Monday, March 23, 2015

Waterford Had a Fulling Mill -- But What Was Fulling?

Here's a long and thorough description of "fulling" from the website of an English woolen blanket manufacturer, Witney Blankets, and written by Clare Sumner:
After the cloth was woven it was fulled or milled. This process removed grease and shrank the material down to a smaller size, while matting up the fibres into a thicker and softer felt-like fabric. First it was steeped in a soap bath to clean and soften the wool. It was then placed into the trough of the fulling stocks - a machine with large wooden hammers that pounded, dragged and rolled the fabric, making it shrink and driving out the dirt from it.

An alternative to the fulling stocks was the milling machine, which did the same job using rollers. The stockful of blankets was fed into the machine, then the ends of the piece were sewn together to form a continuous belt which was run around between the rollers until it had become shrunk down enough. The first milling machine was patented in 1833 and was quicker than the fulling stocks, but stocks continued to be used either instead of, or alongside them in many mills in Britain for about a century afterwards.

After fulling the blankets were washed in water to remove the soap suds left from the fulling process and then they were spun dry in a machine. Mangles were sometimes used to extract excess water. At this stage they were still in one long piece.
This picture of a rotary fulling machine is from an 1891 issue of Popular Science
Fulling was not an unusual process in the early 1800s in Vermont -- many towns in our region had fulling mills. A few examples include one in East Village (East St. Johnsbury), one in Concord (as of 1847, according to McCullock's Universal Gazetteer), one in West Barnet, one next to what is now Ben Thresher's Mill in Barnet, one in South Peacham (in the basement of the Brown/Evans mill), and the fulling and woolen mill conducted by Benjamin Greenbanks in Harvey's Hollow (now part of Danville).

The Waterford Historical Society hopes that some readers will have more details and will share them with us. Let us know what you find out!

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