Mill Processes - Wool to Weave

Unfortunately, there were no photographs taken inside Farfield Mill and after the terrible fire of 1909 and various Mill sales, much of the original machinery and records were lost. Information was gathered in 1990’s in the form of interviews with people who had worked at Farfield Mill. It is from these that we know most about the use of the buildings and the processes that happened there. The following images are from Early’s Blanket Mill in Witney taken around 1890. We know the processes turning fleece into cloth were similar from the names the buildings were given by the interviewees and the descriptions they gave of working at the Mill.

Buying the Wool

The Dovers used agents to buy their wool for them, direct from the farmers.
At Farfield, the Dovers owned several of the surrounding farms, and they took their rent in ‘clips’ of wool.

Sorting the Wool

The wool arrived at the mill in huge bales which then had to sorted. The workers who did this were well paid and highly respected. The sorter worked using both touch and eyesight. Low quality wool feels harsh.

Sorting Wool  ©Historic England

Scouring  ©Historic England

Scouring

The various grades of wools then had to be cleaned of dirt and grease by scouring, then washed and dried. It was also beaten using a willeying machine, which further helped to clean and blend the fibres. The name comes from the days when the wool was beaten by hand using willow sticks.

Carding and Scribbling

Carding was one of the first parts of the woollen industry to be mechanised. Machines containing huge drums with wire teeth on them, broke up the tangles and produces long rolls or slivers of wool ready for spinning.

Carding Machines ©Historic England

Spinning Machines ©Historic England

Spinning machines

Woollen yarn was spun on mules. At first these were hand powered, but Farfield Mill would have had miles driven by waterpower and later the steam engine. The long slivers of carded wool were fed to the spinning mules where they were twisted into yarn and collected on wooden bobbins.

Collecting up the full bobbins and replacing them with empty ones, was called doffing and was often one of the first jobs young girls did when they started working in the Mill.

Weaving

The woollen tarn was then ready for weaving (unless it was to be dyed first). Before weaving could begin, the looms had to be warped. Before machines were introduced to do this, it was a long and tedious job. The warp thread was wound onto a warp beam and ‘dressed’ with size paste to strengthen it.

Then each warp thread had to be passed through the ‘eyes’ in two or more warp ‘healds’. During weaving, these healds (heddles) rise and fall, creating a gap ‘gate’ through which the shuttle containing the weft thread is passed. Weaving was a highly skilled job, and it took many months to train up a new weaver.

Warping wool  ©Historic England

Weaving Looms ©Historic England

Weaving Looms ©Historic England

Milling

The ‘pieces’ of woven cloth along with much of the knitted items produced at Farfield, then had to be milled. This was in order to produce a felted, slightly fluffy finish to the surface or ‘knap’ of the cloth.

Fulling Machines  ©Historic England

Wool on the tenter frames  ©Historic England

Tentering

The knitted goods were stretched on wooden shapes or forms, but the woollen cloth was stretched and dried on tenterhooks in surrounding fields. The Dovers eventually had an indoor hot-air tentering room built where cloth could be dried all year round.

Finishing

Once the cloth had been stretched and dried, it needed finishing. This involved raising the knap using teasels and shearing it to an even level. This was generally done by hand, but by the mid-19th century, ‘gig’ mills and shearing frames did the same job. It was the introduction of these machines, which sparked off the ‘Luddite’ riots of 1812 in Yorkshire.

After raising and shearing the knap, the cloth had to be checked for faults which were then repaired. It was then folded and packed and stored I the warehouse, ready to be sent for sale.

Finishing cloth on the mill gig  ©Historic England

Dye House ©Historic England

Dying

The Dovers had a Dyehouse at Farfield Mill. The wool could be dyed after it had been woven, this was called dyeing ‘in the piece’, or the yarn itself could be dyed before weaving.

Watch the video ‘All about Witney Blankets’ to see how these processes worked.