Myths abound about how the process of felt making was discovered.  What is known is felt is a very old textile form.

Beautiful pieces have been excavated from "barrows", the burial mounds of early nomadic cultures in the Altai Mountains, Southern Siberia.   Dating from as early as 4th Century BC the frozen ground has preserved the organic material.  

Saddle cover, Southern Siberia, collection of State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia
 
 

The fragment of felt covering of a saddle cover with "mouflon" (wild sheep) and swan (just 30cm in height) together with the saddle cover below are just a few of the many amazing items excavated during the mid 20th century in the Pazyryk area of Southern Siberia.  These pieces are in the collection of the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia.

felted Swan 30cm high excavated from Southern Siberia, collection of State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia
 
 
 

The process of felt making was mechanised in the 19th century by the invention of the needle punching machine which uses a bed of thousands of notched needles that "punched" through fibres drawing the lower fibres up and the upper fibres down entangling into a felt without the use of water.  

In the 1980's David and Eleanor Stanwood emulated the industrial process by repeatedly stabbing un-spun wool fibres with the notched needles to make 3D sculptures.  This dry felting craft technique is known as needle felting.

 
close up Industrial needle felting machine showing needle bed