ANATOLIAN FELTS

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FELT
The history of felt is far older than weaving, going back to the Uighur period in Central Asia and to the Hittites in Anatolia. Relief carvings found at the Hittite cities of Bogazköy and Yazilikaya depict people wearing felt caps and clothes, and fragments of felt dating from the 4th or 5th century BC was discovered at Pazyryk in Central Asia, showing that the ancient Turks had also known how to make felt. On the evidence of findings in tombs archaeologists know that felt played an important part in the lives of the Scythians, Sarmatians and Malkars of Karaçay.
The Türkmens traditionally lived in tents made of white and black felt symbolizing wealth and poverty, and the Kazakhs lived in felt tents known as kiyiz üy. Felt is variously known throughout the region as kidhiz, kidiz, kiz, kiiz and kiyiz. Felt making was widespread among the Seljuk and Ottoman Turks, and these craftsmen played an important role in the mystic trade organizations known as ahi. The uncle of the famous 13th century mystic Haci Bektas Veli was Keçeci Baba (Father of the Felt Makers), who lived in the village of Keçeci in the district of Erbaa in Tokat. Although felt is mainly made by machine today, some continues to be made by hand in parts of Turkey. .
The last remaining felt makers are to be found in such Turkish provinces as Afyon, Sanliurfa, Konya, Balikesir, Izmir, Kars and Erzurum. One of their most interesting products is the stiff felt cloak known as kepenek worn by shepherds. These distinctive garments protect the wearer from heat in summer and from cold and wet in winter. Indoors, plain felt blankets made of white wool are spread over cushions for sitting on in winter, and felt mats are laid over both seats and beds. Colourfully embroidered felt saddle cloths are spread beneath horses saddles to soak up the sweat. Felt was once an indispensable part of daily life, also used to make saddle bags, shoes, headgear, mats, prayer rugs, and many other garments and household objects in various colors. In the eastern province of Agri you can still see men wearing the traditional kullik, a conical brown or white felt cap made from lamb’s wool. .
In the neighboring province of Erzurum similar red caps are worn in the villages, and in the northwestern province of Kirklareli you will come across men wearing maroon felt fezzes. In Hakkâri in southeast Turkey people wear slippers known as re�?ik, harik or herik, sewn from layers of felt and wool. In the villages of Trabzon elderly women wear fez-like caps made of dark red felt. Perhaps the most famous felt garments of all are the tall conical caps called sikke worn by the Mevlevi dervishes, which are made in the city of Konya by Mehmet Girgiç, and sold not only in Turkey, but all over the world. .
Reference: Renan Yildirim/SKYLIFE.

How Felt Is Made and..
There were several ways to make patterned felts.

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.”

As it happens I also have this volume and have scanned some of the photos that Michael mentions and will present them below.
It is interesting to conjecture when the conditions needed for the production of felt first existed. One needs a lot of wool, so the mere presence of sheep would not be sufficient, the first felts likely had to await the development of a more substantial and less “kempy” coat. Barber says that the first well-documented item of felt is from the early Bronze age. She says lots of felts begin to appear about 700 B.C. Here is a felt found at Pazyryk.

(Notice the caption indicates that this is of the “applique” variety mentioned in Michael Wendorf’s post.)

Second, there are instances in nature that could suggest felt to humans. A number of animals cough up hair balls, periodically, which would give evidence of the matting capabilities of wool.

Further, any attempt to wash sheep’s wool (to clean it for example) is likely to result in some “felting” and the conditions under which felting would occur would be readily discovered. One of the first things books on washing sheep’s wool caution against is pouring water on wool when you wash it. To avoid felting one puts the wool in a colander-type pan and immerses it in water. So the most instinctive washing move would produce felt in wool.

Barber also indicates that felts can be “…divided into two types: fiber felts, which are made directly from loose fibers, and woven felts, in which the fibers are spun and woven first and the resulting cloth is then subjected to a felting process.” The “boiled wool” winter caps and gloves that one encounters in mail order catalogs are of this latter type.

I was puzzled initially by Ms. Raissnia’s indication in the initial salon essay that the wool used in felting is “spun.” I think she refers to the wool used to make the designs only. It seems to me that the wool used to make the subsequent layers of felt which is literally “sprinkled” on top of the design lawyer is not spun.

It is also interesting to see that various methods are used to provide the “rolling, rerolling, kneading, beating,” and other ways of subjecting the wools to “friction and pressure” for a number of hours.

Barber says in her “The Mummies of Urumchi” book that “To make a felt as a nomad does, you scatter wool cleaned and fluffed-up all over a mat in an even layer, sprinkle the wool with whey or hot water, roll up the mat with the damp wool in it, an tie the bundle to the back of your horse so as to mash and knead as you ride all day. At night you unroll it, sprinkle it down again, reroll it the other way, tie it to the horse for another day’s punishment. Soon the wool has matted as thoroughly as you please. You can decorate it by placing tufts of colored wool (or bits of colored felt) in a pattern on top of the layer, then mash it some more. The whey and the hot water cause the scales on the surface of the wool fibers to stick up rather than lie down, promoting the tangling that mats the fibers. As such they have the opposite effect from “conditioners” that many women today put on their hair to decrease tangles. Sheep’s wool is virtually the only natural fabric that will tangle so inextricably.”

Notice in this description, the design is applied last, rather than first as Ms. Raissnia’s Persian felter does it.

In addition to tying an incipient felt behind you on a horse and riding for two days to give it the pummeling that produces more finished felt, there are several other methods used.

The one with which I was most familiar prior to seeing the video that Ms. Raissnia and her husband have produced, is that used frequently among Turkmen. Here from the “Nomads of Eurasia” volume are two photos of Turkmen women making felt.

The first shows them arranging the patterning layer on a mat (design first, and on bottom, like the Persian felter).

The photo below is of a number of Turkmen women on knees and forearms, kneading and rolling and rerolling a larger felt.


This method is the one that dominated my “picture” of felting before seeing the Persian felter at work in the video tape. A relatively large number of women working side by side in this posture.

Here is a method that appears to require only two and a rope arrangement.

Apparently this man and woman can roll this piece of felt-in-the-making back and forth between them by pulling on the ropes.

Here, below, is an image of four Kirghiz women making a felt piece. This appears to be of the applique variety.


I have also taken one image of the old felter at work from Ms. Raissnia’s initial salon essay for comparison and comment. I have lightened this image so that you can see the detail in it.
Turkish felt maker
In Hali 120 beginning at page 135 there is an article on a modern felt maker in Anatolia – Mehmet Girgic in Konya. Much like Iran, felt making in Turkey appears to be a dying art – no pun intended. According to this article felt making was controlled by guilds as early as the 16th century with each town having its guild. This guild system has declined. Only family workshops still exist – I guess you have to go to one of these if you wish a fashionable Anatolian shepard’s coat – as I do.

In any event there are several photos of felts being made and a discussion of some of the modern designs and the dye process used by this family workshop in Konya. They appear to use the rolled pattern technique.


I’m impressed with the crispness and detail of these designs.


Mehmet Girgic and his family seem to have partly mechanized felting processes. The article indicates that they sometime employ a “kicking machine” to do the pounding and turn, but also so this manually themselves. When they do the kicking and rolling manually they chant as we have seen that other felters do. The manual process produces the needed result more quickly but, of course, with more effort. They also report using a “centrifugal spinner” to remove water before drying.

I have seen photos of the felt shepherds’ coats that Michael mentions but had not previously seen one with designs such as this one:


Felt Coat in Use

a picture of a felt coat a Turkish shepherd who is watching his sheep

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