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Felt, one of the main materials used in hat making, has a very interesting origin.

Felt Hat

Modern Wool Felt Fedora Hat fashionable from the late 1800's to present day.

Almost every style of hat can be made made of felt. Here are some fascinating facts that help to explain the felt component that is a vital part of the curious art of hat making.
The Origin of Felt

Felt is a fabric that originated from the ancient Neolithic nomadic tribes of Mongolian, Turkish, Iranian, etc., nationalities. They made felt from their flocks of wool bearing animals. Apart from Europe and Asia, felt was unknown although many countries, around the world, had herds of wool-bearing animals. The Nomads were the only people whose livelihood depended solely on felt. Felt was used for almost everything they needed: practically everything they wore, it made warm blankets, it was waterproof, it kept out the wind and, for a nomadic lifestyle, a tansportable tent was the perfect home.

No one knows exactly how Neolithic man originally discovered felt. It is likely that, to keep their feet warm in winter, they stuffed wool from their flocks in an animal skin around their feet and tied it on. The constant pressure from the soles of their feet matted the wool into the fabric now known as felt.

Sheep, their wool is used to make felt hats

Felt was made by hand. Pressure was applied to the wool obtained from flocks of goats, sheep or camels. It was a long and arduous procedure. They used an arm to roll and forcibly press down or they would stomp on the wool as you would with grapes to make wine. Soon someone thought to add a little more fat and water to the wool which makes a tighter, more water-resistant felt.

Pliny the Elder, born in 23 AD, was a brilliant, incredibly multi-talented Roman. He was the author of “Historia Naturalis” (“Natural History”) a massive encyclopedia of 160 tomes. This encyclopedia contained, literally, everything known at that time and were from the most knowledgeable sources Pliny could find. This prodigious work strongly influenced the way future encyclopedias would be be written to this day.

In his encyclopedia, Pliny the Elder wrote that felt originated from nomads in Asia and described in detail how felt was made. He died in a boat in 79 AD on the shores of Pompeii. Pliny had arrived to save the lives of friends fleeing the fiery lava gushing from Mount Vesuvius.

Greece was the closest European country to these nomadic tribes and Greek traders brought home the art of felting which then traveled to the Romans.

Felt continued to be made by hand during the Middle Ages where one of its uses was to pad inside the top of a helmet to protect the head.

In the United States a machine that could make felt was invented in the year 1840.

England also started to use these same machines within the next 20 years. This technology of automated felt making enabled makers of hats to quickly supply a greatly expanded interest in the wearing of hats.

Modern Felt hat made from Rabbit fur