Today, British wool is regarded as a fairly low grade quality, it generally goes into the production of carpets. Back in the 15th century this was all that was available. The hairs of a British fleece are short and quite thick, and can only be spun into what is known as woollen spun yarn. When woven this produces a heavy, thick cloth.This cloth is then put through a wet process where the cloth gets pummelled and this gives the cloth a flannel look. After final pressing any surface hairs are removed by hand to give a clean surface to the fabric.

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Was part of the lives of countless rural Devon households until the wool trade declined in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

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Once spun, woollen yarn had to be woven into cloth. Weaving was carried out in Devon’s villages and in Exeter. In rural areas it was the work of children, women and men, but in the city, under the control of the Guild of Weavers, Fullers and Shearmen.

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Woven cloth from the weaver’s loom still contained the sheep’s natural oils and greases. Its fibres also had an open, loose texture. It was the job of the fullers – or, as they were more commonly called in the West Country, the tuckers – to turn this basic cloth into the finished article.

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Fulling shrank the cloth. When lengths of woollen cloth left Exeter’s fulling mills, they were typically one third shorter and one quarter narrower than when they had arrived.

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From the tenter frames the cloth was brought into workshops where a series of other finishing skills took over. The first of these was burling. Here any small pieces of plant matter, loose threads or knots that remained were removed by hand using tweezers called ‘burling irons’.

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After burling came napping, or as it was also called, raising. Here the cloth was hung on vertical frames and its ‘nap’ (outer fibres) was raised in preparation for the work of the shearman. The trade used wooden hand frames shaped like crosses. The long arm of each frame formed a handle, while each crosspiece held a dozen or more prickly seed heads from the teasel plant. Brushing the cloth with these ‘teased out’ the cloth’s fibres.

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Wool may be dyed either as yarn or as cloth. In Exeter the latter was more common and dyeing often represented the last stage in the production of woollen cloth before it was shipped for export.

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Once the woollen cloth had had its nap raised it was ready for the shearman. It was his job to trim the nap to ensure a smooth and even finish.

A shearman had to combine a steady hand with strength and concentration. First the large cloths would be laid over a table with a curved top. Then the shearman would use huge shears to cut the nap. These shears looked like over-sized scissors and had razor-sharp edges.

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