The Waulkers Are Coming!

Waulk definition: (verb) to make woolen cloth denser and more felt-like (so it can be cut up without unraveling) by soaking and beating

Nowadays, waulking is done by machine, but for centuries, it was a group activity, similar to a barn raising or a quilting bee. A social occasion where the necessary work was done by many hands, often with food and music.

Move the web towards the sun
Round the table, thump and rub
Stretch and clap till all is done
Stretch and clap and thump and rub

Now is waulked the web we spun
Winter storms may rave in vain
Bless the work by which we won
Comfort from the wind and rain

Excerpt from “Waulking Song” by Sam Henry

We are fortunate that the waulkers are coming to the fair on Saturday afternoon to demonstrate this ancient technique. The group, called Slighe nan Gaidheal is a Gaelic language and cultural society. One of the best ways to learn a language is with songs, and since the group also has a few weavers, they re-enact this fascinating activity with waulking songs, similar to sea shanties sung with a call and response. The caller sets the pace for the group to follow, slow songs first, then faster, and even a song for resting their hands.

They begin with woven cloth, around 24 feet long, with both ends sewn together. The cloth is soaked with a mordant which opens the fibers and makes it easier to lock them together, or felt. In olden days, the mordant was urine which was collected by the village for the weaving and dyeing of the cloth (but I promise they won’t be using that at the fair!). Then, seated at a table, the cloth is pounded by hand for an hour or two. Hard work, but necessary.

Periodically, the cloth is measured to gauge the amount of shrinkage. They use the ingenious method of measuring by bent index fingers (roughly one inch!) as you can see in the photo above.

Here you can see the finished cloth. Don’t miss this fascinating event!

There’s still time to sign up to take one of our workshops: rug hooking, spinning rare breeds, making a faux felted collar, blending colors for spinning and shearing sheep on a stand!

You can still sign up to bring your fleeces, Fiber Arts for the competition and used equipment for sale, but entry forms must be received by April 15!

See you at the fair!

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