Scythian-inspired Felt Hat

February 13, 2014

Scythian Archer from a greek vase.

In September 2013, I made a felt hat for a friend.  The hat is based on styles worn by turkic tribes in near Asia for several thousand years, with a crown similar to “Phrygian caps” with the back and sides worn long.

I’ve collected a few images on this pinterest board.

Equipment and supplies used for felting:

  • Warm water and some kind of container to diffuse and pour the water onto the felt.  (a plastic cup with holes poked in the lid works well for this)
  • Dr. Bronners liquid soap
  • A plastic table (so I can be off the ground and save my back a bit)
  • An oil drip pan (found at auto supply stores and used to contain some of the water)
  • An old towel (laid out in the oil drip pan, again to hold onto water)
  • A reed screen/window shade (the kind you can buy at most hardware stores and that is hung on the outside of your house)
  • 100% sheeps wool fleece roving
  • Glass wash board.  (You can order this on the internet from “general store” type places).

Felting

I started with wool fleece, laid out in a rectangle about two feet by three and half feet long on a reed screen.  I used four layers of wool, each layer set at a ninety degrees from the layer below.  Each row of fleece tufts over laps the other and in this way you prevent gaps in the finished product.

The wool roving applied in layers

The wool roving applied in layers

It can be troublesome controlling the wool for a large piece of felt in the beginning, especially when working out-of-doors.  The slightest breeze will cause problems for you until the entire piece has been wetted.  I use warm water and Dr. Bronners liquid soap to lubricate the fibers and allow them to felt together.   In this picture, the side on the right has been soft-felted whereas the side on the left is only wet.  Its best to work methodically on the piece to ensure that the felt reaches the same stage at roughly the same time.

Felt has been soft-felted on the right. It has only been wetted on the left.

I like working on a reed screen because of the additional friction it gives to the felting process.   Things come together much more quickly then if you’re just using your hands.   My screen is the type you can buy at most hardware stores in the summer.  It even still has the hanging hardware attached because I never use the entire screen. Also, lazy.

Once the piece is thoroughly wetted and softly felted by hand, I can roll it up in the reed screen like a tube and, applying pressure with my forearms or hands, rotate the bundle back and forth on my table.  In this way, the fleece has friction applied to both front and back at the same time speeding up the felting process.  I’m sorry I didn’t get pictures of this step.  Too busy working and being wet to think about it.

I usually do that for 10 minutes, then either spin the piece 90 degrees or turn it over, and repeat.  And repeat.  And repeat.  I will also check for thin spots, adding tufts of fleece while it is still soft felted and the wool can bind to itself.

When the piece is fully felted, into the kitchen I go.   With my glass wash board in the sink, I alternate running hot and cold water on it, “shocking” the wool to make it harden and shrink while scrubbing it on the washing board.  I am not nice to the wool here.  I’m definitely manhandling it.  The goal is to get a hard felted piece with a “pebbly” appearance and rinse out all the soap.

The felt has been completed and is blocked to dry.

After blocking the felt, I let it dry over night.  The next day, I dropped it in a bucket of alum mordant, letting it soak overnight, in preparation for the madder dyeing to come.

Adding the felt to the madder dye pot.

Equipment and supplies used for madder dyeing

  • 5 gallon plastic bucket dedicated to mordanting or scouring
  • 20 gallon enameled canning pot only used for natural dyeing.
  • Cooking thermometer
  • Alum
  • Madder
  • Baking soda

Dyeing

I am by no means an expert at dyeing with madder.  I’ve really only done it a few times.  There are much better places to get complete instructins on natural dyeing than this article.  I enjoy madder dyeing.  It has a lovely earthy smell that my family just hates but I love.

I heated water on the stove in the enamel pot, adding the ground madder root and some baking soda to alter the PH.  I’m told this gives you a better red with madder as long as you don’t get your water too hot.  Too hot water turns madder brown.  Guess who got their water too hot?  Luckily, I like madder browns just as much as madder reds, especially for this particular project.

Checking the color by pulling the felt up and squeezing out some of the liquid.

The dye pot simmered on the stove for a couple of hours before letting it cool and placingment outside, lid on, to soak overnight.  You know, I might have left the felt in the dye solution for at least 2 days, simmering it in between.   The color turned out lovely and saturated.  I rinsed the felt and let it air dry.

The madder dyed felt sheet with an arm for scale. Notice the lovely pebbly texture.

Back view of the felt hat showing the handstitching and the gore placement.

Side view of the hat showing the pointy bit on the crown and the shoulder flaps.

Cutting out and putting the hat together

I was lucky enough to have been loaned a hat similar to the one I was creating which I used to make the pattern.  After giving some thought to how I wanted to use the naturally felted edges at the brim of the piece, I used regular sewing shears to cut out the hat pattern pieces.  Originally, the hat was two pieces, however,  I found it did not fit well on the shoulders so added a gore at the back of the neck to add more room.

Handsewing the hat together was quick.  I used a matching wool yarn and an insertion stitch commonly called the “baseball” stitch.   On the cut edges of the flaps in front, I used a blanket stitch just to give the cut edges a finished appearance.  Gold square nailheads spaced around the brim and front flaps  give the hat a bit of bling-bling.  Nomads really love their bling.

I love the slightly uneven edges of the felt on the brim and along the bottom of the piece.

This was a really fun project to complete.  It reminded me how much I love the process of felting and natural dyeing.  I believe my friend was quite pleased with it as well.

Front view of the completed Scythian-inspired felt hat

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2 Responses to Scythian-inspired Felt Hat

  1. yann
    December 7, 2014 at 9:53 am

    Nice work! can you show the pattern you used? I’d like to do Persian reenactment, so I am searchin information about how to make those eastern caps…

  2. April 10, 2015 at 8:45 am

    About how much wool did you use, and how thick should the finished felt be?

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