Sunday, 31 August 2008

'F' words

Feather band
A sort of HATBAND, presumably one designed to hold decorative FEATHERs, and fashionable in the seventeenth century as shown, for example, in the picture of the Gunpowder Plot Conspirators painted in 1605 by an unknown artist, and that of the Squire of Alsatia painted in1688 by Laroon [Cumming (1984, reprint 1987)]. The one example found in the Dictionary Archive is dated the same year as the Gunpowder Plot [Inventories (1605)].
Not found in the OED
Sources: Inventories (early). References: Cumming (1984, reprinted 1987).

Felt [ffelt; felte]
A TEXTILE made from WOOL or mixed fibres compressed, rolled or fulled to bind them together. Either FELT WOOL, of which there were many types, was used, or the fur from the BEAVER SKIN, CONY SKIN or RABBIT SKIN.
Felt was used mainly to make FELT HATs, and by association the term indicated both hats made of felt and, on occasion, hats in general. Many of the terms that might be expected as descriptors for felt hat are found in association with felts. Some of these denote the WOOL from which the hat was made, hence 'estridge womens felts' made from ESTRIDGE WOOL [Inventories (1604)], 'Spanish or Portingale felts' made from SPANISH FELT WOOL [Rates (1582)], or 'pollonian feltes' made of POLONIA WOOL [Inventories (1604)].
OED earliest date of use c1000 as a fabric; c1450 as a hat
Found described as with BANDs, without bands, brayed, COARSE, COLOURED, DUTCH, DYED, FINE, FRENCH, NEW, pollonian, PORTUGAL, SMALL, SPANISH, lined with TAFFETA, undyed, unlined, untrimmed, lined with VELVET, WHITE, WOOL Found made in sizes or styles suitable for BOY, CHILDREN, GIRL, MEN, WOMEN, YOUTHFound in units of DOZEN Found rated by the DOZEN
See also FELT WOOL, HAT, RABBIT FUR. Sources: Acts, Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Patents, Tradecards.

Felt cloak [felt cloke; cloakes of felt]
In the late-sixteenth century and the early seventeenth, CLOAKs made of FELT became fashionable. Both the cloaks themselves and pieces of felt of the appropriate size were apparently imported from FRANCE, where the making of FELT HATs had first been established. The entry in the Book of Rates of 1660 went into some detail, describing such felt pieces as 'for Cloaks, French-making, three yards and an half long, one yard and an half broad the felt' [Rates (1660)].
OED online earliest date of use: 1599
Found in units of PIECESources: Rates.

Felt hat [ffelt hatt; felte hatte; felte hatt; felte hat; felt or wool stuff or beaver hat; felt or beaver stuff hats; felt hatt]
The term was often abbreviated to FELT. HATs made of FELT seem to have been developed as a manufacture in Normandy in the mid-fifteenth century from whence they were introduced into London. Their manufacture spread rapidly throughout England with an important centre just north of Bristol. Making felt hats required special short-fibred carding wool, sometimes called FELT WOOL. Much of this was imported from Spain and Portugal (SPANISH FELT WOOL), and later from Austria (ESTRIDGE WOOL) and Poland (POLONIA WOOL). Their manufacture involved several processes: carding, basining, felting, dressing, pouncing or pounding, blocking and dyeing. By 1609 the BEAVER HAT or CASTOR had been introduced using BEAVER WOOL. Towards the end of the seventeenth century, the Huguenots of Wandsworth (SW London) introduced yet another type called the Caudebac hat after the place they came from near Rouen. These hats were made of a fine, waterproof felt using a mixture of fine vicuna wool and rabbit wool [Kerridge (1985)]. Often all types were lumped together regardless of origin as 'Felt or Wool, Stuff or Beaver Hats' [Acts (1784)].
Once the basic shape had been made, a felt hat could be LINED with fashionable SILK fabrics like SARSENET, TAFFETA or VELVET [Inventories (1598)], or left UNLINED, and decorated with a HATBAND.
OED earliest date of use: 1457
Found described by NEWFound in units of DOZEN, PIECE
Sources: Acts, Inventories (early), Newspapers, Patents. References: Kerridge (1985).

Felt wool
A type of short-staple WOOL, often imported, for making FELT, particularly for HATs, felt wool is not to be confused with WOOL FELL, which was often known as 'Fell wool'. Topsell (1607), cited by the OED, gave it as an alternative name for Feltriolana, which would seem to be a term with much the same meaning. Felt wools were imported from Spain and Portugal, hence SPANISH FELT WOOL, and later from Austria as ESTRIDGE WOOL and from POLAND as POLONIA WOOL [Kerridge (1985)].
OED online earliest date of use: 1609
Found imported and rated by the POCKET
Sources: Houghton, Rates. References: Kerridge (1985).

Hatters Bow/ Bow Carding

Various sources indicate to me that it was highly likely that wool was carded, ie prepared for felting and spinning in different ways including with a carding bow. This is an aspect of working with wool that I wanted to bring to the felt-makers workshop at Kentwell Hall this year. I have compiled this information from a variety of sources most importantly my felt-makers yahoo group who have been very generous with their information and experiences. I hope you find it of interest.

The bow is suspended from the ceiling and there is a pile of locks on the workbench below the bow that look like they have been loosely opened. When the bow is plucked the vibrations pick up some of this fibre and "open" it up more and then deposit it on the other side accumulating a downy pile as the process proceeds. The person who told me about this could not understand how it would work until she saw the process and then of course it all made sense and she says it really is a simple thing.

One web site has some pictures from Panouckes Encyclopaedia. These very old sketches illustrate various aspects of felt hat making including this "ancient" form of bowing. (the hatshapers web site has some other interesting stuff about felting that you may want to look at as well).

There is evidence of bowing taking place in Britain. To give you an idea (although later in history) here is a link to a woodcut of a bow in use in Britain during 19th century. . You can see that the bow is longer than the person holding it, it is suspended from above and it is held at a slight angle. You can also see the "pick" held in the figure's right hand. This is used to pluck the string and the vibrations of the string assist the fibres to separate. The text indicates that the "hatter's" bow used in hat-making factories was "essentially the same as the bow used in Turkish workshops".
In Turkey the bow is called a yay (I sort of like that – it sounds happy!) There are all sorts of fantastic web sites with examples of felting but Theresa May-O’Brien has a dedicated album with pictures of a bow carder in action
It shows Turkish felt-maker, Mehmet Girgic, preparing wool with a yay that he had made. This gives you the idea of size. You can see that the bow itself is quite thick and rigid, not at all like an archery bow. It is not expected to be flexible rather as a base to hold the gut string. The dimension of the bow is thick to allow the person using it to hold it comfortably or has a strong handle to rock it back and forth.
The yay is suspended from the ceiling (by the handle part if there is one) and there is a rocking motion involved in its use. Remember this is a repetitive action, the handle needs to allow the user to slip their hand in but be tight enough allows the user not to have to expend energy holding the yay.The gut string needs to be quite thick (I have been given various suggestions of between 5 and 12 strands of gut plied together). There is a special way of tensioning the string around the wood piece; you need to be strong for this!
Another essential part of the tool is the mallet with which you tap the string to create the vibration to pluck the wool apart. Mehmet uses a heavy, round mallet with a lip around the top for plucking at the string.
Mongolia is another cultures still using this technique for carding. In Mongolia the bow is called a “num”. The num is strung with animal intestine and includes a wooden hinge permitting the movement of the string. The device is pegged down at one end and the wool piled on top of it, and then the bow string drawn back and forth to separate using the bow, the wool becomes even softer and whiter than when beaten with sticks according to the more traditional method. The bow is made from birch and 10 - 15 cm in length (I think this means the distance from the wooden part of the bow to the string) , the bow string's length should be 2 metres."(Mongolian traditional methods of feltmaking" by B. Erdenettseg 2004)

One felt maker told me that in Hungary, the felt hat makers use a bow to break down the carded merino into finer fibre length. The bow is suspended above the worktable by a strong cord. The bow is held in the hatters left hand parallel to the table. The bow is heavy, even though it is supported, so it takes great strength to hold it like this.
When she saw this being done the string was several inches above the pile of fibre. The gut string was plucked with a wooden "pick" rather than a mallet. The tool had a pointed spinning top-shaped knob on the end and was about 6-8 inches long with a handle was large enough for a man's hand to hold comfortably.
She says that the string was taut enough to make a sound like an upright bass being plucked and had about the same deep note as a bass. The Hungarian Hatter she saw plucked his bow in time to the jazz music he was listening to on the radio! The string vibrated and caused the fibres below it to shake apart. In this case, it didn't touch the fibre at all, but the fibre fluffed out into the air and onto the table. The fibre was fluffed this way several times. It caused the fibres to break down into smaller pieces. Eventually the hatter used the vibrations to throw the fibre across the table into the bell shape of the hat he was going to make. She tried this herself, but her arm wasn't strong enough to support the bow. It dipped down into the fibre, getting it all stuck to the string. This was considered quite bad to the Hungarian hatter.

Others have seen pictures of the bow being used in Kashmir to fluff the fibre for the numnah felts and the bow is also used in North Africa and India to card cotton fibre. There is a story about M.Ghandi and his carding bow while in prison somewhere. this is a really beautiful power point presentation about preparing cotton fibres which you might just enjoy for the sake of it.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

guilds, fraternities and companies associated with felt making

The FRATERNITY OF ST JAMES, (or Hatmakers' Company) (later the Haberdashers' Company) was a religious fraternity with records now held in the Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section

I haven't actually seen the records but the Guildhall Library, London holds constitutional records for
  • Worshipful Company of Weavers dating back to 1155
  • Haberdashers Company dating back to 1446
  • Hatmakers/ Hatters Company from 1501 (they joined the Haberdashers in 1511)
  • Worshipful Company of Woolmen dating back to 1549
  • Worshipful Company of Feltmakers from 1667

Livery companies evolved from the medieval guilds, religious foundations or fraternities of the City of London. These were religious and social in origin, but many also acquired an economic function by forming links with and eventually monopolising a particular craft or trade in the City. They became known as livery companies because of the distinguishing special costumes, or livery, worn by some or all of their members.

The Worshipful Company of Feltmakers of London is still in existence and you can link to their history page to read their story to present day. I include quotes from the web site about their early history here

"The first known reference to Feltmakers as a distinct craft association is in London in 1180, although it is not known how long this lasted. In 1269 the Cappers became officially established. Hurers made shaggy and bristly caps at that time and in 1311 the Hatters are found carrying out an examination of hats at the Guildhall. Faced with the need to combat imports, obey the new Act of 1488 restricting sales prices and enforce the ordinances controlling the trade, the Hurers and the Cappers amalgamated with the Hatters and then merged with the powerful Haberdashers in 1502. Many of the feltmakers were already members of the Haberdashers and, as the Haberdashers controlled the retail outlets and the raw materials, this unification of the hatting trade, no doubt, seemed a sensible step. The Feltmakers were the only group to survive in name and became synonymous with hatters and is today the Livery Company of the hatters.

In the middle of the 16th century discord developed between the Feltmakers and the Haberdashers from whom they were forced to buy their raw material of wool in ‘sacks unseen’. This led to much unrest and in 1583 they petitioned Queen Elizabeth I for their own Charter... One of the historical stories of the Feltmakers refers to Queen Elizabeth I who, on her journey to Tilbury in 1588 (at the time of the destruction of the Spanish Armada), was passing down Holborn Hill when she was met by a cheering crowd of well-dressed men wearing polished beaver hats; these were the hatters from Blackfriars and Southwark, the then centre of the hatting industry in London. It is reported that Her Majesty, much struck by their lusty demonstration of loyalty as well as their appearance, enquired who “these gentlemen were?”. On being told they were journeymen hatters, she replied “then such journeymen must be gentlemen”. The description stayed and journeymen hatters were referred to as “the gentlemen” until well after the First World War."

Patron Saints

Where better to start than with our Patron Saints?
not where I really did start but where my web wanderings took me last night - did you know there are at least 6 patron Saints of "felt making, fulling, hat making, milliners"?
These include Saints Barbara; Clement; James the lesser: Michael the Archangel; Philip the Apostle and Severus of Aranches. http://saints. pst00350. htm
The bit that is interesting me at the moment is the story around St James who was beaten to death with a club. Because of this the club became his symbol and this led to him being the Patron Saint of professions which use a club ... this includes fullers. You can see a picture of him holding a spikey wooden club on http://saints. pst00350. htm
Just hoping somebody out there has an idea what and how a club such as this might have been used for!


Having spent hours and hours trying to find out about historical aspects of feltmaking, felt hats, fulling and all things related and then never being able to easily retrieve previously found information I decided it was about time I put it all together and the idea of this blog was born.

There is limited historical evidence of feltmaking and I combine this with information about traditional methods of feltmaking in countries where it still exists today and general knoweldge and experience to make educated guesses about how it would have been ...

To begin with I will be putting together stuff I have found over the last three years since setting up a feltmaking workshop as a Tudor period, social history/ historical reenactment experiment at Kentwell Hall.

It will be a place where I put stuff as I find it rather than a blog that is studiously added to each day. Where possible there will be references and or links to other web sites and I will reflect on my experience of feltmaking as 16th Century Good Wife Joan.

I am not an expert, if you have any information that you think will add to and complement or even contradict what I have here then feel free to contribute. Many thanks to those of you who have helped me get thus far.