Burling was women’s work. Any small pieces of vegetable matter (called spile) still left in the cloth were removed by hand. Women used burling irons which looked like small tweezers, to get rid of spile. Loose threads were also removed but that was generally done after fulling. By the 18th century, Master Burlers supervised the operation and paid women to do the work.
The Clothier checked a new piece of woven cloth and then sent it to be cleaned or brayed by the scourer to get rid of oil, size and dirt. This might have been done in the fulling mill using sig and pig dung – not a nice job! After this first rough scouring, the cloth was called ‘say’ or ‘in the clean’.
Women mended the cloth, either ‘in the grease’, or in the ‘say’. The cloth was gradually pulled over a bar with the light behind it so that imperfections showed up. Any missing threads were filled in by hand, the women using a small needle and matching yarn. This job was never mechanised.