From Fullonicae to Gualchiera.

The “punching down” process consisted of beating the cloth to make the fabric
more robust and waterproof. The fabric was also degreased during this phase and
then cleaned by the dirt residue that accumulated during the spinning, weaving
work and, also by animal fat residues.

Short excursus on Stephanus’ Fullonica.

Among the ruins of Pompeii you can visit the remains of a famous fullonica: The
fullonica of Stephanus , whose excavations date back to 1912-1913.
It is not yet clear whether Stephanus was the owner or manager of this building;
the fact is that after the excavations, following the eruption of 79 AD, a skeleton
(that is thought to be Stephanus) was found near the entrance, carrying
a pile of coins worth 1089.5 sesterces ( just over 10,000 euros).
The building is a two floor structure: the lower floor intended for work; the upper
floor which, in addition to being inhabited, provided a terrace, where the clothes
could be hung and dried.
The tanks found here were used for washing and beating the clothes. There are
steps that allowed launderers, or fullones, to go up there.
Almost all slaves who owned by Stephanus were made to step on fabric and
clothes for hours in water and soda (soap did not yet exist). The liquid had to be
alkaline, therefore animal and human urine was put in the mixture.

Pecunia non olet. (Money Doesn’t stink)

Outside the streets of the fullonicae, amphorae (a Roman jar or just with two
handles and a narrow neck) were placed to collect the urine needed for the fibers.
Otherwise, it was collected in special urinals called “vespasians“, named after the
emperor Vespasian who had the urine from public urinals collected into cesspools,
and then it imposed a tax on the launderers who used it.
Not everyone knows that by Roman times, wool was “fulled”. But what does that
The fullonicae were laboratories where wool was felted and finished, and it was
also the place where clothes were washed.
From the age of Vespasian onwards, taxes were placed on urine that was used for
industrial purposes.
The urine of the camel was considered precious for industrial purposes, was
specially imported.
When Titus scolded his father Vespasian for taxing the dyers who collected urine in
the latrines, the emperor replied with the famous Latin phrase: Pecunia non olet .
The urine was used to harden the fabric. The latter are then worked with a clay,
more often known as “terra (soil) da follone“, in order to clean the fabric of fats.
They were beaten again, “felting the wool”, then rewashed to shrink the fabric and
then carded with the back of porcupines, to untangle the fibers.

The “gualchiera”.

Eventually, everything that was done by hand during the time of the Romans was
replaced, in pre-industrial times, by hydro-powered machines. One of these was a
fulling machine called “gualchiera” .
The etymology of the term is probably french origin gauchier or Germanic
walkan , considering it is probably of Lombard influence. In both cases the term
indicates the movement from one place to another.
The manufacturing process, mostly of wool, is not very dissimilar to that of
fullonicae, with the clear difference that human work is replaced by knitting, that
is, large wooden hammers pushed by a steam (usually vertical) powered wheel
called a gora. These alternating hammers, beat on a bumper where the clothes were
place and kept constantly wet from the hot water.
By this time, alkaline solutions were sprayed instead of the urine we talked about
This raw wool fabric that eventually emerged from this machine was called “orbace” , from Arabic al bazz, which means cloth canvas. It was characterized by
the irregularity of the yarn and was commonly produced in Sardinia, where
popular hooded capes were created (also used as blankets).They were usually made
in a dark colors. It was the so-called cappullaru , probably from the Latin scapulae
or scapula, since it was made to rest precisely on the shoulders.

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