by: Elizabeth Jensen
Scottish Waulking Wool
The main material for clothing in the Tudor period was wool. Although fabrics such as linen and silk were available, they were expensive and rare except among the highest classes. Wool was the most commonly worn by the people, especially in the lower classes. They were not permitted to wear any type of materials such as fur or velvet. The processing of wool began far into Medieval Times where it was most lucrative from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries.
Wealth was measured by the amount of sheep you owned and England’s countryside from the Lake District, West County, southern Downs, and East Anglia were covered with flocks. During Tudor times, Lavenham, one of the smallest towns in England was one of the wealthiest. Many regulations were set up early own to monitor the trade of wool out of the country. Taxes were placed on sacks and barrels of wool starting with Edward I. Great revenues were gained from the importance of wool in England. During Elizabeth’s reign commoners all people except for nobles were required to wear woolen caps to church on Sundays to show support to the wool industry.
Wool was a very important part of England’s economy and although it was a high export especially in cities like London it stayed mostly within the country. It was not until the late fifteenth century that the abundance of wool far surpassed England’s need and export trade began to really take off. “The late Middle Ages saw a major shift in the composition and hence destination of England’s export trade. She started out as a supplier of raw materials- cereals, wool, and to a lesser extent metals and leather. By the sixteenth century, the export of these items had declined relatively, and in the case of cereals absolutely, and cloth had become the major export of England.” There were also new developments in Spanish trade throughout Europe and its effects on English profit.
The process of developing wool grew significantly throughout England’s time. During the twelfth century the process of manufacturing wool was done by hand and foot. With the use of a fulling trough the wool would be submerged originally in stale urine which later turned to fresh clean water. A Fuller would then crush the wool by foot (much like crushing grapes), and it was then beaten or rung out by hand. This was necessary because sheep’s wool contains oil called Lanolin. This process was also called tucking the wool. “Tucking is the old word for “fulling,” which is the process whereby wool is scoured, beaten, and cleansed of the lanolin grease with which sheep make themselves warm and waterproof. “ This process was necessary to take the loosely woven wool and work it into a tightly-knit cloth product.
Later developments led to the creation of fulling mills. These mills were highly populated in rural countryside’s where streams and rivers were most abundant. The use of water created the power to drive the mills. They were most important to cut the demanding labor out of fulling wool. They consisted of two large wooden beams that would beat the wool while it was submerged in boiling hot liquid. This process would clean and soften the wool more evenly. The rapid rhythmic beating also helped prevent damage to the wool while a person slowly turned it throughout the trough. The finished product would be flat rounded piece of wool that would then be laid out onto tenter-planks for drying.
The production of sheep and farming changed significantly throughout England. Before the Black Plague farmers relied on open range grazing but with the decline in population and land use, England turned to utilizing the land in enclosed farms. This changed the productivity of the sheep industry. “The enclosure process for sheep farming made life easier, both for farmer and his sheep.” This new way of farming sheep is thought to have in some ways led to loss of value of English wool. Wool was valued by its length and softness. At this time in the late 1400- to early 1500’s English wool was long and thick which did not produce lightweight comfortable clothing. At this time the rise in quality of Spanish wool rose to outstanding levels. A woolen jacket made from English wool would weigh about four pounds compared to the Spanish one pound jacket. This was not good for the English market. Other factors, such as a high demand of wool in England also played a decline, especially in English foreign trade. There was a high price demand for wool in the foreign market but a significant decline in the demand for English woolen goods by the late 1500’s.
Art and culture were very elaborate and popular forms of expression during the Tudor period. Many forms of expressing one’s self were done through what you wore and how extravagant your clothing was. From Henry VIII to Elizabeth I laws were in place to separate the classes by their clothing, regardless of how wealthy you were. To break these laws could result in loss of title, land, and for some imprisonment or death.
The Sumptuary laws, designed by King Henry VIII laid the ground rules for dress among the classes for the next hundred years. A persons social standing and how they dress was a major importance during the Tudor reign. They were broken down the by the class and what each stage of nobility could or could not wear. At times these laws were strictly enforced and a major part of everyday English life, but as time grew on their significance began to dwindle and fade out.
During this time a great indicator was not only what type of fabric you wore and how you wore it, but also the colors that your fabric was dyed. The poor commoners of the England wore basic tan or off white loose fitting woolen clothing. Men wore basic Trousers and a tunic and women in dresses down to their ankles always with an apron. Their clothing was never elaborate or held any eye catching color. The most often wore colors worn by the upper class were blue, red, and brown. The most expensive was the brightest red and the blackest black.
Fabric dyers in this time were very highly paid but the worst of company. To get a rich blue color a dyer would use the Woad plant. This plant is from the cabbage family and has a very potent stench when boiled down. Queen Elizabeth I herself proclaimed that she would not be less than five miles from any woad dyer, ever. These men were often hermits and always had the stench on them as well as their dyed blue hands. It is known as one of the worst jobs in history.
The history and art of wool has been inexistence since before Medieval Times. Some historians can trace it back to the Persian conquests. The process has been developed throughout the years and only continues to grow and become more refined. For the early years of the Tudor period wool was a vital part of life and its process only began to grow throughout their time. A fulling through is only one stepping stone into the inventions and manufacturing of wool that continues to be developed on today.
Scottish Waulking Wool
This is an example of early 17th century Scottish women fulling wool. Unlike the trough that I focus on this has ripples in it that work much like a wash board does today. This is a modern take on an late medieval fulling trough.
Blocking Wool- Fulling Mill
This process of fulling wool is more modern into the early-middle Tudor period. Here the wool is placed into the trough along with the boiling liquid and is beaten by the wooden planks as the worker slowly turns it along. The mill is being powered by a a local stream or river.
Division of Classes Through Clothing
This is an example of the Tudor Sumptuary Laws. You can see the lay out of what could and could not be worn by people from the commoner to the highest of royalty.
Wallerstein, Immanuel. The Modern World-System I: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century. London: Universtiy of California Press, 2011.
Winchester, Simon. The Map that Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology. New York: HarperCollins, 2009.
Bowden, P.J. "Wool Supply and the Woollen Industry." The Economic History Review. 9. no. 1 (1956): 45.
Bowden, P.J. "Wool Supply and the Woollen Industry." The Economic History Review. 9. no. 1 (1956): 48.