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Felting a traditional yurt wall  RSS feed

 
master steward
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How do I felt a yurt cover from local wool?


image borrowed from here



A group of textile artisans are looking for a nomadic work space for teaching, working, and demonstrating textiles.  Also a place to hang out and plot our next caper.  We settled on a yurt partly because mine is already started and partly because it was the most awesome nomadic structure we could think of that could be made out of local materials.  The first workshop we will teach in this yurt is "how to felt a yurt wall". 

I have some of the walls finished and all the wood I need to finish the structure.  This is all locally sourced from local trees and milled in small, individual own mills in the local area.  We could cover it with cotton or synthetic, but to keep with the local and sustainable theme, we are going with traditional wool covering.

We are making a four wall, 16' yurt. 

From the book Yurts, living in the round by Becky Kemery:

Wool has many properties that make it perfect fas a shelter covering.  A great insulator against both heat and cold, wool is naturally flame resistant (when on fire, it smolders without giving off heat).  When tightly crimped, as it is in felt, the  materials absorbs odors and noise.  The felting process not only makes wool warmer, it also makes it less permeable and more water resistant.

The seven felts of a typical (4 wall) yurt requires from sixty to as many as one hundred and ninety wool fleeces, depending on the size of the yurt, the desired thickness of the felt, and the type of wool being used.

...

Feltingmaking is an all-day process that begins with a toast of fermented mares' milk and ends with a feast of roast lamb.  The opening ceremony and post-felting party are considered essential elements of the process. 



She goes on to describe some of the process for preparing the wool and the actual felting.  It's labour intensive to be sure and requires a crowd.

Gathering up the fleeces is going to be a challenge.  But there are a lot of sheep around and the farmers just toss their wool into the forest to rot.  What I need is a gathering crew with the gift of the gab to convince these farmers to donate their fleeces to us rather than the forest. 

I don't have a firm plan of attack yet, so I'm asking here in hopes of gathering inspiration. 

In case you are curious about yurt builds, here are some random yurt resources.
mother earth news, build your own yurt
construction of a yurt
yurt info (so far this is my favourite)
building  a yurt from scratch






 
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Location: Bitterroot Valley, MT
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This is such a cool idea! I hope it gathers some interest. I am fascinated by the fact that a home can be constructed using local resources- trees and wool, which basically comes from local pasture. Considering the cost of housing today, and the environmental imapct it creates, I think the time of the Yurt has come! More and more young couples and families are put off by the high cost of home ownership, and opt for a nomadic traveling life in an RV or tiny home. They make the choice for a life of adventure and travel vs. a life of the constant daily grind, paying off a mortgage for many years. It is a no-brainer! A Yurt is a fully sustainable home, and best of all, it is portable! It is very doable if you can get a community of helpers gathered together for a fun learning experience and good food afterwards! If this workshop is affordably priced, I would be very interested in attending! Definitely sounds like less labor than Straw Bale... I think it will be a fascinating experiment to build an authentic felted Yurt!
 
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I have always found this video interesting. Maybe it will help you.

When layering the wool you want to switch the direction of how it is laid in each new layer making it different from the last layer to add strength to your final felt.
 
Lisa Lebeau
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Whoa, that is AMAZING- Felting on a grand scale! I love the way the community shares in the labor and make it into a celebration- complete with a traditional feast of mutton at the close. With many hands, work becomes more like fun than drudgery. Community is something we are sadly lacking in America unless we make a concerted effort to create it, which is rare and hard to come by. We have no roots or traditions except the few our families have retained, or those we create ourselves among friends, family, or like-minded individuals. Everything about this endeavor is communal. It is a job so big it requires many skilled hands (and hooves) cooperating to make it happen. It is a beautiful thing to see in action. Thanks for sharing!
 
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If the local farmers are just shearing sheep to keep them comfortable and healthy, and discarding the wool, I think that if you can get a group of people together that will help you wash and shear the sheep FOR the farmers you will A) get cleaner fleeces and B) get much more cooperation from the farmers, who I assume are busy and not concerned with the quality of fiber they're just going to discard. Also if you're getting fleeces from sheep bred for meat, you may need to get more fleeces than prescribed since these sheep are bred to put their energy into growing muscle rather than luxurious coats.
 
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Wouldn't the moths get into it?
 
r ranson
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Cristo Balete wrote:Wouldn't the moths get into it?

.

Moths love dark places, with stagnant air, undisturbed cloth.

A yurt wall in use, would have air moving through it, be exposed to light on the outside and smoke (another bug deterrent) from the inside cooking. 

if it was stored it might attract moths.
 
Cristo Balete
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Maybe I'm missing something, but the wall would be felted wool, and moths love wool.  The moths where I am don't care if it's dark, they are everywhere all the time laying eggs.  The northern side of that wool wall would probably go first.  Pack rats don't give a darn, they will chew through anything, unless it's metal.

Wool isn't waterproof, and wool holds moisture like crazy, so would't the interior be damp?  And there's no foundation under this yurt?  Any ground water that shows up will be inside as well.  How would you keep rodents from digging underneath that edge? 

And Yosemite, by the way, has tent camps on wooden platforms, and they get rats and mice, regardless of how clean they keep it, and now they are starting to get Hanta Virus in those tent camps.  They have hot summers and freezing winters, so the freezing part doesn't seem to help.
 
r ranson
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I think you raise some very good concerns.  I think a person who isn't educated in the ways of pests, would have these problems. 


A lot of traditional cultures use wool as walls, carpets, and other insulation.  Moths aren't a big problem for them. 

There is something in our modern lifestyle that encourages moths.  A well sealed house.  We don't put our wool in the sunshine to air once a month.  Lots of things.

My grandparents had a massive moth problem.  I took their woollens, washed, aired them our, and treat them according to traditional methods.  Not a flutter since.  No chemicals needed.  Just care and attention.

My day job also involves working with wool (nearly a thousand kilogrammes pass through my hands a month, more in the winter) I feel confident in saying that moth problems are preventable with a slight change to how we approach wool.

I would not have fear of moths in a traditional yurt wall, used in a traditional way.



As for rats, again, there are ways to dissuade rats from entering a location.

The example of the tent.  It might be possible that some campers brought things into the tent that attract rats.  Maybe food, medicine, scented lotions.  Even toothpaste.  I don't know many people who know that toothpaste attracts pests (especially black bears). 



Waterproofing - wool naturally repels water.  Leave the lanolin in the wool, and it is virtually waterproof. 

Traditional yurts are made of wool.  They don't have this problem because the wool breaths. 

Cowichan Sweaters.  Felted wool hats.  many other examples of weather resistant wool.

Some modern methods of producing commercial wool strip the wool of these properties. It's difficult to judge how raw wool will react on the basis of what we are trained to think of as 'wool'
 
Cristo Balete
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Well, for what it's worth to anyone considering only having fabric between you and the elements/critters, because rodents carry disease I think they need to be taken seriously.    "Dissuading" doesn't stop reproduction.

I've been trying to stop mice, rats and rabbits for 30 years.   We are in a rural location that will ALWAYS have mice, rats and rabbits.  They dig, they chew, they squeeze into small spaces, they pee on stuff, they leave feces behind, they spread disease.   They destroy wiring, wood, fabric, crops, anything they can get a tooth into.  They have no other way to keep their teeth at a decent length.  They have nothing else to do but look for food and shelter, and they are extremely good at it.

  Voles reproduce every 23 days, the other rodents are not far behind on that schedule, so if they reproduce they will grow in number,  get inside of buildings and vehicles.  Unless they are eliminated they will reproduce because of the protection of the buildings, that even the wild animals cannot keep up with.  It might be once every two years once a building has been gone over a zillion times to find how they are doing it, but it's no less destructive, no less risky having feces scattered around and the contents chewed on.

The closest we have come to keeping it to a dull roar is encouraging the foxes to live under the sheds and have babies there.  The parents are bringing 3-6 rodents a night to feed the babies and themselves,  and even then the mice manage to chew through something, squeeze through something and get into the sheds to save themselves. 

We don't use bait because we don't want to kill the other animals that might eat the mice/rats with bait in them.  But we do have other water traps that catch a lot of them.  Our critter cams have been triggered almost every night on our deck by mice/rats, and we are vigilant at getting rid of them.  Every year is different.  Last year there were so many rodents, I've never seen anything like it.

So when people think they can cover a dwelling with fabric of any kind, that might be the biggest investment of money/time/safety for their family/comfort and protection of all of the other stuff they need to live comfortably, they won't win.  It is always a constant, ongoing battle.  But to give the rodents something that doesn't even slow them down, well, you get what you pay for.
 
r ranson
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My personal experience is very different.  I have found that there are environments and human behaviours that encourage pests.  And I have found that changing human behaviour often eliminates pest problems in a few weeks.  As you say, this is not for you.  But it works for thousands of people around the world for thousands of years. 

Pests and wool would make an interesting topic for another thread, however, this thread is about how to create a felt wall.  I think we tackled the pest issue enough and it's time to bring this thread back on topic.  Feel free to continue the pest discussion in a new thread. 
 
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If you keep the lanolin in the wool you will have a more or less waterproof structure. Find a sheep's that's been out over winter and you can get your hands into its dry warm wool under the top layer.

Shearing sheep is and all day affair even if the pros only take about 15 to 30 seconds per sheep. Shearing is quite expensive so if you could become proficient at shearing you could get many farmers in board.

Are you familiar with skirting the fleece?

I would suggest volunteering your work on shearing day on a farm to learn how the process works and how much wool the variety of sheep in your area produce.

I worked on a sheep farm and the wool was worth so little in that are they let have all I wanted for free.
 
r ranson
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There is a great article about how to skirt and prepare wool for the mill or other uses in the next permaculture magazine North America. 

 
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