Currently I am researching the felt finds of the Tarim Mummies and various Steppe Nomad grave finds. “The Tarim Mummies”, by Mallory and Mair, reports that the earliest felt rug discovered so far dates from 2600 BC and “was discovered on the floor of a shrine at Beycesultan in Anatolia”.
The rug on http://alyclepal.blogspot.com/2007/07/felting-with-mehmet-girgiz-and-theresa.html is described below although I have left out the first part of the process which involves laminate felting and is not necessary for the creation of a standard felt rug for use in pre16th century reenactment.
Take a sheet of plastic and cut it to the same size of the rug you intend to make and then increase it’s size by roughly 40 percent. Lay it out on a large matchstick blind which will be used to help felt the wool. Before you begin a project of this size it is a good idea to make a small test sample to calculate the rate of shrinkage of the particular wool that you plan on using. Once you have draw your outline you can draw your design on it with permanent marker. If you would prefer to use a more authentic style surface youcan replace the use of plastic with a matchstick blind and lightly score your design into the blind. This technique is also the basis for making a wool covered reed screen such as those used in Kyrgizstan and Kazakhstan as dividers inside yurts.
Take a contrasting color wool roving and palm spin it, making long continuous thin snakes to use for the outlining wool for your design. Dip it in water that is thick with olive oil soap or whatever you’re using then wring out only slightly and lay it down on the plastic in your pattern/design. Just like painting on glass the highlights are going to be on the bottommost layer. When this is accomplished bring out the next set of colors. Pull off some roving, dip the end in a little water and then start filling in areas of your outline. Press some of the roving onto the wet outlining which helps it stick.
Once you have completed the design fill in the rest of the open areas and begin layering wool. Layer horizontally, then vertically, in thin but consistent layers of roving. I have found that how many layers I use depends on how sturdy I want the rug to be. For a wallhanging I use between 6 and 8 layers but for a rug I may use 6 to 10 layers. Once you have created as many layers as you want wet the wool with warm soapy water and have a friend help place tulle over the top of the wool. *Cover the entire piece with some Tulle that you can get from Walmart then wet it down with hot soapy water and carefully compress the wool.* Doing this before rolling it up will help keep your design from shifting as you roll it up!!!!!! Thoroughly wet the felt with a hot, soapy mixture and then begin making gentle circles on the wool in order to spread out the water and soap so that everything is wet . When you get to a point where none of the wool is pulling back up when you pinch it you should be ready to remove the plastic guide, leaving you with a large piece of wool on the matchstick blind. As you arrange the wool rug fold the loose edges over your work for a rounded edge or leave them loose for a more organic edge. Next it is helpful to place a pool noodle down at the edge of the blind and roll your work up around it and tie it closed.
From this point you must roll the blind about 100 times with your hands or feet. Then stop, roll the felt from the other side, and repeat. Continue turning the felt and rolling so that all sides shrink equally. When you have felted it to the design hardness pick up the roll and throw it down repeatedly. You can then take the rug out of the blind, rinse it with warm water, soap it up, and throw it down to the count of 200 or so, turning it a bit differently each time. This is the last stage and is known as fulling. It finishes the shrinking and hardening process. Remember that you can always get the felt harder but you can’t turn back and soften the felt. Now when dry you can press with an iron, then brush with a pet brush, then shave with a razor and it’s complete although I didn’t do any of that and I’m perfectly happy with mine.
I learned in the second class with Karen Page that carding the roving into batts made for thin, even layers and gave the felt a very nice look and feel at the end of the process but it’s not required. So lets say you have built up 6 to 8 layers. Add some design elements on the back just for fun! *Cover the entire piece with some Tulle that you can get from Walmart then wet it down with hot soapy water and carefully compress the wool.* Doing this before rolling it up will help keep your design from shifting as you roll it up!!!!!! I found it easiest (and I think faster) to sit at a bench or low chair and use my feet to roll the mat working from the outside in and then out, flipping it around every few rolls. When you are ready to begin the fulling process its a lot of fun to go to a table–roll the mat away from your body then bring it back, roll it up your torso then SLAM it down onto the table with your hands. I recommend a good fighting mix of music on your ipod or cd player during this process.
The wool that we used in the my first class was Turkish Merino in about the 54s range so it was fast felting but a bit coarse. If you can get a merchant acct. with Henry’s Attic they sell a 54s count merino that works well and takes dye very well although it’s rather long stapled and has to be felted hard to get really compact. It’s $35 for 5 lbs wholesale and works for felting or spinning. The wool I used in the second class that I really, really enjoyed was some of the Norwegian Batts sold by Lori Flood of the Spinster’s Treadle. It’s fast felting and very strong and hard when done. I also used plain, coarse merino in class and did fine with that as well. The wool from Kyrgyzstan in the pieces I bought from instructor Karen Page was coarse–she told us that under the Soviet system sheep were no longer selectively bred for good wool and it’s quality declined sharply.
I’m more of a visual learner when it actually comes to DOING things I found both classes to be invaluable. I just did not get the same sense of what to do or how the felt should feel from reading alone. I’m really happy to have had the chance to get together with lots of other felters this summer and get some hands on time with more experienced people. I found it invaluable to *feel* what finished felt feels like rather then just see pictures in books.