Fulling was the first part of the cloth-making process.
The Fulling or Tucking process consists of the closing together of the threads of newly woven woolen fabric with the assistance of soap or acid liquid, with the end purpose of producing a grease free cloth of the correct thickness for future use, including dying. After a piece of woolen cloth has been first woven, the fibers of its fabric are loose, airy and unmeshed, and similar in texture and appearance to a piece of cheesecloth or sackcloth, and the cloth, clinging to its fibers, still retains a significant amount of oil or grease, introduced during the weaving process. Since oils and grease will inhibit the binding action of the dyes, these need removing.
Fulling was one in a sequence of important processes involved in the production of woolen cloth, and fulfilled two functions that were necessary for the proper finishing of the cloth, namely scouring and consolidation of the fibers of the fabric. Woven cloth straight from the loom has a rather open, loose texture and the woven threads needed closing or tightening. The fulling process intended to consolidate and thicken the structure of the fabric by knitting the fibers together more thoroughly and by shrinking them, which transformed the cloth from a loose 'net' of threads into a compact, tight, textural whole.
In these mills, the cloth was beaten with wooden hammers, known as fulling stocks. Fulling stocks were of two kinds, falling stocks (operating vertically) that were used only for scouring, and driving or hanging stocks. In both cases the machinery was operated by cams on the shaft of a waterwheel or on a tappet wheel, which lifted the hammer.
Following the fulling process, the cloth was attached is to a tentering frame in order to stretch it to the required size by setting the weave to a consistent dimension and tension, and it also acted as a way of evenly drying and bleaching the cloth in the sunlight.
The pounding of the cloth by the stocks creating a great deal of noise and, along with the sound of the force of the water, a fulling mill could be heard from some distance. Like with later mechanized weaving mills, the momentum of the machinery could also be dangerous, for if any clothing caught in the stocks, then a serious injury was the likely result.
Information source: Witheridge Historical Archive