For this week's post, we're going to dive into the history of the Jacquard loom. If you've ever visited the Maine Heritage Weavers factory floor in Monmouth, Maine where our store is located, then you know how fascinating these incredible machines are to watch in person. It is easy to visualize the massive impact they had on textile manufacturing's success.  

The Jacquard loom greatly simplifies the process of weaving complex, figured designs, such as matelassé. In a figured design, warp ends must be operated individually (either raised or lowered) to create complicated shapes and forms (for an example, see the Dyer's Wynd Coverlet).

Jacquard looms contain a Jacquard "head" which mechanically controls the raising and lowering of specific warp threads in a given pattern. Before Jacquard looms, this selection was done by an actual person, called a drawboy. Drawboys sat inside the loom, physically moving the warp ends as instructed by the master weaver, who sat in front of the loom and passed the shuttle. Being a drawboy was considered the least glorious job in the weaving industry... poor guys.

Everything changed in 1804, when Joseph-Marie Jacquard unveiled his new invention to the French public:  the Jacquard loom.  Born into a family of weavers in Lyon in1752, Joseph Jacquard was all too familiar with the tedious and time-consuming process of weaving fine fabrics. He sought to create a machine which would enable him to create more fabric with more ease, but in less time -- thus increasing his profit -- and the Jacquard loom was born.

Jacquard looms not only cut time and labor but also enabled weavers to recreate the same design over and over through the use of cards. In Jacquard weaving, punched cards are read by the loom, and indicate which warp threads need to be raised/lowered in a given pattern. On the cards, each row of holes represents one weft shot (or row) within the design. As the cards pass through the Jacquard "head," they are met by a series of small needles, each of which is connected to a hook.  Whether the hook raises or lowers the corresponding warp thread is dependent on the needles meeting a hole or a blank. Cards can be stored, and brought out again whenever the design is to be reproduced.

Because of it's binary nature, Joseph Jacquard's new invention also played a large role in the first computer developments -- pretty neat!

Maine Heritage Weavers currently runs five jacquard looms to create the quality Bates products we know and love. Each loom is outfitted to manufacture either matelassé bedspreads or traditional hobnail terry bedspreads. Our blankets are actually woven on plain dobby looms without a jacquard head since the patterns are much more simple.

If your curiosity has been piqued about jacquard weaving, we are always welcome to visitors in Maine during store hours listed here.

Questions or comments?  Please speak up in the comments below!

May 09, 2016 — Adrienne Beacham

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