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Conversational Threads

Devaluing an ancient craft

Catherine2 | Posted in Feedback on Threads on

The article in the latest article about “felting fabrics” is all very interesting … but incorrect! What you are doing when you take a piece of existing fabric and shrink it is FULLING not FELTING.

Felting involves a whole lot more effort, skill and talent than taking a bit of cloth and throwing it in the washing machine a few times.

This is an ancient and respected craft, can we all stop devaluing it!

Cathy (feltmaker from Australia)


  1. Pattiann42 | | #1

    Thanks for the input.  I didn't know the difference and never researched the craft.  There must be a whole lot of people in the same boat as me. 

  2. Ralphetta | | #2

    Thank you very much for the info.  It is annoying to hear someone discuss your area of expertise using the wrong terms.

    1. Catherine2 | | #3

      Thankyou for taking my rant in the right spirit, this is not me being just politically correct, but it is a subject that I feel passionate about.

      Textiles is a broard term encompassing many crafts, not all of them ancient, however, there are traditions, it annoys me immensely to see some of these crafts reduced to the lowest possible denominator as they become popular / fashionable. Tapestry is another example, I have people telling me that they “do tapestry” i.e. stitching onto a printed canvas, this is embroidery but it is not tapestry. Tapestries are created starting with a warp only and the image is transferred onto the warp by weaving the various colours.

      Fulling fabric in a washing machine is a form of fabric manipulation, and no less valid for that, but lets all see it for what it is, and not give it a name that, whilst fashionable at the moment, is incorrect. There are some traditions that we should hold on to.



      1. user-217847 | | #6

        Hi Cathy,

        I checked out your links unfortunately access was denied to the first link the second one was okay, very interesting and I highly commend you on your craft choice. As for me theres not enough time to complete my existing projects as well as the long wish list I have. Maybe an extra 60 years may help. ha ha. Good luck and we would love to see an example of your work.

        Warm regards

        Lee Newcastle Australia 

  3. Cherrypops | | #4

    Thank you Catherine2,

    I had wondered how washing a few times would produce "Felt".

    This is not my area, I may never begin this craft, but am so am happy to be guided from an expert, just in case.

    Live and Learn.

    CherryPops (sydney australia)

    1. Catherine2 | | #5

      Australia has some fabulous felters; in fact we have the reputation of producing some of the most innovative felt work anywhere.

      <!----><!----> <!---->

      Check out the Canberra Region Feltmakers http://www.crfelters.org.au their annual exhibition is coming up at the end of May. Also the Victorian Feltmakers Inc, http://www.vicfelt.org.au their site includes an extensive list of link to both Australian and overseas felt sites that are well worth a look.

      <!----> <!---->

      Let me know what you think??

      <!----> <!---->



    2. Josefly | | #7

      Most of us are so far removed from the ancient ( and even recent) forms of cloth-making, that the differences in terms seem obscure. Fulled wool looks a lot like felt, to those of us who are not educated, and has some of the same characteristics. I was surprised to find that "boiled wool" only means knitted wool fabric exposed to washing and drying to make the fibers shrink and tangle up. There's no "boiling" at all. And woven wool fabric which has been fulled in the same way is called something else. I recently saw "linen" advertised in a Hancock Fabrics flyer, and its fiber contents listed in small print as polyester and rayon!Despite exhibitions demonstrating spinning and weaving, I know little about how fibers, natural or synthetic, are turned into threads and yarns, and then into cloth. Dyes and other chemical treatments that are used, types and methods of weaving, knitting, knotting.....my ignorance is enormous. It's nice to know, though, that folks are learning the old skills, and that they will be perpetuated.

  4. JanF | | #8

    I can see your point - it is annoying to have your particular area of expertise named incorrectly - but think how annoying it is for me( and possibly other "true English"{whatever that is}speakers from "the old country") to see, in each magazine and on this site ,instances where "The Queen's English!" is mangled in the transfer over to the Americas!!!!
    I could get my knickers in a right twist if I chose to!
    I don't!!
    I can pat us all over here on the back and feel completely superior 'cos English(in all its variety) is becoming the most common language all over the place!!!
    Someone, somewhere, will know the exact % probably!
    Surely the act of "felting" is just where the fibres shrink and tangle together?
    The fact that it's done in the machine is just another technique?
    Do you want me to go on into the realms of really being p...d off at the people who call satin a fabric?....It isn't ---its a weave!!!!
    Whew - rant over - i know just how you feel!

    1. Catherine2 | | #9

      Felting is the construction of a fabric using unspun fibres and that’s where the difference lays. Once the fibres are matted together you then Full the felt. If you start with a pre woven or knitted fabric, by definition you can’t be felting; you are fulling.

      A bit of history … the fulling process in past times was speeded up with the addition of human urine to the fulling water (apparently it works better if the urine is male and stale!!). Fortunately today we have discovered that soap does the trick …

      <!----><!----> <!---->

      I’m not sure that we can wholly blame the Americans for the mangling of the English language …. we Aussies do a good job of it not to mention quite a few Poms. I once watch a waitress for Cambridge, England try to take an order from a guy from Far North Queensland, they may have been speaking the same language but they could not understand each other at all, it took an interpreter.

      <!----> <!---->

      Perhaps what we need is an international language of fibre … then fabrics would no longer ravel …. they would, correctly, unravel?

      <!----> <!---->


      1. samsmomma | | #10

        When I, as a newlywed Boston Yank, moved to Alabama and spoke with my new landlady, I didn't understand her at all.. why would anyone put a wrench in their hair? (Turns out she was using a rinse.) I think diversity is wonderful, and change is necessary for growth. If you type fibre and I type fiber, we still know what each other means. Getting picky about the spelling would stop the conversation dead in its tracks.

        I recently saw an archaeology program where it showed the fuller's pit in  some ancient city and the narrator said it was nearly all done with urine that was collected each morning from homes around the city. The pit was about the size of six large bathtubs. That would take a lot to fill.  Gee, sounds like a fun job..

        1. Pattiann42 | | #12

          This  discussion is getting a bit nauseating.  You pee on wool to full it and that makes you a felter.  It's beginning to make me falter.

          1. JanF | | #13

            Now this message I DO think its funny! Wish I could think of witty things to say and write - I can always think of some witty "riposte" when its too darned late! The point is well and truly lost on all around!
            Just goes to show how words and meanings don't always travel too well!
            I have no wish to start collecting my urine - even though getting "caught short" - at my age - is beginning to mean more trips to the loo than was per usual!
            Do you think anyone actually collects their own?
            I have a chemical in my cupboard at school labelled Urea - is this what I bought it for many moons ago - Ive forgotten!
            "Squatting" down to demonstrate the art of felting and fulling is not in my remit!

          2. samsmomma | | #14

            the felter might want to filter before they falter, falling while fulling feels foul for this fastidious and foolish female <g>

             as someone said earlier in this thread, thank goodness they found out that soap works just as well.

            Now I am wondering if "needlefelting" is correct terminology for the current rage in adding bits of fiber to existing garments by way of a multineedle attachment to one's sewing machine.. and if not, what would be the correct term to use ? (0ther than embellishing) Such a dilemma communication can cause.

          3. Pattiann42 | | #15

            In the land of the free and the brave, if you said you were going to do needle fulling you would receive a blank look and ride to the funny farm.

          4. solosmocker | | #16

            OK, here's my two drips....I always read before I go to sleep and often it is one of my old Threads that I have just grabbed off the shelf. No fiction for me! Anywho, last night I grabbed #109 from November of 2003. There's a cute little girl on the cover in a jacket, that for the sake of argument, we will say has been "washed". The headline on the cover is "Felting Wool Jersey for Fun Garments". I read the article from beginning to end. There were some awesome unique garments designed by the author who clearly understood her skill. I looked and looked and not once did I see the word "full" used in any tense or description. Over and over it was felt, felting, and felt again. So here's my thought . Is this one of those situations where the word is misused so much that it's misuse becomes the new word? That is all I can figure. I must say, the article was quite inspirational and well written and photo'd. There were some neat techniques such as random weaving of "felted" strips of wool and more. Just thought I would throw this into the fray.

          5. JanF | | #17

            Now you must tell me - how do you keep your magazines from falling when reading in bed - in true "Threads" fashion - have you managed to devise a little holder somehow that keeps the mag in position whilst you are reclining?
            possibly an automatic page turner too?
            I know we all seem great at devising some little knatty invention for all eventualities - but I can never manage to read a mag in bed. I always lie on my side - so mags are useless - has to be a "book at bedtime" for me -this is a reference to BBc radio book at bedtime - not that I listen - would fall asleep instantly!!
            I cannot sleep if I dont read though!
            On second thoughts - reading Threads might not be a good idea anyway - id have to get up to go next door to my workroom to "just try this out!"
            Not the sort of bedtime "try out!" my poor husband might like me to do
            not that I do any of that sort of "trying out" anyway!!

          6. Pattiann42 | | #18

            Just a thought.......Threads on CD!  Then the information fed subliminally would remain in our brain.      I know I have the spare room!

          7. solosmocker | | #19

            The princess sits straight up in bed with two pillows. Hubby is on different time for work and I usually go to bed before he is home. So I am not bothering him any. When he is home early on weekends, I don't do my reading ritual. I read till my head starts falling to the side, and them I am good for the night. I figure all this great info in Threads is sinking right into my brain somehow.

          8. JanF | | #20

            This is an extension for the technological age!
            When I was in school preparing for exams - just a few years ago - but certainly pre CD technology, THE thing was to do your revising in bed - then pop the said book,info under your pillow - and lo and behold - magically - all the info was to stay in the brain ready for the exam!
            At the time I really thought this was a goer - and it was THE thing to do before the exams!!! Loads of optimistic 16 yr olds all doing the same!
            No doubt each school had its own "subliminal" method passing along the grapevine!
            Oh if only it was that easy!
            After saying that though - sometimes I Do find it helps!!
            Just that now, got to remind myself to read what it is that I want to remember - and it isn't always successful!
            heigh ho - those were the days!

      2. Josefly | | #25

        Hi, Cathy. This has been an interesting discussion, about felting and language. What are Poms?

        1. Catherine2 | | #26

          In the Australian vernacular, a Pom is anyone who is English. The exact origin is lost in history, but the commonly excepted origin is that it is an acronym for Prisoner Of her Majesty, referencing our convict heritage ….

          Cheers, Cathy

          Edited 6/10/2007 8:48 am ET by Catherine2

          1. Josefly | | #27

            Thanks for answering. So Poms are not Australian, only English?

          2. Pattiann42 | | #28

            Catherine will give us the answer, but in the meantime.....I thought most, if not all of our original ancestors came, or were sent to Australia & US because we didn't "fit in". 

            Their loss, our gain!

          3. K1W1 | | #31

            Australia was primarily a penal colony for a long time.   One of the main reasons the aussie colony survived was that they intentionally emptied the english gaols (aka jails) of every female of a breeding age & shipped them to Australia to let nature take its course. It was pretty much a one way trip and the reason a lot of the woman convicts had such trivial crimes. 

            New Zealand wasn't a penal colony, but we got sent a lot of 'Remittance men". Bad sheep who were paid to stay away. Not paid just the once, but an annual remittance to make sure they stayed there. As the 6 month journey might not be enough of a deterrant.

            And yes, poms or pommies are only english, not aussie or kiwi. 

            Edited 11/19/2007 2:22 am ET by K1W1

          4. MaryinColorado | | #33

            This is very interesting, I remember reading about this years ago in school.  History and anthropology wouldn't seem so stuffy and boring to students if teachers would/could teach this type of information.  Thanks for sharing, I now have an interesting topic to discuss with the grandkids and maybe a trip to the library!  Mary

          5. katina | | #32

            Hi there - I love your explanation of Pom, makes good sense. Another one I've heard is Poms deriving from the French "pommes frites", because the English love fried potatoes! Who really knows? I Googled and thought this interesting


            An interesting thread to pursue might be from which countries certain fabrics got their names, like denim, for instance which was a serge made in Nimes, France (serge de Nimes) and thus we got Denim.


    2. User avater
      Becky-book | | #11

      Who was it who said "the Americans and the British are two peoples DIVIDED by a common language" ?  sounds like GK Chesterson


      1. User avater
        genevieve | | #30

        was it George Bernard Shaw?  genevieve

    3. MaryinColorado | | #24

      I agree with You, completely!  I always felt that over here in the states the majority of us speak "American" which is structured from a base of the English language with many other languages and slang terms interwoven and blended in.  This then is complicated by what region of the U.S. you are in.  It always seems strange to me when factions get on thier bandwagon of making "English" the official language of the U.S!  Mary

  5. AmberE | | #21

    I appreciate this too---thanks for the info! Are you seeing a renewed or increased interest in felting?

    1. Catherine2 | | #22

      Yes and yes again …. Although not necessarily for the right reasons … Like a lot of old textile techniques it is flavour of the month for a while and then it will disappear for a while, look at quilting, knitting and bear making. They have all been very popular for a while and then they fade, leaving the dedicated few to keep the art going until the next time.

      The trick is to make sure that the skills do not become watered down in the process. Someone who knits a scarf in plain stitch on huge needles is not automatically a knitter, but they can knit a scarf. However valuable that basic level of skill is, it is not all there is to knitting.

      It may seem pedantic to want to differentiate between Fulling and Felting but the way I see it is that confusing the two very different terms simply waters down the knowledge and skills developed over thousands of years.


      1. lovemyelna | | #29

        Watch the fifth generation of an Iranian rug felter in action!!If you want to see the true 5000 year old craft of felt making in action
        watch the film posted at http://www.peaceindustry.com/ click on film, wait several minutes for it to load, it takes 15 min to watch this film but
        it is the most intriguing thing I've seen in years.

        1. maggiecoops | | #34

          Thank you for that link, I love seeing the old crafts done in the traditional way. I sat in the tent makers bazaar in Cairo watching the men hand stitching the most wonderful applique designs for the great desert tents. I've watched Turkish silversmiths in the small villages making exquisite jewellery with the tools handed down over generations. I visited the Moroccan tannery  in Marrakech where they still use the old open air vats to tan the hides and skins, and received a hand woven rug as a gift from a young apprentice rug maker in Egypt. Although I sew, knit, crochet,and embroider, I am reminded just how far removed we have become from our craft when I watch these masters of their craft.

          1. lovemyelna | | #35

            Thanks for your reply. I just purchased some property with sheep barns.
            May be some day in the near future I will be able to try this ancient
            way of felting. I hope others on the site get to see the film. Perhaps
            you could post it for me.

        2. Josefly | | #36

          Just got around to watching that great film on Iranian felt rugs. Wow. I have a much greater appreciation for felt after seeing the process. Just imagine doing it all - combing the wool, spinning the yarn, and the laborious felting itself!

          1. lovemyelna | | #37

            So glad you watched it. I watch it every-so-often just to remind myself
            of how-easy-a-life we live and wish I could express my admiration to the
            craftsman in the film. How wonder what other ancient crafts we are losing to technology?

  6. ineedaserger329 | | #23

       Wow, you sound angry....I didn't read ahead, so someone may have already asked, how do you felt? I remember when I went on vacation a few years back, I stopped at a great little knitting shop in the middle of nowhere, and they had knitted bags that the clerk called "felted" because she had washed them and they were shrunken. I did not read the article and never questioned that statement that the item had been "felted", but I take it from what you said it was "fulling". Please explain, I apologise if I have come across as rude, I don't want to sound that way at all. Thank you.

  7. katina | | #38

    Hello again

    To revisit a subject you brought up some time ago, do you think the fulling/felting battle is lost? There are so many books, for example "Shibori Knitted Felt" by Interweave, which refer to felting one's knitting. Certainly in the knitting world the term 'felting' is now mostly incorrectly used. In her excellent book "Designing Knitwear" Deborah Newton begins a section on the subject: "Fulling is a finishing method that intentionally shrinks knitted fabric to resemble felt." Perhaps the distinction between the two methods will disappear? Those of us who point out the difference are accused of being pedantic!



    1. damascusannie | | #39

      Curse our living language! I agree that to avoid confusion, it would be nice if folks would NOT use the term "felting" for the process of "fulling" but I'm afraid the damage is done. Because the process of washing and agitating the woolen product whether knitted or raw fiber is similar in both fulling and felting, the more readily recognized term has become popular. It gives the newbie an instant mental picture of what the end product will look like so she's more likely to buy an instruction book.It's not unlike the term "quilting". Technically "quilting" refers to the process of sewing a top, a batting and a backing together with small stitches. "Piecing" is the correct term for sewing the little bits of fabric into a top, but nowadays it's all called "quilting". When I teach a quilting class, I use the terms piecing and quilting in the correct way, because I feel it reduces confusion, but most people don't. In fact most of today's "quilters" don't quilt at all--they only piece and someone else (like me) quilts their project for them.

      Is it "pedantic" to use our language correctly? NO! But be gentle when pointing out the differences in the two processes. You aren't going to be able to turn the tide, but there are still people out there who do care about using correct terminology and will be interested to learn that they are two different processes.

      1. katina | | #40

        Agreed, Annie, thanks. I do hope I'm gentle when I comment - certainly not my intention to stir up a storm!


        1. damascusannie | | #41

          It never works to rile folks up. I use treadle sewing machines for all my sewing and I've really had to learn patience as I talk to people about how versatile and easy they are to use. I demonstrate all around NW Wisconsin and it would be easy to get tired of answering the same questions over and over, but I figure that if I can get even one person to pull Grandma's treadle out of the chicken coop it's been worth it!

          1. starzoe | | #42

            You won't have to convince me about treadle machines - I learned to sew on one. In Home Ec at school they had mostly treadles but some electric machines. Most of the class had trouble with operating the treadle, I remember.I have even sewn a set of drapes on a hand turned machine. That was fun! I once sewed a whole coat by hand as I didn't have a machine when the sewing bug hit me.

          2. katina | | #43

            When I was a newlywed, many moons ago, I actually sewed all the curtains, and they were fully lined, by hand!


          3. starzoe | | #44

            I get impatient when people say they hate hand-sewing. They have yet to learn that hand-sewing is an art in itself, and a necessary addition to a machine.

          4. katina | | #45

            Yes! Very soothing and relaxing too.

          5. damascusannie | | #46

            I agree that hand sewing is an art--and it's being lost, too. I was taught to make invisible hems by hand and I took a great deal of pride in being able to pick up only one thread so that it wouldn't show on the front of the skirt. Now, as a quilter I enjoy applique and again the real challenge is to make the tiniest possible stitch so that it is nearly invisible.

    2. Teaf5 | | #47

      As a linguist, I just have to chime in.  A change in word meaning and scope doesn't devalue a craft at all.  If a more general word is less threatening to a wider range of people who might get interested in taking up the art, the change actually helps keep the art alive. 

      A lot of people are so intimidated by the specialized terminology of arts and crafts (and by the practitioners who insist on accuracy) that they become afraid to try something that stays alive only if newer generations of people take it up. 

      If a new crafter or artist tries out a new medium, becomes proficient in it, and continues to practice it, he or she might learn advanced techniques and specialized vocabulary to become more proficient.  But if people feel they have to learn a lot of technical terminology and techniques before they get started, they'll assume it's too difficult and won't even try.

      I've taught my children how to cook French, Asian, and Mediterranean foods while using simple American terms (and the authentic ones) for pans, utensils, and techniques.  My 19-year-old son knows how to make coq au vin, deglaze a pan, make a reduction sauce, potstickers and chow mein, but he doesn't remember any of the specific terminology.  Even as a linguist, I have to admit that it's more important for him to know how to cook than it is to know the words for it!

      1. katina | | #48

        Hi there

        Oh, I don't disagree with you at all about intimidating people by the use of specialized terminology. Catherine2 initiated this discussion about fulling and felting being different techniques, with different materials. To use your example, whatever terminology or language is used, when certain procedures and ingredients are applied to a chicken (and purists would argue that the bird in question be an aging rooster), using the traditional French recipe, the result will be coq au vin or chicken cooked with wine, whereas a lightly fulled knitted fabric will behave very differently from a densely felted one. I have to say I do better with my fulling and felting than I ever do with my cooking!


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