What Is a Felt Like Fabric?

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Felts are used for gaming tables, hats and many different arts and crafts.
Felts are used for gaming tables, hats and many different arts and crafts. (Image: blackjack 1 image by dbvirago from Fotolia.com)

Felt is a non-woven fabric based on fibers that interlock when pressed and rubbed together. True felt has been made for millenia in different cultures and is a strong fabric made from animal fur or hair and does not require a loom to be made. Felt-like fabrics combine wool and artificial fibers such as nylon or polyester. A combination of moisture, friction, heat and pressure produces felt from these specially prepared fibers.

Natural Fiber Felt

Typical fabrics are made on a loom and have fibers twisted into yarns that are interlocked by weaving them together. Felt was originally made with wool fibers and is not a woven fabric. Felt is made by matting and compressing fibers. Animal fur or wool is removed from hides, cleaned and then brushed or carded. The fibers are suspended in a solution of soapy water and pressed between two plates. The top plate is moved back and forth to cause microscopic scales on the fibers to interlock. The direction of movement of the top plate is shifted to interlock fibers in another direction. The process is continued until the felt is formed. Felt-like fabrics are made in a similar fashion, using combinations of wool and artificial fibers to produce fabric.

Properties

Felt is a generally dense fabric that is useful for a variety of needs. It can be cut in any shape without unraveling and is a common material as a padding or lining, cushion, gasket or sealant. Decorative felt is used in arts and crafts to cover gaming tables, including pool tables, and has many other uses. Felt-like fabrics have the same qualities but use artificial fibers to produce the fabric.

Synthetic Felts

Modern felts are made with synthetic fibers, usually combined with natural wool. Nylon and polyester are typically included in synthetic felts, but the microscopic scales on natural fibers such as wool are necessary to produce a felt. Natural wool is included as a component with smooth artificial fibers to produce a felt-like fabric.

Manufacturing Felt

Different fibers are combined and carded to make the fibers parallel to one another to produce a web. Several webs are combined to make a batt. Batts are combined under heat, moisture and pressure, then shrunken to produce a dense felt fabric. Felt can be dyed and chemicals used in processing the felt have to be neutralized before the felt is used. Felt-like fabrics are made with artificial fibers that have similar properties as natural fibers and can be pressed and shrunken into a fabric.

Significance

Felt is probably the most ancient man-made fabric. Felts made from beaver fur were used for hats in the 1700s and 1800s and were a major component of trade in North America at the time. Felt's uses today are too numerous to count as it finds uses for everything from children's crafts to military applications in helmets, weapons and even rockets.

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