First and foremost: Loden is not felt. Yes, the fabric is felted, but (and here is the difference) it was a woven fabric before. Felt are just loose fibres pressed and matted together. Loden is finer, has a higher quality, takes more effort to produce and is also more expensive. My boss (I don’t like to call her that, because we speak on the same level and this sounds just way too formal, but what other word could I use?) is very particular about this distinction – she works with Loden and is not very pleased when people confuse the two :)
There are a handful of companies that produce authentic Loden in Austria and one of them is Steiner1888. Located at the border from Salzburg to Styria, in the shadow of the Dachstein, it is a typical Austrian family business, now in the 5th generation. Personal connection: My Grandfather was good friends with the son of the founder (my father is from Schladming, which is only 6 km away). Steiner doesn’t only produce the Loden itself (which they sadly don’t sell individually), but also blankets and pillows.
I visited the factory the other week together with my boss, because she is currently working on a new product for a creative/innovative competition (more about that once it is official, because I made the pattern, protoype and gave a lot of general imput and obviously want to share that with you). And she wants to use a special Loden for it: ‘Schladminger‘, a beautiful mottled cloth, a very tradtional fabric and my personal favourite (click on the link for a picture). So we discussed terms, talked about possible collaborations and where quite successful.
After the meeting, it was time to visit the factory – I love these kinds of things. Going behind the scenes is always the most exciting part! I was surprised to learn that they produce everything in this comparably small building. And they do everything themselves, from fibre to finished cloth. We started at the very beginnig: The mixing of the wool. They use sheep, alpaca, angora and mohair, and tend to blend several different fibres, to get the best results. They don’t dye themselves, but the wool is dyed before it is spund – on that day, there was a mix of white and black, which is later on turned into the classic ‘Bergen‘ Loden – a slightly mottled, beautiful grey. At first, the flocks are turned into a loose fleece, which gets then slightly twisted (called teasing) and eventually spun. (excuse the phone pictures)
In the next floor are the weaving machines. The fabric is woven rather loosely, the felting later on makes it thick, dense and durable. They use a plain weave (with several derivations) or a broken twill weave (so they don’t get visible diagonal lines) for their fabrics. Remember when I visited Linz Textil last year? The procces of spinning and weaving is essentially the same.
The next step is where the magic happens. The cloth gets fulled – it’s treated with water, heat and pressure and turns from a coarse, loose fabric into a soft, luxurious, beautiful Loden. ‘Bergen’ and ‘Schladminger’ are still produced on the original Hammerwalke – The old felting hammer that came into service in 1888.
Finishing touches are applied (napping, trimming, pressing) and the the fabric is ready to use: Either packed and shipped or turned into blankets and pillows in the workshop on site. The full breakdown of the production is also described on their website, I would recommend you take a look (there is good/full picture of the felting hammer, which looks awesome in real life).
As I said before, I love having a look behind the scenes and seeing the production of this wonderful fabric was exciting and interesting. I so wish I could buy the fabric! Maybe next time, if I ask nicely? I would make an Albion coat out of it, I bought (and already printed) the pattern a couple of weeks ago – it would be an absolute dream :)