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Wexford Felting_


Felt was developed by nomadic tribes in Mesopotamia, which later became Babylonia and is now southern Iraq. The Islamic empire of the Moors brought felting to Spain. Merino sheep were developed for their fine quality of thin wool, which makes it ideal for felting. In the 16th century, the Moors were driven out and replaced by the King of Spain, who brought felting to South America. Eventually Merino sheep became the dominant breed in Australia, from where most felting wool comes today.

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Sheep need to be shorn at least once a year. Felt is a non- woven cloth made from strands of their fleece, which have been pressed and matted together without stitching or weaving. When the strands are wet, they soften and droop. By rolling and rubbing together, and pressing down, one strand becomes entangled with another. Eventually the strands of wool are so entangled that they form a dense fabric mat. The combination of moisture, heat and weight flattens the wool into the thick soft material we still use: felt.

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For thousands of years humans have turned sheep fleece into warm clothing. Looms and spinning wheels symbolize these fiber-related skills but the art of felt making dates back much farther. Basic felt techniques have been used since before 6000 B.C. Some of the oldest pieces of felt have been found in tombs and burial grounds in Siberia. The cold climatic conditions of these areas helped preserve the fibers through time.

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