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TITLE
Waulking the Cloth, Harris
EXTERNAL ID
KIGHF_HF_16_5_024
DISTRICT
Harris
OLD COUNTY/PARISH
INVERNESS: Harris
SOURCE
Highland Folk Museum
ASSET ID
19611
KEYWORDS
textiles
waulking songs
Waulking the Cloth, Harris

The final stage in the production of homespun cloth is waulking - the process for “fulling” Harris Tweed (making it more airtight) and shrinking it slightly. The term "waulking" was coined by a non-Gaelic speaker who saw a waulking done by feet and modified the word "walking".

In Scotland, waulking was done predominantly by hand and exclusively by women. Sitting round a table on which the tweed, which had been soaked in stale urine, was placed (the ammonia in fermented urine helped set the dye and also soften the cloth). Each woman would pull the cloth towards her then pass it slightly to the left before pushing it back, all the while beating it on the hard surface. The cloth was rotated clockwise so that it was evenly processed. Waulking the cloth anti-clockwise was considered unlucky.

Waulking songs, a musical form unique to the Highlands, accompanied the process. These weren’t just sung to pass the time but were used to help maintain the rhythm of the beating which went on for 2-3 hours.

Since the 1950s, machines have taken over the process of “fulling” most commercially-produced cloth but the waulking tradition is still carried on by a number of societies and in some home-craft industries.

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Waulking the Cloth, Harris

INVERNESS: Harris

textiles; waulking songs

Highland Folk Museum

Highland Folk Museum Photographic Collection

The final stage in the production of homespun cloth is waulking - the process for “fulling” Harris Tweed (making it more airtight) and shrinking it slightly. The term "waulking" was coined by a non-Gaelic speaker who saw a waulking done by feet and modified the word "walking". <br /> <br /> In Scotland, waulking was done predominantly by hand and exclusively by women. Sitting round a table on which the tweed, which had been soaked in stale urine, was placed (the ammonia in fermented urine helped set the dye and also soften the cloth). Each woman would pull the cloth towards her then pass it slightly to the left before pushing it back, all the while beating it on the hard surface. The cloth was rotated clockwise so that it was evenly processed. Waulking the cloth anti-clockwise was considered unlucky. <br /> <br /> Waulking songs, a musical form unique to the Highlands, accompanied the process. These weren’t just sung to pass the time but were used to help maintain the rhythm of the beating which went on for 2-3 hours.<br /> <br /> Since the 1950s, machines have taken over the process of “fulling” most commercially-produced cloth but the waulking tradition is still carried on by a number of societies and in some home-craft industries.