She seeketh wool and flax and worketh willingly with her hands. -Proverbs 31:13

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Matter of Semantics

Recently, I manned a table for my husband at an event. Trying to pass the time I was beading embellishment on a felted hat. A lady stopped by because the hat caught her eye. She is a spinner, weaver, knitter and in her words, a felter. She commented on the light weight of the hat I was working on and said hers were never so soft or so light because after knitting them and putting them in the washer they grew much heavier. I commented that she wasn't actually felting, she was fulling her knitted items. She said, "Oh, that's just semantics."

But is it really? Felt, by definition, is a non-woven textile. If one twists fiber into yarn and knits it, it is a woven textile. Fulling it produces changes, but it certainly does not produce felt. I didn't argue with her, but mis-labeling a product is deceptive. Does anyone else care about the definitions that pertain to their craft?


  1. Hi
    interesting. looked up 'Felt' in the dictionary, it says:
    a kind of cloth made by rolling and pressing wool or another suitable textile accompanied by the application of moisture or heat, which causes the constituent fibers to mat together to create a smooth surface.

    ...does not actually mention it not being woven, it is just a cloth made out of wool. now while I personally agree with you that I would not call felting a knitted item 'making felt', the woman is correct that it is semantics, the finished product is still felt, but to be pedantic, i would say that a knitted hat was 'felted' where one made from scratch with fibre was a 'felt hat' (one defined by the process done to it, the other defined by the material it had become).
    best wishes

  2. Hi Martine,
    Thanks for the input! I like your distinction between a felt hat and a felted hat because it distinguishes between the two processes used to produce the items.

    I just looked in a couple of books on the shelf to see what scholarly people define as felt just for an unscientific survey. Stephanie Bunn wrote in Nomadic Felts published by the British Museum a description:

    "Felt is a warm, dense fabric made from wool. It is unique in that it is created through a property of wool fibres, which catch and lock on to each other when subject to warm water friction, causing them to hold together and form a fabric. Thus feltmaking involves no spinning or twining, no interweaving of hand-made threads, no knotting or looping."

    Her research took her outside the English speaking countries, so her definition came from looking at the practices people use.

    I'm wondering why no one calls boiled wool felt, yet people lump fulled knitted hats and needle felted items under the one word? And I also wonder if other languages have more words for the different processes?

  3. oh gosh, don't get me started on this one! it most certainly is not a matter of semantics :)

  4. Elizabeth--I prefer the word 'fulled', as you do, for the (knit + wash in washing machine) process.
    ...and what does 'just semantics' mean, anyway?!?!?!
    For those of us who love words, "semantics is EVERYTHING"!!!!! Giggle.
    Happy Holidays to you and yours, and may you have a wonderful 2012!!!

  5. Wow, it must only be semantics to the knitters who full their work! It certainly isn't to the rest of us!

    Heather, have a wonderful Christmas and happy felting in the new year!

  6. I'm with the felters on this. A knitted and machine washed hat is a felt hat but it certainly isn't felted. Nothing wrong with semantics, the world revolves on these little differences.

  7. From what I am told in northern Europe they have a different word for different types of felt, felted fabric and fulled cloth. in weaving fulling is getting the fibers to expand. and fluff up to fill in all the holes.

    1. Hi Shepherdess,
      Do you mean in the Scandinavian countries? Or just north of the Alps? The Austrians have a long tradition of using boiled wool, so I'd guess in German there are words differentiating felt from boiled knitted wool.

      In weaving how do you full something? With hot water once the weaving is finished?