Humans have used fibers from plants and animal hair for thousands of years. The oldest-known fibers used by humans were found during an archaeological dig in a cave in the Republic of Georgia. They have been dated at approximately 34,000 years old. Here we give an overview of the craft of taking rough fibers and turning them into materials from which to craft both art and useful objects.
Making Rope or Cordage
Small or thin fibers bunched together and braided or twisted create a finished product that is much stronger than the individual fibers themselves. The tensile strength of finished rope or cord is many times the multiple of the number of strands that make up the finished product. Cordage is made by twisting animal hair, plant fibers, or whole blades of grass or sedge.
Spinning is similar to making cordage, but its finished product is thread rather than a rope. Strands of plant fibers or animal hair are spun together to create a thread. The thread is then woven into cloth or yarn. From the fabric or yarn, we then make clothing, blankets, and linens. The oldest and most basic form of spinning is done using a weighted drop spindle. It is a dowel or stick that you spin with your hands to create thread.
Weaving has been a household art and staple since time immemorial. It uses thread or yarn made by spinning. Lengths of thread are attached to a loom. One by one, a bobbin of thread is passed through the lengths over and under every other thread. In the next pass, the bobbin is passed through in reverse. This forms long rectangles of cloth, which are then used to create clothing, towels, blankets, and other fabrics used in the home.
Felting is the process of using animal hair to create a non-woven fabric. It may be the oldest fabric created by humans. Felt is produced by pressing the hair or fur of animals using pressure and moisture until the individual hairs mat together. The nice thing about felt is that it does not fray on the cut edges. It also retains heat, so it is an excellent material for lining cold-weather clothing, shoes, or boots.