Whispirit’s Artisan Fabrics are first and foremost felt. It is a non-woven, tangled natural mammal fiber textile. We consistently have people express confusion because they have seen alpaca and merino felt before, but have never seen a fabric like Whispirit’s. If you haven’t had the opportunity to touch and feel our fabrics, let us describe our process for you.
Whispirit’s felt surprises in many ways. First, it is not stiff nor dense like familiar felted fabric. In fact, it is drapey. It hangs like wool and has similarities to linen. Second, it is so light weight, you can barely feel some of our sheerest weight fabric in your hand. Third, its handle is soft and smooth, almost buttery. Finally, it is flat and tight. You simply want to rub it against your skin.
Five elements come together to make our Whispirit artisan fabric so special. First, we individually select alpaca fiber with a good handle. We mix it with a little merino wool to give it better memory. (Merino is as soft and fine as alpaca and makes a good partner.)
Second, we use silk and cotton sheer gauze for scrim. A scrim is the base, the stabilizer. These fabrics are soft and drapey, but strong. They give the structure to the fabric and contribute their own drapey nature.
Third, our alpaca fibers are washed and milled into a spiderweb thin batt (washed and combed fibers) prepared specially for our products. Most mills make batts that are thick and contain 3/4 to 1 pound of fiber. The batts we require are much thinner and lighter.
Third, we use a needle felting machine that is capable of felting many yards of fabric at a time.
Needle felting is an old and established way of making felt that uses neither water nor soap, like wet felting does. The needles punch through the fibers stacked on the scrim, pulling the fibers of the alpaca and the scrim through each other, creating an entirely different fabric. Industrial felt equipment has been used for a very long time to make felted pads, such as is used in Kevlar vests or rug pads.
Until the FeltLOOM was designed at Lan Mark Farm, Sharpsburg, Kentucky, craft needle felting was primarily done using a hand tool with anywhere from 3 to 12 barbed needles, or a mechanized needle felting machine, like Babylock Embellisher. We make extensive use of the Babylock for finish work and small products. But it’s the hundreds of barbed needles on our FeltLOOM machine makes a tight strong fabric for our garments possible.
Finally, we use heat and pressure to do the final tightening of the fabric. The results can be found in our online shop and our partner boutiques.