"Milled fit for trowsers": toward a fuller['s] understanding of cloth finishing in the mid-Atlantic from 1790 to 1830

West, Eliza
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University of Delaware
Woolen cloth was a staple in the wardrobes of late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century Americans. Whether imported or domestically produced, this cloth went through a series of finishing processes after it was woven, to give it the properties desirable for garments or other uses. During this period in the mid-Atlantic, cloth finishing was typically carried out by craftspeople known as fullers at water-powered fulling mills. The trade of cloth finishing makes use of the inherent properties of wool fiber and can transform both the look and function of woolen cloth in a wide variety of ways. This thesis places the work of fullers into physical, social, and technological context. It explores the role of fulling in the production of cloth and the skills and knowledge which belonged to American country fullers. Throughout, it forefronts the challenges historians face in seeking to understand deeply tactile crafts such as woolen finishing, and posits a solution to this problem in the form of making. This thesis explains the changes which finishing produced in woolen cloth and demonstrates that the knowledge which fullers possessed in both their hands and their minds allowed them to transform cloth into a wide range of different functional textiles.