Waulking with Norman Kennedy – A Glimpse into the Past

Recently, my husband and I were introduced to the series “Outlander“. According to Starz, the series “…follows the story of Claire Randall, a married combat nurse from 1945 who is mysteriously swept back in time to 1743, where she is immediately thrown into an unknown world where her life is threatened. When she is forced to marry Jamie Fraser, a chivalrous and romantic young Scottish warrior, a passionate relationship is ignited that tears Claire’s heart between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.” The show caught our interest and  we watched the entire first season within a couple of weeks. Now we are anxiously awaiting the second season to come out on Netflix.

This introduction was fortuitous because on one of the episodes Claire gets introduced to the practice of waulkinga process applied to wool tweed that dates back to at least the 13th century, according to Thistle and Broom.

They explain:

Waulking of cloth was done by pounding the material against a board or trampling it with feet, more often the former than the latter. Six to fourteen women, one on each end and equal numbers down the sides, would sit around the waulking board, or, as often, a door was taken off its hinges was set up. The cloth would be pulled towards you and beat on the board then passed slightly to your left before pushing it back, moving it in a four-time clockwise direction. Cloth that was initially eight (middle) finger lengths wide would be three inches narrower when the process was complete in addition to being softer, thicker, and more tightly woven.

You can see the scene from “Outlander” here:

Anyway, the scene was timely for us because in a few weeks we were going to the Taos Wool Festival where much to our surprise, Norman Kennedy was giving a demonstration on waulking. His presentation was complete with the songs that he heard and sang that accompanied the process. When Mike saw that this was taking place he signed us up right away.

Norman Kennedy
Norman Kennedy

The event took place at the Harwood Museum on Friday evening in their amphitheater. A table was set up on stage with seats enough for Kennedy, the weaver and nine participants from the audience. Participants were chosen by tickets and with each round of waulking, the event coordinators drew nine new names. I just happened to be the last person chosen so I got to participate as well.

Lisa waulking
Lisa waulking

Once the wool was woven it had to be felted into a tight cloth. This was especially important for the sailors because back in the days before 1950 (when machines took over a lot of the waulking process, according to Thistle & Broom) there were no rain slickers. Wool  can hold about 30 percent of its weight in water before the wearer starts to feel damp, so getting a tight cloth for sailors was truly important.

The fun thing about waulking was that the group sang cultural songs to keep time during the process. Waulking is hard work. Wet woolen cloth, which is heavy, was arranged into a long, roughly rectangular shape. Participants felted it by pounding it on the table and handing it to one another. Your arms are working overtime and on that night it took four times to get the fabric felted to the right point. Can you imagine doing this all day? The singing and the group work made waulking a great social event. Kennedy told us that people would do the waulking, have a dance afterward and go home the next morning to do the milking. One woman even said that she would rather go to a waulking than a wedding anytime.

Here is a video that Mike took on that evening. I don’t remember what language Mr. Kennedy sang the song in but other songs were in Gaelic, English, Scotch Gaelic and French.

You can see the video here:

After the waulking was completed, Mr. Kennedy sang a few songs. The ones that I wrote down were “How Pleasant and Delightful”, an English song and Young Donald, a Scotch Gaelic tune.

It was a delightful evening and a great start to the wool festival. Just participating in bit of fiber history helped deepen what little understanding I have of it at this point. As I mentioned earlier in the post, most of the task of waulking was taken over by machine around 1950 so it is good that Mr. Kennedy and shows like “Outlander” are giving us a glimpse into the past.

This is not an affiliate link, but if you are interested in more information, Interweave Press has a DVD and a download called “From Wool to Waulking: Spinning Wool and Creating Cloth with Norman Kennedy.”

Taos Wool Festival – A Fiber Freak’s Paradise

Last weekend Mike and I attended the Taos Wool Festival in New Mexico. It was a great weekend. Not only did we get a chance to get away from it all, we also got to see the cottage fiber industry as it stands in Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas up close and personal.

Not one fiber from any major yarn company was present. There were no crafty big box stores; every booth represented small, private enterprise. I had a great time feeling as much of the roving and yarn that I could and drinking in all of the colors. I also made a few purchases which will come up in later posts.

There were demonstrations and classes. The animals that make it all possible were also there:

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Goats were also present, but they were too skittish for pictures. People who harvested angora from rabbits also brought their bunnies.

There was a shearing demonstration. Mike said that the sheep did not look very excited to be part of it:


Demonstrators showed their skill in carding, weaving, and spinning. Of course, all of this equipment was for sale.

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All kinds of fleece, art work – from loom work to felting – and premade handknit items that were white and suitable for dyeing, were available for purchase. It was a wonderful place to buy crafted items, fleece lined shoes and clothing, hand knitted clothing, felted clothing and accessories, blankets, felted hats, shawls – the list goes on.


I was interested in the yarn and fleece. In the picture on the left, I am examining yak roving. The pile on the left, which I am holding, is pure yak, at $7/ounce. The pile on the right was a blend of yak and alpaca, at $8/ounce. Unprocessed yak was only $2 an ounce, but required washing and carding. The wool in the photo on the right is from Navajo-Churro sheep.

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Alpaca seemed to be the most prevalent fiber. Neither Mike nor I realized that so many people raised alpacas and llamas. Angora rabbit fleece was also available. It was delightfully soft and very white. I couldn’t help buying some.

So, you might be asking, why did I buy a bunch of fleece when I am a crocheter? That, my friends, is for another post. But, before I get to that, there is much more to share about the wool festival …

Sale at The Pen & Hook


We’re having a sale at the Pen & Hook from October 5 – 19 in celebration of I Love Yarn Day, which is on October 17th

I Love Yarn Day was started by the Craft Yarn Council , a non-profit made up of the leading yarn companies, accessory manufacturers, publishers and consultants in the yarn industry. Fiber fans around the world are encouraged to share their affection for yarn and “stitch it forward” by teaching at least one newbie to yarn-craft and experience its feel good benefits. Whether people prefer to knit it, crochet it, spin it, weave it or bomb it, the goal is for every yarn-crafter to share their know-how with someone new on October 17th. And then post it, tweet it, pin it and share it on social media with the hashtags #stitchitforward and #ilyd2015 to celebrate and motivate others to join in the fun!

In celebration of this fun event, the Pen and Hook is having a store-wide sale for 15 percent off. To add to the fun, I will enter customers who purchase anything between October 1 – 16  into a drawing for their choice of a free pattern book from my shop.

The drawing will take place on October 17 and I will notify the winner by way of an Etsy conversation.

So, come on over and check out The Pen & Hook. We have fast service and great prices on yarn, crocheted gifts, note cards and journals. I think you will like it!