Thomas Kay Woolen Mill – Finishing Processes


Perching, Burling, Mending

After weaving there were even more steps.  In Perching, the fabric was hung on a perch to inspect and mark flaws.  Burling involved removing knots, bunches, and loose ends.  Mending fixed any loose or missing threads by hand-weaving.


In the Fulling Mills, the wool fabric was soaked in hot water and soap and run through rollers to shrink it in a controlled way.  This process felted the wool fibers, producing a softer, thicker (fuller) product.

Washing And Drying

After fulling, the fabric was washed in large machines, then loaded in an Extractor, which used centrifugal force to force most of the water out, like the spin cycle on a home washing machine.

In the early years, the damp fabric was hauled up to the fourth floor, where they were stretched out on wooden frames called tenters with tenterhooks to prevent excessive shrinking while drying.  This led to the phrase on the tenters and later on tenterhooks to mean an uncomfortable state of suspense.  There were long rows of tenter frames in the drying loft, with steam pipes beneath them.

This process was slow and cumbersome (up to the fourth floor, then back down with heavy wool fabric).  In the 1930s they began to transition to machine dryers in a shed next to the finishing room.


The dry fabric was then run through a Napper, where wire-covered rollers raised the fibers to create a soft fuzzy surface called a nap.  In the early days, the mill used the more labor-intensive Teasel Gig for napping.  The flowering plant called Fuller’s Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) has a spiny head which, when dried, was used to tease out the fibers of the wool.

Shearing and Pressing

The Napper produced an uneven surface, so next the fabric went through a Rotary Shear to cut the nap down to an even level.  Then the Rotary Steam Press flattened the fabric and brought out the luster.

Final Steps

The fabric was inspected again for defects, and then went through final steps of measuring, weighing, folding, rolling, and labeling for shipment.  Blankets were cut apart and the edges sewn on a treadle-powered machine, and — if for the government — stamped “US”.

Whew, that’s a lot of steps.  Little wonder the Industrial Revolution really took off with the textile industry.  Before the machines came along, turning wool, cotton, and flax into finished textiles was an incredibly time- and labor-intensive process.  The industrialization of the milling made it… somewhat less intensive.