Many a little makes a Mickle

From time to time, we have made mistakes like throwing a beautiful fluffy well-sized wool sweater in the washing machine, shrinking and hardening it into clothes that can barely fit.

Although these kinds of mistakes create much inconveniences, it also makes us wonder how wool behaves under different conditions. (Not sure how many people can still be marveled by such annoying incidents).

It is magical how oftentimes unexpected characteristics of materials are discovered by accident. Some ancient tales said that the discovery of felt happened when ancient people were making an escape and traveling to places. Pieces of wools would be placed underneath their shoes and sandals to have less blistering, or on horsebacks as saddles to relieve pain from long rides. Then, through constant pressure and moisture, thus forming wool into felt.

We may not have to worry about being hunted down when we make felt now, but the making of felt does require various elements recorded in the ancient tales: animal hair, moisture, constant friction and pressure.

Traditionally, the nomads would spread down a huge leather or bamboo mat on the grass, and then tear the tangled wool loosely into pieces, layer them evenly until the entire surface of the mat is covered. Sometimes, the white wool will look like a fluffy cloud under the sun.

After the first step is completed, a mixture of soap and hot water is poured over the top layer, then the mat is rolled up under firm pressure. Then comes a continuous motion of rolling back and forth. Of course, in-between snacks and chats are also indispensable.

The nomads kneeling on the ground, moving their arms rhythmically to push the felt roll back and forth. Opening it from time to time to check on the progress, adding mixture of hot water and soap when required. Songs were sung when felting. Alt the lyrics are mostly for counting, but with the fun-loving Tibetan women, they can still laugh constantly when singing the felting songs.

After 1,500 rounds of rolling, the wool gradually forms into felt, and another day of labor on the plateau has also passed.

The story of gathering is not only about about the wool that was turned into felt, but also about the lives and the laughter of the Tibetan women on the Plateau.

Having that said, while sheep wool is the most common material for traditional felt making, we also use a lot of Yak down fiber at SHANGDROK. Although yak down fiber is soft and comfortable, the shortness of its fiber also requires great patience and craftsmanship of the artisans, especially in the case of turning it into a light thin scarf, which is one of the hardest tasks even for our most experienced Aunties. Because of the delicacy of yak down fiber, the scarf that is made will honestly reflects the minds and moods of our Tibetan women.

Film & Edit:Jared Yeh @ Wooehmoeh films