WOVEN FELTS - Siirt and Lizhnyk blankets with Prehistoric Origins "The art of making felt by rolling, beating, and pressing animal hair or flocks of wool into a compact mass of even consistency is assuredly older than the art of spinning and weaving. In point of time, felted stuffs followed immediately, or originated contemporaneously with, the custom of using animal skins or furs as garments." Berthold Laufer 1930 1
In her book about "Prehistoric Textiles" Barber examines early archaeological evidence which identifies two felt types. "Felts are divided into two types: fiber felts, which are made directly from loose fibers; and woven felts, in which the fibers are spun and woven first and the resulting cloth is then subjected to a felting process." 2 We are most familiar with fiber felts yet two probable woven felt types with ancient origins have survived, still being created in south eastern Turkey and the Carpathian mountains of the Ukraine. Barber also identified the continuation of a woven felt tradition in Central Europe and the Balkans, "felted woven wools are still being worn by peasants throughout Central Europe and the Balkans." 3 Siirt goat hair blankets were produced by nomads in western Iran and eastern Turkey, also more recently by Kurdish men in Siirt. Lizhnyk blankets with ancient origins probably amongst nomads roaming the Eurasian steppes are now woven by Hutsul's in villages dotted around the Carpathian mountains. Both blanket types mimicking the fur, hair or wool of animals, woven as flatweaves with teased and raised long pile. Wertime and Swan observed that Siirt blankets "exhibit perhaps the oldest 'pile' structure we know". 4,5 The history of woven felts provides a starting point for further investigation.
"One side of a cloth should be combed, but not shorn." A second millennium BC Assyrian instruction.6
When comparing ancient knotting techniques with Finnish and Swedish long piled Ryijy rugs U. T. Sirelius examined an Estonian fulled cloth. "Certain woollen textiles in which it has been produced by fulling or by carding. Cloth treated in the last-named manner, with a pile raised on one side of the weft only, has been secured in an excavation in Estonia."7
The felting of woven textiles existed in Bronze age Europe, especially notable were attempts by Bronze Age Danish tailors to deliberately conceal their poor workmanship hiding their mistakes by the use of fulling. Barber cites the need for felted finishes on woven cloth of Early Bronze Age burial-mound builders as being a response to "waterproof garments against inclement weather (the farther north, the more necessary)." Fulled carry bags, twills and plain weave textiles were also found in the Iron Age Hallstatt salt mines.8,9 In the comprehensive book titled "Felt" Mullins considered felts found in northern Germany containing pieces of spun threads, the resulting textile being "napped" creating an animal like fur with fibers of varying length and a shaggy appearance. In Siirt and Likhnyk blankets the skill of the weaver is critical in creating weave balance ensuring a superior result, adding pieces of spun thread in during a felting process would result in a similar poorly conceived textile to that of the Bronze Age Danish tailors. Mullins also describes "A similar technique can be used in weaving", citing examples from the eleventh and twelfth centuries from Iceland, Sweden, Wolin and a fourteenth century woven felt cap from Friesland recovered by Karl Schlabow. Classifying fibre felts as being "true felt" Mullins refers to woven felts as "fulled woven fabric".10
The Romans11 and Greeks were also familiar with fulling. "Once it was woven, the Greek housewife often sent her woolen [sic] cloth to a fuller for a nice finish."12
Fulling, Raising the Nap or Pile. The Fullers Teasel Siirt blankets from south eastern Turkey have pile raised on one side and Lizhnyk blankets from the Carpathian mountains of the Ukraine have pile raised on both sides, yet both are plain weaves, Siirt blankets are weft faced, Lizhnyk blankets are balanced plain weaves suiting the purpose of fulling both sides. Fulling on both blanket types is achieved by mechanical means, Siirt blankets by either a steel comb or fuller's teasel 13 and Lizhnyk blankets by the action of water in a "Valylo" sunken into a river bed then subsequently the nap is teased further to create a matted surface.
Fulling is a process where woven textiles are subjected to a mechanical process with the intention of raising the nap. Various methods of fulling have been identified including the use of fuller's teasels and metal combs. In Roman history the use of hedgehog skins were noted,14 in rural Scotland woven cloth was trampled on corrugated boards to raise a nap,15 although contentious possibly Iron Age bone 'weaving combs' were used on textiles,16 finally the imaginative pioneering use of the Valylo in the Ukraine. Fulling can be followed up with shearing of the nap or 'pile' to create a uniform surface alternatively the textile can simply be left with long pile as a result of fulling.17
An English plowman in 1377 remarked "Cloth that cometh from the weaving is nought comely to wear till it is fulled ... and with teasels scratched"18
Siirt blankets and the Teasel
The Fullers teasel (Dipsacus sativus) is native to Europe and Western Asia and widely known as being an ideal tool for raising the nap on textiles. The curved bracts are naturally flexible yet strong enough to pull out the fibers of the textile whilst maintaining a natural soft feel.19 Siirt blankets were not always made in the town of Siirt, other places include northern Iraq, western Iran and Kuzestan south west Iran.20,21,22 The fullers teasel is endemic to Turkey, Iraq and Iran, it's possible that this natural tool for fulling was known to the nomadic inhabitants of these lands and used in the raising of the nap on Kurdish goat hair blankets.
Lizhnyk Blankets and the Valylo In the Carpathian mountains of the Ukraine
The use of the Valylo is a curious method by which Lizhnyk's are pummeled by the power of water in a stream for some time until the woven object is retrieved, teaseled to raise the nap then dried in the sun, both sides being left in a matted state creating an exceptionally warm blanket. This method is the most ingenious form of fulling known, totally eliminating any back breaking man power and at once efficiently creating a matted woollen textile on both sides. "The earliest documented information about use of (the) “valylo” is dated 1515, however this method in well known from ancient Slavs."23 Occupation of the region of the Ukraine began as early as the Stone Age including Late Palaeolithic sites in Kostenki village and the oldest known dwelling in Molodova on the banks of the river Dniester.24 Bronze Age weaving combs and spools for thread winding have been excavated from the Liman settlement in the Ukraine.25 Scythian Kurgans are numerous on the Ukrainian and south Russian steppes. Iron Age Scythian horsemen of the Altai used felt extensively.26,27 Felt could have been introduced to the region as early as the Scythian occupation of the south Russian steppes. Barber mentioned the early Bronze Age mound builders requirement for "waterproof garments". If the Valylo was known as early as the sixteenth century it's inception may well be much earlier making it ancient. Ukrainian woven felt blankets and related woven felt clothing probably being the remnants of earlier traditions resulting from the intermingling of concepts from different cultures and inhabitants of the region over a long period.
Nomads and Felts
A popularly held view is that long before weaving began felted products may have been made from the wool shed by mammoths and other wild animals, no substantive evidence supports this notion, however the relevance of scarcity of supply can be illustrated by the precious blankets woven by the Coast Salish blanket weavers. Hair collected from mountain goats shedding their winter coats or hair from those culled when hunting was interwoven with "wool" from specially bred and selected "wool dogs". Skinned duck and geese had their feathers stripped, the soft warm down left intact, their hides then cut into very thin strips then woven into blankets together with mountain goat hair and wool dog wool, producing an exceedingly warm blanket created with very few resources.28,29,30,31 In 1930 Berthold Laufer proposed that felt can be made from the hair of wild animals yet supply would not be sufficient for production on large enough scale to become viable; enter the first Central Asian nomads. "It is therefore clear that solely peoples who possess a large stock of herds of wool-bearing sheep and camels could call into life a flourishing felt industry".32 The importance of felt to nomads across the Eurasian Steppes cannot be underestimated, Laufer made the observation that the Greeks, Chinese and Romans would have carried on without felt, yet nomads would cease to exist in it's absence. "The use of felt, therefore, has reached its maximum intensity and its climax among the nomadic tribes of Asia, and this is the principal reason why we are compelled to attribute the invention of felt, both the initiative and the perfection of the process, to the Asiatic nomads."33 There was a transference of felting techniques, both fiber felting and the fulling of woven items, from Eurasian Steppe nomads to cultures with whom they came in contact. Barber observed "Where these felt-users come to mingle with people whom we know to have been weaving (but not felting), we seem to see two typical reflexes: a transfer of the weatherproofing qualities of felt to the woven woolen fabrics, in the form of heavy fulling, where the weather is raw enough to make that useful; and the retention of the process of fiber felting for articles where a woven base is a nusiance-especially in the making of hats, caps, and liners."34 Today there appears to be no tangible remnants of woven felt in Central Asia yet fiber felts are still created there. Siirt and Likhnyk blankets are woven inside the territories of early steppe nomads, especially the areas once occupied by felt producing mound builders.
Conclusions Lizhnyk blankets are still plunged into a valylo creating a thick shaggy woollen textile, Siirt blankets were woven until recently by nomads. Resembling primeval woolly beast's these Hutsul and Kurdish made weavings have more in common with the look of animal hides used by man for a vast period prior to their inception, woven felt provides an accurate classification for these textiles comparative to the archaeological and written record. Hutsul and Kurdish made woven felts remain in relative obscurity with only modern versions of Siirt angora goat hair blankets gaining some popularity late in the twentieth century due to commercialisation by Turkish marketers, Likzhnyk's still known only in the Ukraine. There is a collectors market for rare late nineteenth century and early twentieth century Kurdish goat hair blankets from eastern Turkey and western Iran commanding relatively high prices, influenced by their primitive origins, scarcity, and sparse arcane design.
Two methods of felting exist in the archaeological record as early as the Bronze Age, fiber felts and woven felts. Woven felts were woven and fulled by different Eurasian cultures. The fullers teasel is endemic to the areas where Siirt blankets have been produced in recent centuries and provides a natural tool for raising a nap on woven textiles. In the Ukraine the valylo is an ingenious tool for felting woven items through the action of water. The requirement for soft warm and waterproof textiles made woven felts ideal for creating clothing and blankets. Central Asian nomadic culture advanced through the use of felt. Large herds of fiber producing animals would have been sufficient to provide the ideal situation for the invention of felt, subsequently transferring felt making techniques to other cultures. Woven felt items necessary for survival in harsh and demanding climates were complimented by the flexibility and concurrent use of fiber felts. Siirt and Lizhnyk blankets are possibly the only surviving remnants of primitive nomadic weaver's widespread use of woven felts throughout Eurasia, next in line only to the primitive use of animal skins.
Kurdish woven felts in and around eastern Turkey have not been studied and little is known of their history prior to the latter part of the nineteenth century. Hutsul Lizhnyk woven felts have more certain origins in the Carpathians of the Ukraine their history being tied to the valylo, further research into the origins of the valylo will yield more details about the origins of Lizhnyk's and early woven felts.
1. Laufer, B The Early History of Felt American Anthropologist New Series Vol. 32 January-March, 1930 No. 1 p.1
2. Barber, E.J.W Prehistoric Textiles Princeton University Press New Jersey 1991 p.216 The distinction outlined by Barber between fiber felt and woven felt advances the possibility of classification of Lizhnyk and Siirt woven textiles.
4. Howe, R. John "Siirt" Wertime and Swan on Long-pile Rugs Virtual Versions of Textile Museum "Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning" Programs, 2011. Web. 17 Oct. 2011. http://rjohnhowe.wordpress.com/2008/10/ John Wertime and Wendel Swan "Wertime and Swan, who are very interested in the earliest weavings, do not write them off since, although frequently very recent, they exhibit perhaps the oldest “pile” structure we know."
5 Wertime. J Back to Basics: Primitive Pile Rugs of West and Central Asia Hali 100, 1998. p.89
6.Ryder M.L Fascinating Fullonum The Journal of the association for Environmental Archaeology 11 (1) (1994 for 1993), "The other reference of Barber (1991, 287) was an Assyrian instruction of the second millennium BC stating that one side of a cloth should be combed, but not shorn. " [Barber 1991, 287 cited in Ryder 1994, 23-31.]
7. Sirelius. U.T. The Ryijy-Rugs of Finland Otavia Publishing Company Helsinki 1926 p.250. Finnish National Museum, Prehist. Dept. No mention is made of when the excavation was undertaken nor any other relevant information.
8. Barber E.J.W op. cit., p.216. 9
. Bichler, P. Hallstatt textiles: technical analysis, scientific investigation and experiment on Iron Age textiles Volume 1351 of British Archaeological Reports International Series Archeopress, Original from the University of Michigan. 2005 pp.20-31
10. Mullins, W. Felt Textiles That Changed the World Berg Publishers New York 2009 p.36
11. Ryder. L op. cit., p.30.
12. Barber E.J.W op. cit., p.274.
13. Wertime . J op. cit., p.89 "Many are treated on one face using a fuller's teasel. This dried prickly flower head covered with stiff hooked bracts is used on the goat hair wefts to raise a fur-like nap, normally undyed."
14. Topham P. N. The Fullers Teasel Shephalbury School, Stevenage Proc. bot. Soc. Br. Isl. 1968. Vol. 7, (3). pp379-380
15. Barber E.J.W op. cit., p.216.
16. Ryder. L op. cit., p.30
17. Topham P. N. op. cit.,p.377.
18. Ryder. L In Piers the plowman, Langland (1377) quoted by Davies-Shiel (1975) "Cloth that cometh from the weaving is nought comely to wear till it is fulled ... and with teasels scratched" (spelling modernised). p.28
19. Topham P. N. op. cit., p.377.
20. Tanavoli, P. Persian Flatweaves Antique Collector's Club Limited. pp 164-169 2002
21. Ziemba, W.T. Akatay, A. & Schwartz, S.L. Turkish Flatweaves, An Introduction to the Weaving and Culture of Anatolia. Vancouver B.C., 1979 p.116
22. Iten-Maritz, J. Turkish Carpets Office du Livre SA English Edition. (Translated from the German, Der AnatolischeTeppiche by Elizabeth and Richard Bartlett) German 1977 pp 336.
23. "Valylo - Валило" Web. 16 Oct 2011 http://ikc.if.ua/fotodoc/valulo.html With gratitude to Lilya from Etnostyle for first presenting the concept of the Lizhnyk and Valylo and their idiosyncrasies. http://etnostyle.org/
24. "Late Palaeolithic Kostenki" Web. 20 Oct 2011 http://www.donsmaps.com/lioncamp.html
25. Shishlina, Natalia. I.Part III Interpretations of Eurasian Archaeology. The Bronze Age Bronze Age Textiles of the Caspian Sea Maritime Steppes Archaeological Department, Moscow, State Historical Museum www.csen.org/
26. "Scythians" Wikipedia Web. 18 Oct 2011 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scythians
27. Rudenko, Sergei I. Frozen tombs of Siberia: The Payzryk Burials of Iron Age Horsemen Berkley and Los Angeles University Press, 1970.
28. "Salish Blankets." Coastal Salish Weaving Web. 18 Oct 2011 http://coastsalishweaving.com/2007/01/seattle-times-blanket-brings-sacred-change/
29. "Salish Blankets" Jamestown Tribe Web. 18 Oct 2011 http://www.jamestowntribe.org/history/hist_weaving.htm
30. "Salish Blankets." Joe Jack Web. 18 Oct 2011 http://www.joejack.com/coastsalishhistory.html
31. "Salish Blankets." Wikipedia Web. 18 Oct 2011 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salish_weaving
32. Laufer, B. op. cit.,pp.1-2. - Barber noted this in Prehistoric Textiles 33. ibid., p.3. 34. Barber E.J.W op. cit., p.221.