Felt boots are simply a must for the Steppe Nomad Persona and are great fun to create. They can be as plain or ornate as the maker desires and can have soles added to them or remain as slippers. The felt is easy to use as a base for appliqué or embroidery. Felt boots have been found in various graves in Central Asia dating back as far as the 6th century B.C. These boots can be made using either of two different methods. Boots in the Royal Scythain graves found by Alexander Rodenko were made of flat felt that was cut from a pattern, wrapped around the leg, sewn up the back, and gathered and sewn onto a decorated felt sole. The second method is to felt around a resist. I have not yet found any concrete documentation to argue either for or against the resist technique but having seen pictures of a Mongolian woman making a seamless felt boot out of a flat sheet of felt and pictures of seamless hats among the mummies from the Tarim River Basin I’m willing to argue for a continous knowledge of seamed felt in Central Asia and search for information to back up my opinion. Meanwhile resist felting is simple to do and could have been accomplished with the materials available to a person on the Steppe. It is my personal belief, however, that the community production of flat felt would make sewn felt objects much more pratical in terms of time and resources.
Instructions for felting a boot…
1. Create a resist by tracing the outline of our sock. Size that outline up by about 40% and then straighten the ankle portion up slightly.
2. Cut out the resist and begin layering your wool, horizontally then vertically uptil you have built up at least 6 to 8 layers of wool. Make sure to leave at least an inch of overlap past the end of the pattern piece. This becomes your seam. The more layers the thicker and stronger your boots will be in the end. At this point is is fun to use a different color on the bottom of the wool batt than on the top and inset any decoration that you desire to felt into the boot. *
3. Wet the area of the piece that the resist covers with hot, soapy water. Place a piece of tulle over this area after after removing the resist and began to felt using small, gentle circles. As you work the area with your hands remember to add more hot, soapy water if the wool trys to come up with your hands. Keep felting untill you can pinch the area and the wool does not come up between your fingers.
4. Place the resist on top of your wool batt. Begin covering the resist horizontally completely then fold down the inner most layer of overlap batting onto the horizontal layer. Next lay out a vertical layer and again bring a layer
from the overlap and place over the layer you just placed down. Continue for the same number of layers as you put down for the bottom batt.
*In the illustrations the resist is represented as the solid black area.
5. Just as with felting a bag or a hat when you have laid on as many layers on the top as you had on the bottom you can now begin felting the top layer. Cover with a piece of tulle and begin to shake hot, soapy water down the center of the design. Be careful not to get the edges wet yet. Use the palms of your hands rolling from the thumbs to the outsides while pressing down to spread the warm, soapy water to the eges, but not the seams, of your design. Rub in gentle circles on top of the tulle and keep rubbing till the layers feel like they will not pull apart easily. When you believe you may have sufficently felted it take the tulle off and pinch the fibers. If they pull away you need to continue felting but if it doesn’t then you are ready to move on to the seams.
6. Carefully open the boot and gently place your hand inside, supporting the seam which are still dry and unfelted. You need to make sure that you have even coverage around the searm area as this is where you can ruin the piece by having holes appear. If you have uneven spots pull out some extra roving and make little wool “bandaids” to go from the back to the front to place over the holes. You should then cover the seam with tulle and start gently wetting and pressing it, working your way down towards the bottom of the boot. You may want to make even progress down the sides of the boot by felting first one seam, then the same amount on the other seam. Work your way around the boot till you have completely felted the entire, continious seam around the boot. Once that has been accomplished you are ready to “full” your work which is the act of shrinking the wool to it’s final form.
This would be where we leave the Prefelt stage and enter into the wonderful world of fulling. Up until the wool begins to harden and shrink, you can continue adding pieces of roving but at this point your course it set. Add warm, soapy water as needed.
1. Roll up your felt
2. Knead it like dough
3. Count to 25
4. Unroll it and reroll the opposite way
5. Knead it like dough
6. Count to 25
7. Unroll and roll up a side
8. Knead it like dough
9. Count to 25
10. Continue till you are happy with the hardness of the felt
This process is where you really get to exert yourself. When kneading push down with the base of your hands. Squeeze with your fingers but be sure to push down and move the felt often. Any area you pay special attention to will shrink more than the other areas. This can be used to the felter’s advantage by allowing you to shrink edges that are too long or tighten the neck of the bag. I enjoy using a washboard to aid with this process. Another option is rolling your felt in a matchstick blind and tying it tightly with cord. Sit on a bench and use your feet to roll it back and forth like the Steppe nomads or place it up on a table and use your forearms. Be wary of repetitive strain. Place blocks under your table legs to raise them so you are not bending over in a manner that could strain your back. I find that loud music or singing songs helps this part pass quickly. Felting can be a very communal activity and when I have had the opportunity to participate in group felting there has arisen a surprising sense of community and shared purpose among the felters.
Shrinking—the Final Part of Fulling
Rinse your felt then either add soapy water to it or rub it directly with your olive oil bar soap.
1. Roll it up, bring it up high then THROW it down as hard as you can.
2. Unroll and reroll a different way. Throw it again.
3. Continue until the felt has shrunk to the correct size and/or is the hardness you desired.
4. Rinse all soap out of your felt and lay out to dry. If desired you can
lay it on a form.
Custom Fitting your Boot!
When you have felted down your boot to nearly the same size as as your foot you can take it to the shower or bathtub and fully customize it to your foot. Sit on the side of the tub and run the water as hot as you can stand it. With your soap in hand put the boot on your foot then scrub it with the soap and hot water. This will cause the boot to felt down further onto the shape of your foot.
-Consider shaving your felt or using an iron and a cloth to steam it flat.
-Embroider it or add beads, bangles, plaques, or feathers.
-Sew a piece of leather or fabric bias edging on the opening for a finished
look or a handsewn blanket stitch.
Walking around in your boots inside is great but you may find that you’d like to use these outside. The Torguts of Mongolian make a similiar boot with a leather bagshoe around it. You can google Viking Bag Shoes for directions or cut out a sole from leather with a leather bias around it to stitch onto your felt. If you wish to purchase a vibram bottom you can go to SimpleShoemaking.com which sells bottoms or will attach them for you for a reasonable price. Have fun with your boots and enjoy toasty, warm feet!
*see the instructions on bags and hats for greater detail on decoration