From hares and bees to sheep and poppies, the felting workshop was a great success on Saturday. Nine lovely ladies spent the afternoon getting to grips with the traditional techniques of felting wool to create some lovely felted art. The instructor Josie Chisholm helped walk them through creating the different levels of wool and building up their designs before using soapy water to help bind and felt the wool. Everyone went home very proud of their felted art pieces!
Felting techniques have been present since the Middle Ages, but it is thought that the ‘carroting’ method, which used inorganic mercury in the form of mercuric nitrate to treat the fur of small animals, began in 17th Century France and spread to England with the arrival of the Huguenots. At Caudebec, Normandy the manufacture of soft, rainproof felt hats virtually stopped and France became an importer rather than an exporter of this kind of hat. Ironically, Catholic cardinals in Rome had to have their red hats made by Huguenot refugees working in Wandsworth.
Despite being banned several times mercury continued to be used in felting well until the twentieth century despite the many health risks associated with mercury poisoning. It is thought that Lewis Carroll’s character the ‘Mad Hatter’ reflected the neurotoxic effects from the exposure of mercury vapours which among other things included painful itching, burning or peeling skin, loss of hair and teeth, swelling, sweating and asthma. Hand tremors, muscle twitching, slurred speech, dizziness and mental confusion were often mistakenly thought to be the effects of drunkenness.
As machine processes took over many aspects of the textile industry, the fur was replaced with less expensive and more common wool. The use of mercury in the felting process was eventually banned in 1941 when it was replaced by hydrogen peroxide.