Discover The Artist Making Soft Felt Using A 5,000-Year-Old Technique


Kristin Kelly Colombano in her San Francisco studio

Artist Kristin Kelly Colombano poses in her San Francisco studio.

Making felt by hand is not for the weak. Just ask Kristin Kelly Colombano, who employs a version of the intense, 5,000-year-old technique to press, pound and pummel wet wool into a soft, dense and evocative fabric. Unlike flat, industrial felt, Colombano’s blend of animal- and plant-derived fibers thrum with pattern and texture—whether used to make pillows, cozy throws, bed-size blankets or wall hangings. The name of her San Francisco-based company, Fog & Fury, is a nod both to the local atmospheric conditions and the force required to make handcrafted felt.

Kristin Kelly Colombano uses hot water to manipulate the fibers

The process begins with her sprinkling hot water on natural fibers and ends with beautiful textiles and home accessories.

A felt making tool

A tool helps turn the fibers into fabric.

Felt samples hang in the SF studio of Kristin Kelly Colombano

A selection of felt samples hang in her studio.

Kristin Kelly Colombano stocks her wooden shelves with books, plants and other accessories

Colombano's studio contains natural objects inspiring her felt-making practice.

Kristin Kelly Colombano has plastic boxes that hold the raw natural fibers

Stacked bins hold natural fibers.

Decorative pillows and pieces of fabric hanging on a shelf

Finished pillows line a shelf.

She discovered the material in a Mongolian shop selling felted objects. “I was charmed, and I resolved to learn how to make it,” says Colombano. Over time, she has refined the process that makes her wares so covetable and incorporated an array of natural fibers into her practice.

The labeled boxes of wool in Colombano’s studio read like a who’s who of the sheep set—Merino, Manx, Rambouillet, Polworth, Targhee, Bluefaced Leicester, Corriedale—with natural colors ranging from cream to carbon. Colombano also incorporates fibers from other animals (camel, yak, alpaca, goat) and plants (flax, pineapple and seaweed). Especially prized are silk rovings, which add sheen and color. 

Colombano begins a composition by overlapping small sections of carded wool and adding embellishments. After building several layers, she sprinkles the pile with warm soapy water, which encourages the microscopic fiber scales to tangle. Next, she agitates the fibers with a textured tool, then rolls the mass over bubble wrap hundreds of times before scooping it into a ball and slamming it repeatedly onto the table. Eventually, the fabric shrinks (like a sweater in the dryer) and acquires the desired texture. 

Colombano eschews dyeing and seeks to evoke natural phenomena with her designs. “I love textures on trees, ripples in sand, cloud formations, animal skins, salt deposits, rock strata, and the tangles of seaweed after a storm,” Colombano says. “The world is stressful, homes should be grounding and calming—places to feel enveloped. My work embodies how I want to live, and what I want to give back. 

Photography: Alanna Hale