Felt•Oldest known fabric.•Made by rubbing wet fibres against each otheruntil they naturally clump•Only some furs will felt, beaver is best by far.•BUT: only gras (fat) beaver with rough outer hairs worn out will felt. Sec(dry) fur won’t without processing.•Felt’s stiffness allows for wide hat brims.•Also: water-resistant.81906
Felt in Europe before 1600•Felt had been used by the Greeks & Romans as cheap armor padding.•(Felt is good at stopping arrows.)•Ancient Anatolia’s Phrygian Cap(pictured) is thought to be felt.•Most countries used wool felting. Flanders famous for it. (Enough for Chaucer’s Flemish merchant to wear a felt hat, pictured.)•Russia, rich in beaver fur, pioneered beaver fur felting.•Northern countries (especially Sweden) where the beaver was native adopted beaver fur felting.•Important for us: by 1600, Russia, Sweden, etc. had the technical capacity to produce beaver felt hats, given the raw material.9
The Thirty Years’ War, 1618 - 1648•HUGE ‘total war’ involving major European powers.•Sweden, Spain, War & Austria fought in ‘Germany’.•Spain lost big, Sweden saved the day.•Swedish soldiers wore big, floppy, wide-brim hats.•Based on Swedish peasant hats (beaver was native).•Wide-brim hats were already in style ~1600.•Sweden’s victory made them VERY fashionable.•Problem: those wide-brim hats require beaver fur…10
Wide-Brim Felt Hats of the 30 Years’ WarSee how the brims of the Spanish hats (1,3,4) are rolled up? That’ll be important later.11
Timeline of Europe’s demand for beaver fur felt•1449: Charles VII of France makes a felt hat acceptable•(Wears it entering Rouen in triumph during Joan of Arc war.)•1541: Cartier’s journey to Canada doesn’t mention beaver fur•Beaver fur for hats wasn’t seen as a big need at the time.•1600(-ish): Russia runs out of beaver fur.•1610: Champlain’s trip is ALL ABOUT the beaver fur (and Saguenay, which didn’t… ‘pan’ out.)•1700: Beaver fur hats are ‘commonplace’.•1720 – 1740: Mercury ‘Carroting’ introduced.12
Castor gras(‘Fat beaver fur’) and its substitute•‘Castor’ = Latin (and Spanish!) word for ‘beaver’.•‘Castor gras’: ‘coat’ beaver fur; needed for felting. Takes time. $$$•‘Castor sec’: ’young’ fur. Won’t felt on its own. Also used as ‘fancy fur’ for clothing. $$•Normal practice: Mix at least 20% graswith the rest sec. This will allow the fur to felt. What if you don’t have enough gras?•Substitute for gras: take the worst hair from the secand boil it for twelve hours. You can use this to make the sec felt.•Problem: MUCH lower quality, and it takes more than 1 unit of boiled sec to replace 1 unit of gras.•BUT availability of this substitute put “a brake on castor grasprices by tying them to a certain level above castor sec prices.” (Crean, p. 381)13
Carrotingand rabbits•Beavers were expensive, and supply was uncertain & distant.