HAPPY HATTER: Lorraine Williams can make vests and shawls as well as hats from felt, a skill she is eager to share with others. Photo Mark Rieder D9099-17

WHEN Lorraine Williams had to leave work after a serious injury, keeping herself busy through feltmaking helped her adjust to a new lifestyle.

“I was quite lost after I left work and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I tried dressmaking, but I wanted to find different avenues to inspire myself and – though I don’t charge a lot – to make a little extra. But really, it’s just a great creative outlet,” she says.

Feltmaking is older than spinning and weaving. Sumerians claimed the skill was discovered by Urnamman of Lagash, a traveller and legendary warrior. Christian legends say felt was an invention of either Saint Clement or Saint Christopher.

For Lorraine, it is an artform that she is dedicated to preserving. She says she loves to share what has become her favourite pastime with others. “Teaching it is also great. I’d love to be able to show young people how to do this. You can make anything that pops into your head. It’s so versatile,” she says.

Felting is a technique primarily used in hat making. The National Museum in Copenhagen has preserved caps made of solid felt from as far back as the early Bronze Age. Any fibre can be used, but wool is best.

“Merino is preferred but I experimented with a sample of arapawa (a breed of sheep) and had a delightful result. I made it into a shawl for a friend. It was very stretchy, which I hadn’t seen before. It could be quite nice for clothes because it moves with you,” Lorraine says.

FLAPPER STYLE: one of Lorraine’s cloche hats reflects the simple and classic design, often with a floral focus point, that was all the rage in its day. D9099-19

Felt is flexible and delicate and must be laid on other material for integrity and thickness and there are different processes to achieve that. “It depends on what you want it for.

Nuno felting, where you lay felt on silk, has a really lovely effect – it’s beautiful,” she says.

The process is simple but can be labour intensive. “It’s working with soap and water to manipulate the wool. You put down layer upon layer this way and that way until you form what you want. On average it’s four for a hat, though some are seven,” she says.

After some more rolling and manipulation into the right shape, she performs the final step.

“You thump it at the end. That’s the part people like. You thump it down gently and then again progressively harder and harder until it shrinks,” she says.

Over the years, Lorraine has delighted many with her felt creations. It is easy for her to get lost in the moment and let the hours melt away. “When I got into hats, I ran with it and went a bit crazy – making every conceivable type of hat I could find.

“Felting is quick and it’s just so rewarding. You can embellish it with flowers or anything you can imagine,” she says.

mark.rieder@thebeacon.co.nz