The Fulling Process

 

Fulling is the process of beating woven woolen cloth while wet to cause the opposing fibers to interlock and form a more homogenous textile. Although fulling cloth was a common practice much earlier, mechanized fulling mills appeared in Europe in the 12th century. The following is a short step by step summary of the entire woolen cloth-making process:

 

 

  • Shear the sheep.

  • Spin the wool into yarn.

  • Weave the yarn into cloth.

  • Lightly wash the woven cloth to remove excess lanolin.

  • Fan-fold the cloth and place it in the tanks of the fulling stocks.

  • The fulling hammer (foot) repeatedly beats the cloth in one direction of the weave causing the weave to tighten and the wool fibers to interlock. With each impact of the hammer, the cloth bundle rotates slightly against the curved bottom of the tank.

  • Remove the cloth from the tank and turn it 90º so the hammer beats the weave of the cloth in the other direction.

  • Repeat the process until the desired weave is attained.

  • When dried, the cloth can be dyed or bleached to attain the desired color.

  • The surface of the cloth can then be treated to attain the desired finish. The cloth can be raked with teasels to raise the nap and create a fuzzy finish like mohair or the surface can be trimmed to create a flat, almost shiny surface like a modern dress suit.

 

Steps 1 through 3 would have taken place somewhere in proximity to the Mission Santa Inés quadrangle. Steps 4 through 12 would have taken place in or immediately around the fulling mill at the Santa Inés Mission Mills complex. Other related activities believed to have taken place at the Mills site include: drying the cloth on tenter’s stakes, dying the cloth, and combing the cloth with teasels.

 

Example of the effect of fulling on woven woolen cloth. Note the loose, irregular weave of the unfulled cloth on the left in contrast to the tight, very uniform weave of the cloth after the fulling process has been completed.

Schematic drawing showing the various components of the fulling process.

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