From Fleece to Fashion

The textile-making process: preparation

History of Armley Mills:

Armley Mills was once one of Leeds's many woollen textile mills. By 1890 the company Bentley and Tempest were based at Armley Mills were buying raw materials from all over the world, transforming it into cloth for blankets and coffin linings. 

The textile making process:

Textile making was a complicated four stage process, consisting of preparation, spinning, weaving and finishing. 


Sorters would receive bags of fleeces which they would sort into different types and grades. It was a highly skilled job and the sorter was one of the best paid workers. But it was not without its dangers, many sorters contacted the infection anthrax from handling dirty wool.


When a fleece was first shorn from a sheep it would be very dirty with bits of twigs and leaves as well as the natural greases from the sheep. The wool would be washed with soap and alkali like potash or ammonia in huge 40ft long tanks. The alkali helped to clean and soften the wool and made it easier to dye. There might be three tanks at different temperatures. Powerful rollers squeezed out the water and the wool was steam-heated dry. 

Washing was usually done by male workers and the workshop would have been filled with the sound of their clogs clanking on stone floors. Some times mills had separate washing sheds, but they would always have been very damp, hot and foggy inside. If the wool had a lot of seeds and dirt, then it was carbonised. Sulphuric acid was used to dry up all the unwanted waste.

Shoddy and Mungo

This process was very important in the production of Shoddy and  Mungo cloth. Shoddy and Mungo are types of recycled cloth made from old rags. Bentley and Tempest bought in cheap rags from countries such as Russia to make into Shoddy cloth. Carbonising the rags got rid of cotton and other materials, just leaving wool.



When it was cleaned the wool was 'opened'. This meant that the woollen fleece was broken down into workable fibres. The machinery used to do this depended on the type of wool. A machine called the Fan 'Willey' with sharp metal teeth was used for good quality wool which did not need much opening. A 'Teezer' with bigger, sharper teeth tore other fleeces open and the 'rag devil' was used on unwashed rags. These machines with their gnashing metal teeth looked and sounded frightening and dangerous.


Blending mixes materials with different properties to produce a specific type of cloth. Sometimes cheap and expensive materials were mixed together to cut costs. Blends were like recipes which the Blender followed to build up layered piles of wool.

The fleece is combed (or 'carded') to make the fibres in the wool run in the same direction, to help later with spinning. Carding used to be done by hand, but a carding machine makes the process much quicker. 

Some carding machines had automatic feeds, so that all the worker had to do was load the blend into the front container. The wool was then picked up by pins on a roller. At the top of the roller a comb removed any thick lumps to make an even layer. Another comb dropped it into a pan. 

When a set weight of wool was in the pan it dropped onto the Scribbler. The Scribbler was made from a series of different sized rollers. They worked together to carry the wool through the machine. Some picked up the wool and some combed it. The rollers had different sized metal teeth which mixed and tore the blend, making it finer.


Before the engine became automatic children called Feeders placed the blend into the machine. This could be very dangerous with limbs easily getting trapped in the rollers. In 1822 13-year-old George Dyson was killed at Armley Mills when his leg was ripped off by the Carding Engine.


Anthrax - an infectious disease that causes skin and breathing difficulties

Automatic - something that works by itself

Carbonised - a chemical treatment 

Carding - removing dirt and grease from raw or washed fibres and combing the fibres in the same direction 

Clogs - heavy wooden shoes traditionally worn by working class people in the past
Gnashing - to grind something together
Shorn - closely cut
Transform - changing something completely

View other relevant My Learning resources or see the teachers' notes page for discussion and activity ideas.

Scroll down for a list of links and resources on this topic.

Document icon Learning article provided by: Armley Mills Museum, Leeds Museums and Galleries | 
This content is licensed under Creative Commons BY NC SA

Accessibility Statement | Terms of Use | Site Map

Copyright © My Learning 2018. All Rights Reserved

Website by: Grapple