Versatile, comfortable and durable, felt could become the new fabric of our lives. This year, felt was the inspiration for a noteworthy exhibit at the Smithsonian's Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum. Artists are turning to this material with a passion. Its ability to accept dye and render intense color is almost sacred. Toss in its eco-friendly and fire- resistant qualities and you have a winning combination.
I have been intrigued by the felting process since I accidentally shrunk my pink Bobbie Brooks sweater in high school. The change was annoying but attractive. It is this transformation process that makes felt so engaging — colors become more intense and the increase in weight feels luscious. According to the Benjamin Moore Color Pulse 2010 Trend Forecast, the coming year will bring an increased desire for “honest materials, human handwork and eco-inspired themes.” The nature of felt satisfies this longing for authenticity.
Felt is believed to be the first fabric ever made, dating back to 6,500 B.C. in Turkey. The process for making felt is organic, sustainable and renewable, all highly desirable traits in today's market. Sheep's wool is compacted by treating it with moisture and then adding heat and friction until felt is formed. This can be done by hand or through a machine process. It is naturally moisture resistant, self-extinguishing and has insulation properties for sound and temperature.
Today, artists are turning to felt because of its supple and soft quality, which encourages its use in innovative shapes. It can be cut without fraying and pieced together to create dimensional and sculptured furnishings. There is an unmistakable connection to the artist when the felting has been done by hand; it practically vibrates with the energy of its creation.
As a designer, I am impressed by the versatility of this fabric, which is functional and fashionable. Used as upholstery, felt is uncomplicated and appealing. It will be just as successful on modern and classic pieces. When used for accessories, the dimensional qualities of felt encourage touching and often bring a sense of whimsy to the room.
Felt is available at value and luxury price points, making this a trend with mass appeal. The winning qualities of this material will draw cautious shoppers who are looking for a good value, but are long overdue for a little indulgence in style.