Felting is an ancient craft and one of the earliest textiles. Felt-making began thousands of years ago in Asia where nomadic people built their yurt homes out of felt which they could disassemble and carry to their next location, to reassemble and be sheltered from harsh weather. With domestication, shearing animals for their fleece (not killing them for their pelts or skins) meant that the animal was still alive to produce more fiber, more milk, more babies.
Felt can be produced not only from sheep fibers, but also yaks, llamas and alpacas, camels and other fiber animals . Wool felts the easiest because of the tiny scales on each fiber... but even dog hair will felt, eventually....
Wool fleece consists of individual fibers. A wool fiber is a fibrous protein that grows from a sheep’s follicle skin cells. It is a truly sustainable material and continues to grow immediately after each shearing especially with good nutrition. Each wool fiber is crimped (looking very closely, the fibers look ‘wiggly’) and has outer scales allowing them to hold together with pressure and be felted or spun into yarn. Both processes enable the wool to hold air that makes wool a great insulator.
As an insulating fabric, wool traps heat energy [consider Mongolian shepherds and their felt clothing and the yurts they live in] or wool keeps heat away from the body [ next, think about the Bedouins who wear wool clothing in the hottest deserts, and are able to keep their bodies cooler]. Wool fibers are also hydrophilic as they absorb moisture; they also have sound absorption qualities, are more fire-resistant than cotton, and will not melt (as will synthetic materials).
Lana Dura uses Navajo-Churro wool. The Navajo-Churro sheep --- originally called “Churra” in their native Spain--- were initially brought to the Western Hemisphere by the early Spanish explorers in the 1500s. They were valued for their vigor, adaptability and general usefulness as a food and fiber source. Their unique fleece has an inner coat of fine wool fibers and a protective, long and more coarse outer coat. These qualities enable the sheep to be quite weather resistant in diverse conditions, from the dry U.S. Southwest to cold and wet climates in New England.
At Lana Dura, we wash and card (comb) the fibers. Then, we use the natural colors of Navajo-Churro fleece arranged in patterns and designs. Adding hot water, a bit of soap and friction encourages the wool fibers to tangle together. Each fiber moves gently, migrating towards its root end, entangling with other moving fibers. As the wool cools and dries, the fibers are transformed from separate strands into a strong, non-woven felted textile panel, a piece of wool cloth. With further pressure (often called "fulling") the fabric continues to shrink onto itself becoming stronger.
Our felting continues to evolve for contemporary life while using heritage wool. The panels are approximately three feet by four feet with a different pattern on each side. Rugged and strong yet sumptuous and soft, the felt panels are used as rugs, wall hangings, thrown over a sofa or banco and pets love them as beds! Every Lana Dura piece has uniquely created patterns that emphasize the wonderful natural color diversity of our Navajo-Churro sheep.
With Lana Dura there is total supply-chain integrity: the wool is washed in Colorado or we wash here; all felting occurs here and any sewing is done in Taos, New Mexico. We know every step including the sheep and you can also. Just ask for more photos.