Yes and no. Traditionally, felt is made from wool and animal fur, and linked to cruel, unethical, or inhumane treatments of animals. However, felt can also be made from synthetic materials. When this is the case, the felt is cruelty-free and suitable for a vegan lifestyle.
Always check the label to find out which type of felt a product uses, and keep in mind that some products will use a mix of both animal-derived materials and synthetic materials.
What Is Felt?
Felt is hair or wool (or synthetic fiber) that has been matted and pressed together so that the fibers bind firmly with each other, providing a thick, strong material. It has the benefit of being flame-retardant and is great for insulation against noise and vibration. It can also hold moisture without feeling wet.
The origins of felt stretch back several thousand years, with references to its use appearing in cultures across the world. At the time these would have been made only out of wool or animal fur since synthetic materials had yet to be invented.
How Is Felt Made?
There are three basic methods of felting; wet felting, needle felting, and ‘carroting.’
- Wet Felting – Hot water is applied to the hairs during a repeated process of agitation and compression that makes the scales open up. Eventually, the fibers weave and hook together, forming a single piece of fabric. This process only works with natural fibers, as they have small scales, like human hair.
- Needle Felting – This method uses special needles and does not involve hot water. The needles have notches along the shaft which catch on the fibers as they are pushed through. This tangles up the fibers together until they form a solid shape. This method is hugely popular in recent times, allowing crafters to create 3D sculptures as well as beautiful jewelry and art.
- Carroting – A method that is no longer used, but was popular between the 17th and mid-20th centuries and was almost entirely used for making men’s hats. The process involves treating the skins of animals, normally beaver, hare or rabbit skin, with mercuric nitrate. The process of drying the skins in an oven turned them orange (hence carroting), after which the fur was sliced away. This was then passed through hot water, dyed, and then run through hot rollers to make the ‘felt.’
Is Felt Sustainable?
Many recent studies have highlighted the negative impact of intensive farming on our environment, to which the wool and fur are tied. Alternatively, man-made fibers are connected either to the petrochemical industry (acrylic) or wood pulp (rayon), neither of which could claim to be sustainable.
Verdict: Should Vegans Buy Felt?
This will come down to personal choice. Vegans will clearly want to avoid felt made from natural fibers but will need to be certain of the origin, especially as some are blended. Synthetic fibers may offer a suitable alternative, but the environmental impact may be an issue for those who have concerns about such things.