Posted by R. John Howe on 12-06-2003 07:42 AM:

Additional Resources

Dear Ms. Raissnia -

It is very good to see your salon, so quickly. When we talked a few months ago I had no notion that something might be "up" by now.

You mention several resources on felts. Let me add a few that bear especially on their likely origin.

First, Elisabeth Barber treats felt in two of her three major books on ancient textiles. I refer to:

Prehistoric Textiles (1991) in which she offers a short chapter (9) on "Felts and Felting."

The Mummies of Urumchi (1999) in which she discusses felts in a number of places.

If someone else doesn't do so first, I will mine these Barber books for some interesting indications she makes about felt.

Just one here from the Prehistoric Textiles chapter:

"But only animal hairs will felt, because these are the only natural fibers with a scaly surface...('Heat and moisture cause the tiny scales to stick out; and prolonged kneading when they are in this condition makes them catch on to each other until they are inextricably interlocked.')...The bonding in felt is mechanical, not chemical as in tapa cloth or paper. For this reason felt is extremely tough and is not damaged by subsequent wetting. Because of the tiny air pockets formed between the matted hairs, felt is also an excellent insulator."


R. John Howe

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 12-06-2003 09:30 AM:

Thank you very much, Melina, for your interesting Salon.

Here is another resource - from an historical point of view - and it is on line:

That research quotes old testimonies from Westerners showing that the felts were widely used in Persia and neighboring countries, not only by nomads but by city dwellers as well.

Do you have an idea why the use of felt is so diminished nowadays?

Best regards,


Posted by Chuck Wagner on 12-06-2003 11:57 AM:

Another place to look

Hi All,

For things Persian, one of the web sites I like to use is: ,

which is prepared by Columbia University for its Center for Iranian Studies.

There is an entry there for felt:

which has an substantial bibliography following the writeup.

Thank you, Melina, for a nice look at an underappreciated textile genre.

Chuck Wagner

Chuck Wagner

Posted by R. John Howe on 12-06-2003 02:21 PM:

Dear folks -

Today I had a chance to talk to John Sommers at The Textile Museum. I asked him what in his opinion was the best book on felts. He said without hesitation that it is the one by M. E. Burkett, "The Art of the Feltmaker" (1979) that appears in the biblios both Ms. Raissnia and Chuck Wagner have provided above.

I checked ABE to see if there were copies.

There are about five copies listed at the moment, all apparently overseas for U.S. readers. Not expensive.


R. John Howe

Posted by Melina Raissnia on 12-07-2003 11:52 AM:

Hello everyone,

I really appreciate the help finding additional resources. This is something that I had hoped would happen. I have been trying to find a copy of the Mary Burkett book for quite some time. Thank you.

In response to Filiberto's question about why felting is diminishing so rapidly, I can only speculate based on some observations. First of all, felt making is not supported as an Iranian art form or craft by any of the craft guilds or government cultural institutions. It is considered to be crude and low class, owned by nomads who are poor. Secondly, the production of machine-made carpets and textiles has reduced the demand. I can't tell you how many fluffy pink bedspreads and shiny surfaced fabrics I saw in the bazaar. Other factors that uproot communities like war, an unstable economy, and revolution diminish the number of people living in smaller villages and working in a traditional trade. However, I think that because Iran is not as Westernized as, say, Turkey there are still a few felt makers scraping by.


Posted by Michael_Wendorf on 12-08-2003 10:52 AM:

felting methods

Dear Ms. Raissnia:

I also enjoyed reading about felting in Iran. Thank you.

There is another source that discusses felting in Euraisa. It is a book called Nomads of Eurasia published by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. This book accompanied an exhibition of the same name organized under the auspices of the then Academy of Sciences USSR and was edited by Vladimir N. Bailov. The exhibition travelled the United States in 1989 - 90 including a stop at the Natural History Musuem in Washington, D.C. where I was lucky enough to see it several times.

In this book there is an entire chapter written by Basilov and Olga Naumova on "Yurts, Rugs and Felts." They cite Herodotus and Pliny the Elder who observed Scythians and Huns living in yurts - houses made from "writhes" and covered with felts. as you point out in your essay, among Eurasian nomads and semi-nomads "women made the rugs and felts, although men were involved in some steps in the process."

Regarding patterned felts they say this: "There were several ways to make patterned felts." The following are excerpts from the discussion that follows:

1. The rolled pattern technique known to Turkmen, semi-nomadic Uzbek, Kirghiz, Kazakh and Karakalpak peoples. The Turkmen laid out a pattern of colored wool and added several layers of undyed wool which served as a background. Kazakh and Kirghiz women used thin or lightly rolled colored felt for pattern and laid it on a semi prepared base. In both techniques hot water was poured over the wool mat, and the mat was rolled up into a bolt, which was rolled back and forth on the ground for several hours to compress the wool.

2. Mosaic technique, known only to the Kazakh, Kirghiz and seminomadic Uzbeks. Patterns were cut from two pieces of felt of different colors and the pieces were then sewn together, the piece of one color served as background and the other, the foreground. Colored cord that emphasized the ornamental outlines was sewn on top of the seam joining the background to the foreground. The patterned felt derived from this process was superimposed on a felt piece of coarser wool, and the two pieces were quilted together along the outlines of the design.

3. Techniques of applique, quilting on felt and patterns applied in colored cord. These techniques were used almost exclusively by Kazakhs and Kirghiz.

Design patterns referenced include a horn-shaped scroll called the ram's horn or mountain goat horn. On turkmen pieces a few large medallions in the central field framed by a border.

Several photos of felting accompany the essay.

I hope this adds to the discussion of your Salon.

With thanks, Michael Wendorf

Posted by Chris Countryman on 12-16-2003 09:16 PM:


Ms Raissnia,
Thank you for your article on felts. Very interesting. I wonder if you are by chance going to be bringing any of these to ACOR in Seattle next March. It would be fun to see them "in the wool."

Chris Countryman

Chris Countryman

Posted by Melina Raissnia on 12-19-2003 11:13 PM:

In response to Chris' question about Acor 7: I wanted to exhibit in the Dealer's Row at Acor 7 but they only allow antiques.

Melina Raissnia

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 01-02-2004 03:45 AM:

Letís not forget the discussion "Avar/Daghestani Felt Rugs by Oliver Perrin":

in our archives, although it deals only with style/design of Caucasian felts.