Cleaning The Fleece

Wool Scourer

To clean it, the wool was washed by hand using water and either soap wort

Sig Carriers

 or urine, locally called sig. Baskets were used to hold the wet fleece, which was rinsed in flowing water – the local stream – and allowed to dry in the sun if possible. This process was done at the dyehouse by the 18th century.

Picker or Sorter

The raw fleece was sorted by hand into different classes of wool. The picker would assess the quality of the wool by looking at and feeling the staple ‘in the grease’. As it was picked over by hand, dirt and other vegetable matter (burrs) were removed or fell through the mesh supporting the fleece.

A picker sorting and picking the fleece clean


Beating with willow twigs, the willower cleaned the raw wool, removing dust and dirt. By the end of the 18th century, a water driven willowing machine, called a willow or willyer was used to help remove burrs. The wool was passed over iron spikes on a roller. This was not as good as the hand treatment as it was too harsh on the fibres.

Willows beating the fleece to remove dirt, etc.

More recently, vegetable matter was removed by carbonising, the wool being treated with sulphuric acid.