AskDefine | Define tenter

Dictionary Definition

tenter n : a framework with hooks used for stretching and drying cloth

User Contributed Dictionary



via , maybe from tentorium.


  1. a framework upon which cloth is stretched and dried


  1. To stretch cloth on such a framework

Derived terms



From temptare.



  1. to tempt
  2. to try, risk


Extensive Definition

Fulling or tucking or walking ("waulking" in Scotland) is a step in woollen clothmaking which involves the cleansing of cloth (particularly wool) to get rid of oils, dirt, and other impurities, and thickening it. The worker who does the job is a fuller, tucker or walker. Despite suggestions to the contrary, these processes are essentially identical.

The Process

Fulling involves two processes - scouring and milling (thickening). These are followed by stretching the cloth on great frames known as tenters and held onto those frames by tenterhooks. It is from this process that we derive the phrase being on tenterhooks as meaning to be held in suspense. The area where the tenters were erected was known as a tenterground.
Originally, this was literally pounding the cloth with the fuller's feet (whence the description of them as 'walkers'), or with his hands or a club. However, from the medieval period, it was often carried out in a water mill.


In Roman times, fulling was conducted by slaves standing ankle deep in tubs of human urine and cloth. Urine was so important to the fulling business that urine was taxed. Urine (known as 'wash') was a source of ammonium salts, and assisted in cleansing the cloth.
By the medieval period, fuller's earth had been introduced. This is a naturally-occurring soft clay-like material occurring in nature as an impure hydrous aluminium silicate. This seems to have been used in conjunction with 'wash'. More recently, soap has been used.


The second function of fulling was to thicken the cloth, by matting the fibres together to give it strength. This was vital in the case of woollens, made from short staple wool, but not worsteds made from long staple wool. At this stage, the liquid used was water, thus rinsing out the foul smelling liquor used during cleansing.

Fulling Mills

From the medieval period, the fulling of cloth was often undertaken in a water mill, known as a fulling mill (also as walk mills or tuck mills). In Wales, a fulling mill is a pandy. In these, the cloth was beaten with wooden hammers, known as fulling stocks. Fulling stocks were of two kinds, falling stocks (operating vertically), used only for scouring, and driving or hanging stocks. In both cases the machinery was operated by cams on the shaft of a waterwheel or on a tappet wheel, which lifted the hammer.
Driving stocks were pivotted so that the 'foot' (the head of the hammer) struck the cloth almost horizontally. The stock had a tub holding the liquor and cloth. This was somewhat rounded on the side away from the hammer, so that the cloth gradually turned, ensuring that all parts of it were milled evenly. However, the cloth was taken out about every two hours to undo plaits and wrinkles. The 'foot' was somewhat triangular in shape, with notches to assist the turning of the cloth.


The first reference to a fulling mill so far discovered was in Normandy about 1086. The first in England occurs in the Winton Domesday of 1117-19. Others belonged to the Knights Templar by 1185.
They became widespread during the 13th century, and occur in most counties of England and Wales, but were largely absent in areas only making worsteds.
What caused Don Quixote to tilt at windmills? "Six huge Fulling-Mill Hammers which interchangeably thumping several Pieces of Cloth, made the terrible Noise that caus'd all Don Quixote's Anxieties and Sancho's Tribulation that Night." from Don Quixote by Cervantes.

Popular Culture

‘Fulling’ is popularly called ‘felting’ or ‘boiled wool’ by crafters today (as distinguished from non-woven felt). You can create fulled (felted) fabric at home by beating a sweater in an ordinary washing machine set on hot, load size small, with heavy agitation, and soap. The heat, water and agitation cause the scales of the hair fibers to open up and lock together. The shrunken result is dense, durable, and irreversible. Woolen fabrics (unless treated), some blends, or almost any animal hair will felt, but cotton, acrylics, synthetics or plant fiber will not. For example, the "mats" in cat fur and "dreadlocks" in human hair are formed by a similar process of locking the microscopic scales of the hair together.


  • Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved June 30, 2005.
  • E. K. Scott, 'Early Cloth Fulling and its Machinery' Trans. Newcomen Soc. 12 (1931), 30-52.
  • E. M. Carus-Wilson, 'An Industrial Revolution of the Thirteenth Century' Economic History Review, Old Series, 11(1) (1941), 39-60.
  • Reginald Lennard, 'Early English Fulling Mills: Additional Examples' Economic History Review, New Series, 3(3) (1951), 342-343.
  • R. A. Pelham, Fulling Mills (Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, mills booklet 5, c.1958)
  • A. J. Parkinson, 'Fulling mills in Merinoneth' J. Merioneth Gist. & Rec. Soc. 9(4) (1984), 420-56. so that the
  • D. Druchunas 'Felting, Vogue Knitting, The Basics', Sixth & Spring Books, NY. (2005) 10.


tenter in Danish: Valkning
tenter in German: Walken
tenter in Hebrew: ניקוי צמר
tenter in Dutch: Volder
tenter in Norwegian Nynorsk: Toving
tenter in Swedish: Valkning
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