Have a wander around the central square and cobbled back streets in Sighnaghi: you’ll be sure to spot the little colorful bags, scarves, slippers, hats and even jackets and coats made of felt and wool.
The tradition of felt-making dates back to ancient times in Georgia, and is considered an integral component of the Georgian craft culture, specifically in the Tusheti, Svaneti, Kakheti and Javakheti regions of the country. In medieval times, felt was exported from Georgia together with cloth. Primarily, felt was used by shepherds for their wool coats (nabadi), large, heavy coats worn during the sheep migration across Georgia. Warming them up in cold weather, the coats could be used as a kind of tent protecting the shepherds from extreme weather while they crossed the mountainous terrain.
Although Georgian felt is equally as used in Pshavi, Svaneti, Khevsureti, Upper Racha, Tusheti, Javakheti and Kakheti regions, felt from Tusheti is regarded as one of the best in quality- highly flexibile when stretched and easier to color.
Georgian traditional felt is made by hand with processed wool, using natural dyes, by stretching and layering wool on a net, dampening it and squeezing.
The wool-coloring tradition is said to date back to the V-VI centuries AD, as, before that, items of clothing appeared only in their natural colors of white, brown or black. The color palette in Georgian felt products, from carpets and rugs to handmade accessories, now varies across the spectrum. The ingredients for making natural dyes (flowers, leaves, roots or membranes) are collected throughout the vegetation period from June to September until the cold temperatures hit. The plant matter is then washed and dried. Then it is put in cold water for a day and then boiled for 15-20 minutes or, alternatively, is boiled in the same water for around two hours, and then dried. Before coloring, the wool is cleaned, then washed and boiled in water.
From Traditional Georgian men’s hats to Chokhas and wool coats; from rugs, carpets and bags, to scarves and handmade gifts, Georgian felt products are as popular today as they ever were, if not more colorful! Treat yourself or a friend or relative to some beautiful hand-made Georgian Felt and wool- light to carry home and easy to pack!
By Nino Gugunishvili