Tuesday, 14 June 2016

A sneak peek and a waulking bee


After a forced break in stitching, due to back issues, it was sheer bliss to have some quality time with my needle over the last two evenings.

The model for the Scottish reproduction sampler is slowly growing. The border is so unusual being filled with all sorts of birds, squirrels, sheep and bee skeps. We expect to release the chart in the Autumn.

Yesterday I started the day with a post about quilting bees in the American mid west and last evening watched, on my ipad, the latest episode of the 2016 Great British Sewing Bee. As all good things are said to come in threes I thought we could look at another bee today - the Waulking or Fulling bee.


Cloth fresh from the loom must be shrunk before being used to make garments. Waulking is a method of shrinking the cloth that was practiced before the Industrial Revolution in the Scottish Highlands and Islands. In small, remote villages families would get together to shrink cloth from the loom, by wetting and pounding it.


Every culture had to shrink its cloth, Ancient Romans wet it in tubs or barrels and trod upon it; the Greeks put it under waterfalls.


Song was a central element of the waulking bees. When a task is physically demanding song can help make the work easier.

Waulking on the Isle of Skye

Twelve of fourteen women, divided into two equal numbers, sit down each side of a long board, ribbed lengthways, placing the cloth on it: first they begin to work it backwards and forwards with their hands, singing at the same time. When they have tired they use their feet for the same purpose, and six or seven pair of naked feet are in the most violent agitation, working one against the other: as by this time they grew very earnest in their labours, the fury of the song rises; at length it arrives to such a pitch, that without breach of charity you would imagine a troop of female demoniacs to have the assembled - Thomas Pennant 1772

The smell of wet wool and the boiled urine used to fix the dye would make this an unpleasant task for the women. The songs helped them maintain a steady rhythm whilst they worked in unison and kept their energy level up.

Waulking songs are much like folk songs. Different lyrics are set to the same tunes and there is a call and response or a leader sings a verse while everyone else joins in for the chorus. The waulking songs are set to a beat suitable for pounding on the wool.

Outlander 2014
Outlander 2014

In Series 1 of Outlander there is great scene of a waulking bee in full swing.

Thankfully for the modern day home weaver woolen cloth can be shrunk in a washing machine with no hot urine required !

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