I discovered something wonderful over in Germany! Schnitzel! – kidding… No, I found heavy-weight industrial felt in a fabric store and was instantly in love! It is grey wool and 3mm thick, which makes a wonderful media for a variety of ‘making’ such as bags and purses, containers, footwear etc… I immediately put it to the test. Working and making with industrial felt is actually quite easy compared to usual sewing practices.
What is felt?
But first, what is felt? Felt is the short word for a variety of material that is made by the combining of fibres without knitting or weaving. The fibres are matted by some method of twisting or vibrating until they become so entangled with each other that they hold strong. It’s really the same as how one turns their hair to dreadlocks. Original felt dates back to as much as 6,500 BC. It can be hand made, manufactured or even made by having huge rolls dragged behind horses to matt the fibres.
Depending on the fibres and thickness it can even be used for furnishings. I just love how versatile it can be. See here for some very innovative work by Freya Sewell. There are interesting stories of mongolians pulling rolls of felting behind horses til strong and thick. That thick felt provides the protection on the walls of the yurt. Felt is breathable, warm, strong, but also tends to be light for it’s size. Anyways… on to the fun…
Cutting and Punching:
As you can see, the fibres are very densely matted and have no direction. For that reason, it can be cut and will not unravel or fray. That makes less work of finishing edges! Another designer’s dream! I used a rotary cutter as well as a matt knife with straight edge. It allows for perfect edges. Using a cutting matt keeps it square and easily measured and protects your table.
As an artist I have cut much matt board in my life, it is always good practice to cover the part of the fabric that is the ‘good side’, just in case you veer off direction while cutting.
To allow for sewing or attaching hardware, you can also punch it with metal punch tools. Make sure you have some soft material to make sure that your punch does not dull.
Another of the major advantages of felt is that even though it is strong AND thick, it can usually still be sewn with a machine. That is one of the frustrating problems of leather; it is tough to sew on a regular sewing machine. My felt was 3mm and I had no problem sewing 2 thicknesses as the needle does not have a problem getting through. My other felt (polyester, I suspect) was thinner but denser and was still easy to sew. Due to it’s density and stiffness it was sewn on the ‘right sides’. That gives it an industrial charm.
Folding over the edges makes for a roll type rounded handle strap.
My favourite is the grey colour as it has more industrial-loft look. The speckled grey is very forgiving and timeless. Silver hardware matches perfectly and top-stitching finishes it off.
If, however you choose not to sew, you can still attach with the aid of pop-rivets. Being able to use ‘tools’ makes for even more fun! The addition of washers to the rivet gives more ‘bling’ to the design.
Pop rivets come in a variety of lengths and sizes. They are unique as they work by pulling the material together from the right side. The rivet is inserted through the holes in the material thicknesses, a backup washer is inserted on the inside, and then the rivet gun pulls the shaft from the outside (the bulbous end is pulled through the end which anchors it) and the shaft breaks with a ‘pop’ and then comes out.
The hole is where the shaft was. I sometimes use some washers for build up of thickness or visual effect. It gives a very industrial look and is very strong. You could substitute hammer rivets that would need hammering to force 2 parts together. Myself, I find getting the hammer into tight spaces is harder than pulling the rivet gun.
New designs to be posted soon with patterns. Oh so many possibilities! The hard part is deciding which one to make… Felt has great stability as it is flexible AND holds shape, a designers’ dream!