Thomas Kay Woolen Mill – Dusting, Scouring, Drying, Picking


Scouring Room

The Scouring Room is about all that remains of the original Dye House, which mostly collapsed in the early 1980s.  The reconstructed space next to this room is rented out for events.

Raw wool arrived in the Wool Warehouse contaminated with dirt, plant debris, dung, and the natural oily, greasy secretion called lanolin.  Altogether these undesirables made up around half the volume, and had to be removed.  The first step was the Dusting Machine, a rotating cylinder and spiked arms that beat the wool. 

Then the wool was washed in the long Scouring Train, using warm water, soap, alkali, and large mechanical rakes.  A short demonstration run (now powered by an electric motor) makes the rakes slowly claw in the “bowls”.

Carbonizing and Drying

Particularly dirty wool was soaked in Carbonizing Bins containing sulfuric acid.  Then it went through the Stock Dryer, which used heat and fans and a toothed conveyor belt.  The non-wool matter, soaked with sulfuric acid, would burn away to dust.

Sometimes the wool was dyed before drying, and sometimes that happened later.  When dyed before spinning into yarn it was called dyed-in-the-wool; this produced a more stable, durable color and led to the secondary meaning of someone being inflexible in their beliefs or habits.

Picker House

Next the wool went into the Picker House.  This space housed the Burr Picker, Rag Picker, and Blending Picker.  The Burr Picker removed burrs and other impurities still clinging to the wool (this seems to be an alternate method to Carbonizing), and loosened clumps and tangles.  The Blending Picker mixed various grades or colors of wool into a more uniform blend.

Recycled woolen goods from the Rag Warehouse were taken to the Rag Picker, which shredded them.  These recycled fibers were combined with virgin wool in the Blending Picker to produce less-expensive woolen materials called shoddy or mungo.  Some sources say mungo was made from new wool cutoffs from tailoring and therefore better quality than the recycled shoddy, while others say mungo was a combination of recycled wool, cotton, and linen, and therefore less desirable than shoddy; still others say shoddy came from “soft” worsted rags and mungo from “hard” felted or milled rags.  In any event, eventually shoddy gained a negative connotation, primarily due to unscrupulous manufacturers substituting the cheaper shoddy for new wool.