Felt purses and bags from Nepal

Zanzibar carries a wide range of hand made felt items including purses, bags and coin purses made by a women's cooperative group in Kathmandu, Nepal. 

What is Felt?
Felt is a non-woven cloth that is produced by matting, condensing and pressing fibers.  The fibers form the structure of the fabric.  Felt is typcially a fabric made of wool fibers or animal hair matted together by warn or hot water and hand pressure without spinning, weaving or knitting. 

Felt is the oldest form of fabric known to man. It predates weaving and knitting, although there is archaeological evidence from the British museum that the first known thread was made by winding vegetable fibers on the thigh.  Felt dates back to at least 6,500 BC where remains were found in Turkey.  Felt is now widely used as a medium for expression in textile art as well as design, where it has significance as an ecological textile.  

Felt is made by a process called wet felting, where the natural wool fiber is stimulated by friction and lubricated by moisture (usually water), and the fibers move at a 90 degree angle towards the friction source and then away again, in effect making little "tacking" stitches. Only 5 percent of the fibers are active at any one moment, but the process is continual, and so different 'sets' of fibers become activated and then deactivated in the continual process.

This "wet" process utilizes the inherent nature of wool and other animal hairs, because the hairs have scales on them which are directional. The hairs also have kinks in them, and this combination of scales (like the structure of a pine cone) are what react to the stimulation of friction and cause the phenomenon of felting. It tends to work well only with woolen fibers as their scales, when aggravated, bond together to form a cloth.

How are felt products produced?
Zanzibar only sells fairly-traded felt items from various cooperatives and small businesses in Nepal.  Primarily women work in small groups, usually in provided areas but sometimes from home.  We make sure that the working conditions are safe and that the women are paid a living wage in addition to having child care, profit sharing and access to medical.   No harsh chemicals or dyes are used. 

Our felt product is made of 100% Sheep soft wool using the ancient hand art technique of felting.  This unique Process involves repeated Scrubbing, Pounding and agitation of the wool until the tiny, naturally occurring barbs on the hairs of wool open up and lock on to one another.  This traditional process results in a strong, seamless product, that is very unique.  Each and very products is individually made by hand so none of the product are similar to each other hence every product is unique in its color, design and pattern used.

Local wool is purchased usually in the marketplace.  After carding, the fibers are dyed.  Dyeing is completely hand done using non-toxic dyes.  Upon completion of the coloring process, our skilled laborers compress the raw material by hand with the help of soap & hot water.  Our felt products are 100% handmade and are free of chemical additives.

While still wet, the felt is shaped into the pattern of the intended product. The shaping is done by hand without sewing or patching.  Hand manipulation and rubbing in combination with the application of hot water achieve the desired shape.  The shaped felt items then are sun-dried.  After drying, final shaping and joining may require gluing and/or sewing, according to the design.

All our felt products are fair trade items produced by low-income and displaced workers, primarily female urban dwellers. Purchasing these felt products serves to help support these workers, who depend on such programs to improve their lives and support their children. 

Here are some photos of our artisans in Nepal making felt woolen items



click on any of the photos to enlarge

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This site was last updated 03/22/11