Posted by R. John Howe on 12-13-2003 06:14 AM:

Barber: Some Linguistic Anthropology

Dear folks –

One of the methods that students of very old textiles use is to examine linguistic usages in various ages and places, to identify what textile terms and related words were in use. In her “Prehistoric Textiles,” Elizabeth Barber does some of this in her chapter on Felt and Felting.

Referring to the various pummelings that are part of the process of making felt she says:

“This last process has often been a part of the ‘finishing’ of cloth after it comes off the loom, along with washing, bleaching, raising nap, trimming the surface, and so forth. It generally goes under the name of fulling---a term borrowed into English from Latin. (We have excellent information on all these processes in Roman times, from Pliny and from fullers’ shops dug up in Pompeii)…Walke ‘fulling,’ an older Germanic term still found in German, seems originally to have referred specifically to the procedure of pummeling, heaving about, and trampling the cloth or mat full of wool: the cognate Anglo-Saxon wealcan ‘to roll or toss about,’ and descended into the later English as walk ‘to go from place to place; to journey; wander…and only recently ‘to go by foot.’ In rural Scotland, to this day, a ‘wa(u)lking song’ is a song not for hiking but for trampling the new tartan cloth, soaking wet, on a corrugated board so as to make it waterproof and windproof---i.e., for felting it…Similarly, felted woven woolens are still worn by peasants throughout Central Europe and the Balkans, especially in inclement weather, Loden coats being the only type present in western fashion (ed. I think more items of boiled wool caps, gloves, sweaters, etc. are encountered in today's mail order catalogs.) Indeed, the very word mantle in English seems to have come, by a number of bounces via Latin, from a Gallic word for ‘cloak’ that literally meant ‘trodden on.’…

To go back to Barber's initial point in this passage, Hans Wulff, in his "The Traditional Crafts of Persia," provides no reference for "felt" or "felting," but includes two sections on "fulling," which I will treat in a separate post.

Interesting stuff.


R. John Howe

Posted by R. John Howe on 12-16-2003 01:16 PM:

Dear folks -

I sent Barber's piece on "waulking" above to a friend of mine, one David Ferguson, who takes things Celtic quite seriously.

He is familiar with the term and demonstrated that in his reply.

Here it is:

Hi, John:

Good as always to hear from you.

Down home, the community effort of waulking is known as a milling frolic. And waulking as a term is widely enough known that the Scottish Celtic/world-music group Capercaillie has an album entitled "Sidewaulk."

Here's another link to waulking:

It has a picture of fabric finished in Cape Breton (and the woman on the right of that photo reminds me of my grandmother). There's also a drawing with the legend "Women at the Quern, and at the Luagh, with a view of Talyskir." I'd bet serious money that's Talisker and thus on Na t-Eilean Sgitheanach (Eilean = Island, Sgitheanach (SKEE-ah-nah) = Skye).

Just for fun, I've attached a sample of wauling songs (ed. I've not been able to pass these files on), though I have no idea where I got it from. I've also attached one of Capercaillie's songs, which I understand made it onto the UK top 40, highly unusual for a song in Gaelic. The beat is much faster and modern, but you can hear the repetition in the lyrics (which I've added below).

As the web site notes, waulking songs were work songs, and sung in a pattern like the chants of seamen or of gandy-dancers.

Coisich a ruin, hu il oro,
Cum do ghealdadh rium, o hi ibh o;
Beir soraidh bhuam, hu il oro
Dha na Hearadh, boch orainn o.

Come on, my love (hu il oro, etc., are rhythm words, like tra la la)
Keep your promise to me
Take greetings from me
Over to (the isle of) Harris.

Beir soraidh bhuam
Dha na Hearadh -
Gu Seon Caimbeul,
Donn mo leannan

Take greetings from me over to Harris
To Sean Campbell, my brown-haired sweetheart.

Gu Seon Caimbeul
Donn mo leannan -
Sealgair geoidh,
Roin is eala

To Sean Campbell, my brown-haired sweetheart.
Hunter of goose, seal, and swan.

Sealgair geoidh,
Roin is eala
Bhric a ni leum,
'N fheidh ri langan.

Hunter of goose, seal, and swan.
Of leaping trout, of bellowing deer.

'S fliuch an oidhche
Nochd's gur fuar i,
Ma thug Clann Nill
Druim a' chuain orr'

Wet is the night
Tonight and cold
if the MacNeills
Have put to sea

Ma thug Clann Nill
Druim a' chuain orr' -
Luchd nan seol ard
'S nan long luatha;

If the MacNeills have put to sea
Men of high sails, and swift of ships

Luchd nan seol ard
'S nan long luatha,
'S nam brataichean
Gorm is uaine

Men of high sails, and swift of ships
And of banners blue and green

'S nam brataichean
Gorm is uaine
Cha b'fhear cearraig
Bheireadh bhuat i.

And of banners blue and green
No left-hander could take her rudder from you.


R. John Howe

Posted by Steve Price on 12-16-2003 01:35 PM:

Hi John

The discussions surely do careen off in unexpected directions from time to time.

Many thanks for this contribution.

Steve Price

Posted by Melina Raissnia on 12-16-2003 02:50 PM:

I love how this discussion is moving into an international sphere. One of the felt makers I work with, Haj Ali Halajion, told my husband that when he makes a three meter namad he works side-by-side with two other felters. In order to synchronize the rubbing they hum to a three beat rhythm like this, " hmm hmm hmm". He even does this when he is alone.

Melina Raissnia