Processing Wool

Although the hair of most animals is suitable for some kind of processing, the wool of sheep has the greatest importance among Hungarians. Formerly, they processed the wool of the long-haired Hungarian sheep, but since the last century the finer merino sheep are bred even by the peasants, and this created a great change in articles of clothing made out {311.} of wool. The Hungarian sheep were sheared generally twice a year, the merino only once, in the spring.

The peasant method of processing wool was discouraged after the great wool boom in the first half of the last century, and it survived for the most part only among the Székelys and other Hungarian groups living in Transylvania. There shearing is done around St. Urban’s Day (May 25th). The sheep are driven into the sheepfold of the gazda responsible for the flock to be sheared, then the sheep are driven back to the pasture the very same day. Shearing was often done on the highland pastures and the unwashed wool was carried home in sacks.

Larger bits of dirt and manure are picked out of the oily wool and the wool is soaked in lukewarm water for half an hour, then beaten thoroughly with a mallet in a creek or other water and carefully dried. After this comes the process of teasing, or tearing of the wool into small pieces, and the separation of white fibres from black. It is carded thoroughly with a square-shaped wool comb, and the wool is then ready for spinning. Although hemp is spun in the winter, women try to spin wool during the summer, using a spindle as they do in the case of hemp. They do this quickly, because the women want to start weaving the wool in the autumn, before the time comes to process the hemp. Wool-weaving reeds are set on the loom used otherwise for weaving hemp; there are also slight differences in the way of warping.

As the finished broadcloth is still too loosely woven for making clothing, they take it to a fulling mill (kalló malom), where, beaten by heavy mallets, the material becomes more compact. The fulling (ványolás) may take as long as 24 hours, during which time the broadcloth is taken out three times and folded up. During the fulling process the cloth generally shrinks to half its original size, but it also becomes much more resistant and is warmer in use. Fulling is done in the spring, when water is not so cold any more. People used to come from great distances to a famous fulling mill.

The gubacsapás, the making of a type of frieze mantle with a horizontal cut, was traditionally the work of professional artisans. They clean, tease, and spin the wool as described before. Artisans weave it on a guba loom, which serves especially this purpose, producing a cloth with woollen tufts twisted in as the weaving progresses, while the other side remains smooth. Because this guba cloth is also loosely woven, it also goes to the fulling mill, where it is pounded until it becomes a stiff material that is easy to make into garments.

Frieze for the szűr mantle is made in a manner similar to that in which the Székelys make broadcloth. This cloth is a dense material with a rather fleecy surface. Fulling compresses the threads so closely together that the inexperienced eye can easily mistake it for felt. However, felt, unlike the others mentioned before, is not made by weaving but by a pressing technique. It is based on the nature of wool which sticks together tightly when pounded together so that the individual threads cannot ever be separated. The makers of a high cap (süveggyártó) and the foot-cloth makers (kapcakészítő), who are mentioned in early charters, worked with similar felt-like material.