So you know that song “Scarborough Fair” by Simon and Garfunkel? The most memorable line is “Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme” because they say it over and over, but there is a whole stanza I want to call your attention to:
“Tell her to make me a cambric shirt
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Without no seams nor needlework
Then she’ll be a true love of mine. ”
It basically says: tell her to shove it, there’s no way I’m ever getting back with that girl. But that’s neither here nor there, my question for you is this: how can you make cloth with no seams or needlework?
Tick tock tick tock…ding ding! Time’s up!
Back before fancy mechanized weaving, cloth was made in one long rectangular piece of fabric known as a bolt. Most fabric is still made that way, because that’s how looms work. So when you need something with a shape, like a shirt, you have to cut and sew it together, leaving seams. Or you go all Greek toga with it or something, but that’s risqué.
Now, as knitters, we know that you can make fabric of sorts by knitting in the round, and it has no seams. But what do we use to knit? Needles.
That leaves one option: felting, specifically, wet felting. Commercial felt is made using enormous plates of barbed needles. Fiber is crisscrossed in perpendicular layers, and then pressed between the barbed needles. They tangle it up, creating fabric. Of course, these dry felting techniques use needles.
In wet felting, you crisscross layers of fiber, but instead of using needles to tangle it up into fabric, you use water and a detergent. It’s kind of magical, but the tiny are bubbles created by the detergent and the scales on the hairs themselves are enough to make fabric. Yesterday’s felt clutch had no seams nor needlework.
So, to return to the song, if some guy was singing to me about how impossible it was we’d ever be together, I’d make him the coarsest, least comfortable felt shirt ever. Then, while he was up on his high horse, he’d have a reason to feel martyred, like the monks who used to wear hairshirts.