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Woollen Cloth Production

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Spinning mule in the Angel Mill Westbury. Copyright Trowbridge Museum.

The earliest record of Westbury as a wool town is from the 1332 tax register. One person registered was Robert le Toukere – Toukere, or Tucker, was an alternative name for a fuller. A fuller was someone who cleaned wool after it was sheared.

How was woollen cloth made?

1. Scouring

Raw wool had dirt, sand, and sweat on, so it required cleaning before use, a process called scouring. During scouring, the wool was dipped in either urine or soap wort and then rinsed with clean water. Once dry, the wool was sorted into different types, then beaten to get the dust and dirt out.
If the wool needed to be coloured, at this stage it would be dyed. Most dyes would have been made using an extract from plants.

2. Carding

Once the wool was dry, it was coated in oil to make it easier to work with. Then, to disentangle the wool fibres and to make them long and straight, they were ‘carded’ (passed through a series of rollers).

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Carding machine in the Angel Mill Westbury. Copyright Trowbridge Museum.

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The condenser in the Angel Mill Westbury. Copyright Trowbridge Museum.

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The condenser in the Angel Mill Westbury. Copyright Trowbridge Museum.

3. Spinning

Spinning machines (known as Spinning Jennys) twisted the fibres using a wheel to create a yarn, which was then wound round onto a spindle.

4. Weaving

To create a woollen cloth, yarn was wound onto a loom by a weaver. This stage was difficult when creating patterned fabric.

5. Cleaning

After the woollen cloth had been made, any remaining dirt left in the wool was picked off by hand. The cloth was then scoured again by a fuller, who put the cloth in cold water mixed with detergent and trod on it barefoot to clean it. Once dry, the cloth went to the menders, who fixed any imperfections.

6. Raising the Nap

The woollen cloth was then sent to a cloth dresser’s, where it was hung from a bar and brushed with teasels. Once brushed, a shearer would cut off fibres pulled out by the teasels. Shearing required a high level of skill, and each piece of cloth required many hours of work.

7. Finishing

Finally, the cloth was ‘finished’. During this final stage, the cloth was brushed and then pressed (ironed) between two paper sheets. In Abraham’s factory, a blower machine was used for this job.

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