The fulling mill

A few weeks ago I published a video I called A meditation. In the video I wanted to pay a tribute to the meditative aspects of spinning on a supported spindle.

Josefin Waltin spinning on a spindle by a mill wheel
Spinning at the fulling mill.

We shot  the video at a 17th century industrial site in Dala-Floda, Sweden. The site consists of, among other things, a number of water mills by a creek. One of the mills is a fulling mill.

An old mill house by a creek
Kvarna fulling mill at Dala-Floda, Sweden.

The fulling mill

A fulling mill (vadmalsstamp in Swedish) is a water mill that people use to full, or felt, their woolen cloth to make a sturdy and windproof felted material, used for wadmal clothing. Times were hard in Sweden once and wadmal clothing was the only thing that kept the wind and the cold out.

The inside of a water mil.
The door out to the mill wheel. Photo by Dan Waltin.

The typical cloth for fulling is a loosely woven woolen cloth. The cloth is carefully folded like an accordion and placed in a trough under the big fulling stocks. For the fulling to work you need to pour hot water on the cloth.

Wooden stocks in a fulling mill.
The fulling stocks and the troughs. Isn’t this the perfect murder scene? Killed by fulling. photo by Dan Waltin.

The water-driven mill wheel drives the stocks so that they beat the woven woolen cloth and thus full it. The trough is rounded in the bottom. In the front, the trough mirrors the shape of the stocks. This makes the cloth move around, thus allowing it to be evenly fulled.

Fulling 6 kilos of cloth in the fulling mill takes around 6 hours. After the fulling is finished the cloth is carefully rolled up on rods to dry and re-rolled once a day until it is evenly dried.

Behind the fulling stocks are wheels connected to the water mill that drives the stocks.
Behind the fulling stocks is the huge wooden milling mechanics. Photo by Dan Waltin.

The fulling mill at Dala-Floda is one of just a handful of remaining and working fulling mills in Sweden. In the prime time of the industrial site in Dala-Floda the people in the area worked the mill  Monday through Friday. Today it is only worked a couple of times a year as far as I understand it. There is also a working fulling mill at Skansen outdoor museum in Stockholm.

Skansen outdoor museum explains the fulling mill

Skansen outdoor museum in Stockholm has made a beautiful video where they show and explain how the Skansen fulling mill is used. Even though the video is in spoken Swedish, I think you will get the most of the meaning of how the mill works if your Swedish is a little rusty. The last minutes of the video shows how you can full your cloth with your feet in a basin in the comfort of your own home. Fulling your cloth at home will take about 12 hours. Why not let the whole family join in!

Josefin Waltin spinning on a supported spindle
Spinning by the fulling mill. Photo by an Waltin.

I have a secret dream to one day spin a yarn, weave it, full it and sew a garment out of it. Even if I only get to full it by feet, what’s another 12 hours after a sheep-to-cloth process?

Happy spinning!

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7 Replies to “The fulling mill”

  1. I don’t understand Swedish at all, but watched the lovely film and enjoyed it. I learned from watching. Like you, I dream of weaving cloth from my handspun yarn, and would like to full it to the point of felting for a cape I want to sew for myself.

    I live in Vermont in the northeastern United States, where there are a lot of small modern mills, including one that creates felted blankets. There is also a weaving school, where people learn the old skills. One type of fulling woolen cloth is done at a table, with a group of people around it. The wet cloth is spread out among them, and they sing a lively song while slapping the cloth on the tabletop, then each person passes their section on to the next one, and the process repeats, passing the cloth cloth in a ring around the table, all the while singing. The times I have seen, they did this for about two hours. The resulting cloth is well fulled but not felted.

    Now I know that I can felt cloth with my feet! So I will see if I can do that, and perhaps engage my daughter and granddaughter to help. Thank you for a very interesting and inspirational look at this way of doing things.

    1. Hello Annie,

      I have seen the fulling method you refer to (waulking) in different contexts. As far as I understand it, it’s a Scottish method for waulking wool. In episode 501 of Outlander the heroine Claire gets to join in in cloth slapping and singing at a waulking table. I love this series mainly because of all the craft and especially the wool craft. You can also see it in Norman Kennedy’s wonderful video From wool to waulking (Interweave). But as you say, this method is made for fulling, not felting. The felting in the Swedish fulling mill (vadmalsstamp) is made until you can’t see the individual threads in the weave anymore.

  2. Like Annie, I do not understand Swedish but the video was great. Scotland has a tradition of waulking the wool to full – a day of singing, having great fun with friends and finishing the wool. Norm Kennedy’s video is fabulous. I do not think waulking the wool would ever achieve the fulling that the mill does. Amazing!

    1. Grace,

      I find the fulling mill quite astonishing. Wool has been such a vital part of culture, everyday life and crafting tradition, and today so much of this wonderful material is wasted.

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