A fuller’s job is to “full” raw wool; that is, to remove the lanolin and other greasy impurities from the fibers to whiten it and prepare it for spinning and weaving. In the European tradition, this usually done through the use of fuller’s earth (a naturally-occurring clay), and fuller’s herb (also called soapwort, Saponaria officinalis). Depending on the end use of the wool, the fuller would also thicken the wool by felting it, or causing the fibers to mat together through pounding or mechanical agitation.
In Europe, the fuller was for centuries an important link in the chain of the all-important wool industry, from Medieval times to the late nineteenth century and the advent of the industrial revolution.
In modern times, the processing of wool is done by chemicals and machinery, and the fuller is no longer in the picture. However, the legacy of the importance of this cottage industry (which, in Britain, was also called “tucking” or “walking”) lives on today in the common surnames of Fuller, Tucker, and Walker.
Tales From a Cabinetmaker's Life
Your Guide to the Cottage Industry Revolution