Tenter Hooks

Contributed by Helmshore Mill Textile Museum

Tenterhooks were used in the process of making woollen cloth. After water has been squeezed out, the woolen cloth was crumpled and needed to be straightened and dried under tension, or it would shrink. The wet cloth was stretched on a large wooden frame, a "tenter", and left to dry. The lengths of wet cloth were stretched on the tenter using hooks (nails driven through the wood) all around the perimeter of the frame to which the cloth's edges were fixed. This ensured that as it dried the cloth would retain its shape and size. When Higher Mill was built the tentering was done in the open air, the tenter frames were erected on the hillside to the east of the mill. Towards the end of World War I, the process was brought inside and dried by steam heating. The saying 'to be on tenterhooks' originated from this method of controlled drying, used to mean being in a state of uneasiness, anxiety, or suspense.

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