textile art as well as design, where it has significance as an ecological textile.
Only certain types of fibre can be wet felted successfully. Most types of fleece, such as those taken from the alpaca or the Merino sheep, can be put through the wet felting process. One may also use mohair (goat), angora (rabbit), or even dog hair. These types of fibre are covered in tiny scales, similar to the scales found on a strand of human hair. Wetting and soaping the fleece causes the scales to open, while agitating them causes them to latch onto each other, creating felt. Plant fibres and synthetic fibres will not wet felt.
There are two famous artists who use wet felting as their media for their artwork pieces that are well known these days: one of them is Nicola Brown, who uses this style of art in order to create decorative landscapes for children novels and the other one is Claudia Jean Nelson, which uses this style of art for a different reason; her reason is to create all kinds of different imaginative dresses (for exposition) and other decorative ornaments (such as bags, teddy bears, wall decorations and book cover decorations).
Felt is used everywhere from the automotive industry and casinos , to musical instruments and home construction as felt paper. It is often used as a damper. In the automotive industry, for example, it damps the vibrations between interior panels and also stops dirt entering into some ball/cup joints. Felt is used on the underside of a car bra to protect the body. Gaskets are also often made of felt. Felt gaskets can be used for: seals, washers, spacers, stripping, discs, anti-vibration and anti-squeak pads, bumpers, bushings, noise reduction linings, vibration mounts, shock dampeners, heat barriers, wipers, oil and grease retainers, dust and fuel oil filters, sound deadening, padding, insulation, plugs, light seals, lamp bases, lubrication wicking, dust shields and filters.
Many musical instruments use felt. On drum cymbal stands, it protects the cymbal from cracking and ensures a clean sound. It is used to wrap bass drum and timpani mallets. Felt is used extensively in pianos; for example, piano hammers are made of wool felt around a wooden core. The density and springiness of the felt is a major part of what creates a piano's tone. As the felt becomes grooved and "packed" with use and age, the tone suffers. Felt is placed under the piano keys on accordions to control touch and key noise; it is also used on the pallets to silence notes not sounded by preventing air flow.
Felt is used for framing paintings. It is laid between the slip mount and picture as a protective measure to avoid damage from rubbing to the edge of the painting. This is commonly found as a preventive measure on paintings which have already been restored or professionally framed. It is widely used to protect paintings executed on various surfaces including canvas, wood panel and copper plate.
A felt-covered board can be used in storytelling to small children. Small felt cutouts or figures of animals, people, or other objects will adhere to a felt board, and in the process of telling the story, the storyteller also acts it out on the board with the animals or people. Puppets can also be made with felt. Felt pressed dolls were very popular in the nineteenth century and just after the first world war.
German artist Josef Beuys used felt in a number of works.
During the 18th and 19th centuries gentlemen's top hats made from beaver felt were quite popular. In the early part of the 20th century, cloth felt hats, such as fedoras, trilbies and homburgs, were worn by many men in the western world.
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