In her Winter 2022 PieceWork article, “Felting: Wool’s Superpower,” textile conservator Isabella Rossi writes about the science, history, and uses of wool felt. Isabella specifically highlights two cultures that create and use felt textiles: shepherds in Turkey, who wear felted wool cloaks known as kepenek, and artisans in the region of Kashmir in northern India, who make felted and embroidered rugs called namda. Here, we explain a bit about how these important and useful wool textiles are made.
The wool for a kepenek is spread out on a large straw mat and teased with sticks until it spreads evenly (left). A man adds colored felt letters to the front of a coat (right). Photographs by Josephine Powell, from Josephine Powell Slides Collection, ©Suna KıraçLibrary/Koç University, Turkey
The Warm and Water-Resistant Kepenek
The kepenek is a traditional oversized shepherd’s cloak worn in Turkey and the surrounding area. Artisans use a wet-felting technique of rolling the wet wool, which is usually white, in a large straw mat until it’s felted. Colorful motifs representing the maker, guild, or owner are added to the chest area of the garment by adding colored wool onto the white during the felting process, embedding the design into the felt of the kepenek. The resulting garment is a waterproof cloak that’s large enough to be used as a tent if a shepherd finds it necessary to sleep outside with the flock.
Contemporary examples of the namda, created using the traditional process of felting. Embroidered designs have been added to the rug on the left after felting; the rug on the right has had geometric patterns embedded during the felting process. Courtesy of Commitment to Kashmir (CtoK); these and others are available for sale on their website at zainabyctok.com.
Beautiful and Sturdy Namda
Namda are the felted and embroidered rugs made in the region of Kashmir in northern India, usually from white wool. The Kashmiri process is similar to that used to make the Turkish kepenek.
A man is shown fluffing the wool with a stick as the first step of the rug-making process. Courtesy of Commitment to Kashmir (CtoK)
To begin, the loose wool fiber is placed on burlap and fluffed with a stick, then covered with water and soap.
A man is shown rolling the wool as part of the felting process. Courtesy of Commitment to Kashmir (CtoK)
The wool is then rolled and kneaded until it has felted. Traditionally, the felt is then embroidered using colorful wool yarn to create botanical, animal, and geometric designs.
Parts of this article have been excerpted from Isabella Rossi’s article, “Felting: Wool’s Superpower.” To read the full article, check out PieceWork Winter 2022.
Thank you to KOC University, a nonprofit university in Turkey, for the images of the kepenek and to Commitment to Kashmir for the images of the namda. Read how they support a young generation of craftspeople and artisans from Kashmir to become Independent and sustainable entrepreneurs at ctok.org.in.