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BUNN, Stephanie (2010). Nomadic Felts, London: The British Museum Press, ISBN 13: 978-0714125572, paperback, 60 pp., over 210 colour and 20 b/w illustrations, bibliography. Price: GB£25 / €28.

This is a well-researched book that looks in detail at the history, techniques and social meanings of felt making. It concentrates on Central Asian felts (the author is a lecturer in Social Anthropology who did fieldwork in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan) but also looks at felting in Tibet, Bhutan and Southeast Asia, in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, and in Japan.

Felt is a dense fabric made from wool. It has been used for millennia to make clothing and head gear, domestic textiles such as carpets and bedding, and animal trappings. While felt’s precise origins are still unknown, archaeological examples of felt have been found in graves (from Cherchen, in China’s western Xinjiang province) dated around 1000 BCE and in south Siberian burial mounds dated to the 5th century BCE. Very large felt carpets have been found in Noin-Ula (Mongolia) from the first century CE. Felt continues to have both practical and symbolic value to many groups of nomadic people today.

Recommendation: This lavishly illustrated books includes excerpts of interviews with traditional felt makers, both women and men. It is very comprehensive, covering details from sheep raising to shearing, to the different ways of producing a felt textile, to various distinctive artistic traditions and more. It was particularly fascinating to learn of the many ways felt is embellished. These include quilting, embroidery, appliqué, as well as layered, tie-dyed, printed and painted decoration. This is a book that will be interesting to curators, scholars, collectors and to anyone interested in Central Asia and its textiles.

Shelley Anderson

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