With a tradition stretching back as far as written history, felted wool fell mostly out of fashion in the 20th century. For much of the last two decades, felt goods were displaced by the average consumer’s love of synthetic materials and the low cost of imports. But felt products have experienced a revival in Portland over the past few years.
Felt can be produced more sustainably than synthetics, and it doesn’t require the fuel consumption or emissions of long-distance imports. Felt’s recent resurgence in tastefully decorated Portland homes may be due to our city’s celebration of these values.
Photos courtesy of Moufelt.
Advocates of felt, and those who work in home furnishing, point to the practical benefits of traditional wool products. Jeanie Lai, who opened Moufelt in Beaverton after her hobby became a successful commercial enterprise, says the wool used in her felt retains enough of the animal's lanolin to form a natural water-resistant barrier ideal for use in the home.
"Liquid, even wine, beads up on the fabric, so you have time to blot it with a cloth or paper towel," Lai says. "So even red wine or coffee won't stain your felt." This feature makes the coasters the most popular product Lai sells at Moufelt.
"The felt is so soft, it protects all your tables and surfaces naturally," Lai says. "But you don't need to worry if someone bumps a glass, because you'll always be able to keep it looking nice."
For the same reason, Lai's table runners are a hot item at her store and her online section on Etsy. "It's a soft place for your cup to land and pretty easy to clean," Lai says. Hard surfaces stay protected, and the felt makes a clean and attractive addition to your table or shelf.
"Companies are working in felt with more color now," Laid says. "It's always been more industrial, and people didn't see it as decorative until recently."
This is why Lai thinks customers love Moufelt's garlands for their homes. The strands of color and patterns linked together are a top-selling item, and they go straight to the heart of why Lai loves felt products.
"For me, felt is sort of a natural material that is very tactile, but also very modern," she says. "A really simple material made from wool, but with so many variations, it has the versatility to be used everywhere from your sofa or wall to cars. It is finally getting appreciated for beauty and being used in a more decorative way."
Lai is an architect by trade, and says Moufelt "started as a fun little thing and it just exploded." The fact that felt is truly sustainable—you don't have to kill anything to get it, and the resources to raise herds are generally sensitive to ecosystems—appeals to her practical way of looking at homes and buildings.
Find Moufelt at these local retailers:
3300 SE Belmont Street
Portland, OR 97214
1715 NW Lovejoy Street
Portland, OR 97209
7919 SE 13th Avenue
Portland, OR 97202
For a more hands on approach to decorating your home with felt, PenFelt offers classes and workshops to teach you to create with the material, and their website links to dozens of felt product stores in the Portland area.
LeBrie Rich, PenFelt's self-proclaimed Duchess of Felt, says she dyes all the fabric for her production line and enjoys sharing her love of wool. She says pillow covers and runners made of felt are great for a tactile experience in the home, and she laughs when she notes that the tea cozies made by PenFelt students are functional for more than just keeping your kettle warm.
"They look really good as a hat," she says. "Felt is wonderful for pillow covers and runners. It brings some warm softness into any home."
Find PenFelt at these local retailers:
Other Felt Finds
Photos courtesy of Karen Thurman Designs.
For more felted home accessories, Rich recommended Karen Thurman's decorative work from Karen Thurman Design. Thurman's hand-made goods are available from Portland stores and online, and in addition to advertised products, she creates made-to-order goods for those seeking exactly the right addition to their home and life.
If the selection offered above fails to meet your needs, visit virtually any artisan home store in the area and ask questions. Contemporary designers have begun to incorporate felt into home styling around the nation, but the obsession with boiled wool has really taken off in Portland.
Alyssa Kail manages the creative reuse center for SCRAP, a craft-focused shop committed to recycling materials into household projects. She thinks Portland's return to felt is part of a greater movement toward handmade projects in general.
"Back in the '70s," Kail says, "there was a 'back to the land movement,' where people were learning to get household goods from the trash. The '80s were just 'everybody buys everything.'"
Now, according to Kail, the appeal of simple home accessories like felt runners and garlands is part of a growing trend.
"There's a lot happening culturally," she says. "Getting more people thinking about the sustainable and the impact of the things we use is a national, if not international, trend. But here in Portland, we're really a home to that ideal."
Need suggestions for local home décor stores? Check out the options in our directory.