Almost everyone has seen and used felt fabrics, but possibly most of them would not know much about this versatile fabric. According to Contrado, the use of felt as far back as 5000 years in Asia makes it the world’s oldest-known textile and is still used to make clothing, rungs, tents, etc., by the nomads. Even today, some of the finest fur-felts and wool felts find use in the manufacture of classy hats like Fedoras.
Felt Fabric Explained
The essential difference between felt and other fabrics is that felt fabrics are not woven or knitted but made by blending natural and synthetic fibers, and shrinking and steam-pressing them, so they merge to form mats. There are three main types of felt; natural, synthetic, and a combination of the two. Conventionally, people used cotton, wool, or animal fur to make natural felt, while later, synthetic fibers like polyester, acrylic, and nylon became more popular.
The Making of Felt Fabric
Instead of weaving or knitting, heat, pressure, and moisture are applied to the natural or synthetic fibers, or a mix of both to interlock them and make a strong and durable fabric. To make felt from wool, you need to first sort the wool according to its color and then clean it to remove the debris caught up in them. Thereafter, a machine loosens and separates the clumps that form naturally. The wool is then carded, which is a process of untangling the fibers to form a standardized web by passing them through cylinders. The resulting batts are rolled, and steam is applied to layers of batts to combine them on a conveyer belt. The layers of batts are hardened by applying force using a drop-down plate. The layered batts are fed through steel rollers to shrink and harden them further. After cleaning the felt to remove impurities and the chemical used in processing, it is dyed and dried. The felt is pressed to even it out and ensure that the thickness of the fabric is even. The pressing process further interlocks the fibers to make the fabric stronger. The felt is shaved to make the edges even and remove the loose fibers from the fabric. The process for making a combination felt with both natural and synthetic fibers is same. They are put into big cylinders containing steel nails that help the mixing process to combine the fibers well.
Different Types of Felt Fabric
One way of categorizing felt is by the kind of fiber; natural, synthetic, or combined. Natural fibers for making a felt hat include wool, animal fur, and cotton. It is common to use acrylic, polyester, nylon, and rayon for making synthetic felt. You can use any natural and synthetic fiber for making a combination felt, though a combination of wool and acrylic is the most common. Some other kinds of felt include:
Crafting felt: Most popularly used by children for their school projects, it is typically a synthetic felt made from interlocking fibers of acrylic. The craft felt is ideal for projects because they are stiffer but easy to cut and is cheaper than most other types of felt. They can take on different pigments well, so kids can have great fun coloring them.
Eco-friendly felt: This kind of felt is made from recycled plastics, felt, yarn fibers, and even waste fibers of carpets. The eco-friendliness quotient is also higher because no chemicals, adhesives, or glues are used in its manufacture. Because of this, it is also a non-toxic material.
Blended wool felt: This kind of felt is made by mixing synthetic fibers like acrylic with wool. Two of the most common blends contain 65% and 80 % acrylic. This kind of felt is commonly-used in craftwork, soft toys, and pillows.
100% wool felt: As the name indicates, this kind of felt is made fully from wool fibers. The fibers interlock so that the fabric is very hardy, lightweight, and water-resistant. Because the material is wool, it is also non-flammable, which makes it ideal for applications like uniforms for firefighters.
Because of its properties, felt is a lightweight yet durable fabric that finds many applications requiring insulation, fireproofing, soundproofing, etc. Due to the process of manufacture that involves the application of heat, moisture, and pressure, felt fabrics are strong and durable. Because the fibers are matted, not woven, or knitted, they do not fray at the edges. In addition to being lightweight, felt is also a warm fabric because the interlocked fibers do not let the heat escape. The high density of the material is a big advantage for using it in rug pads. Since wool is naturally warm and water-resistant, it is used a lot for lining clothing and accessories. It also has the advantage of being a highly breathable fabric, which adds a lot to the comfort factor of apparel and hats.