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About Looms and Weaving
In History and Today

    The basic operation of the loom has remained unchanged. But there has been a long succession of improvements introduced through ancient and medieval times in both Asia and Europe. One of the most important of these improvements was the introduction of the heddle. The movable rod that served to raise the upper sheet of warp threads. In later looms the heddle became a cord, wire, or steel band, several of which could be used at the same time.

   The drawloom was probably invented in Asia for silk weaving. This loom made possible the weaving of more intricate patterns by providing a means for raising warp threads in groups as required by the pattern. This function was at first performed by a boy (called a drawboy), but in 18th century France this function was successfully mechanized and improved further by use of punched cards. These cards were introduced by Jacques de Vaucanson and Joseph-Marie Jacquard . The punched cards programmed the mechanical drawboy, saving on labor and eliminating errors. In the meantime the English inventions of John Kay (English machinist and engineer, inventor of the flying shuttle), Edmund Cartwright (power drive), and others contributed to the Industrial Revolution. In which the loom and other textile machinery played a central role. Modern looms retain the basic operational principles of these previous loom, but have added a steadily increasing degree of automatic operation.

   Many kinds of these looms were used in many different cultures. A backstrap loom was used in pre-Columbian America and in Asia. The Navajo Indians wove blankets on a two-bar loom for centuries. In some areas you can still find these looms in use.

   Modern looms still weave by repeating in sequence the operations of shedding, picking, and beating in, but within that framework there has been considerable development during the 20th century. Several new types of loom have come into industrial use, whereas older types have been refined to do a more efficient job. Two main reasons for the changes have been the rising cost of labor and the increasing use of man-made continuous-filament yarns. The rising cost of labor first led to an increase in automatic control, automatic handling of yarn packages, and in the use of larger packages. The greater precision and finish in loom construction has made the quality of fabric improve. Deficiency in the quality of the loom readily reflected in the quality of the cloth made from these yarns.

   (The manufactures must keep improving their machines, because they are not putting the love and care into the project that the "modern" hand weaver does. I don't think your can beat the texture and feel of hand spun, hand woven fabric.)

   There are basically two classes of modern loom. The classes differ in whether they produce cloth in flat or tubular form. Looms that weave a flat cloth are called flat looms, most looms are this kind. The others looms are described as circular. As most hand weavers know you can weave a tube or double width on your flat loom, called double weave by some. Flat looms fall into two types of looms, those that employ a shuttle and those that draw the weft from a stationary supply. The looms that draw from a stationary supply are usually called shuttleless looms. There are other looms that do not use a shuttle so this term is not entirely satisfactory, some primitive looms make no use of a shuttle, they merely pass a shed a stick with weft wound on it. Shuttle looms fall into two groups according to whether the shuttle is replenished by hand or automatically. The second loom is often described as an automatic loom, but, except for shuttle replenishment, it's no more automatic than the hand-replenished shuttle loom. Sometimes referred to as a nonautomatic loom. With both types of loom the actual weaving operation is entirely automatic and is performed in the same manner.

    The general engineering refinements of automatic looms have advanced mainly in respect of the weft supply. the loom being fed with large cones of yarn. The high speed, often combined with the use of very large and heavy shuttles makes modern looms noisier than ever. The noise level in the typical textile mill is above the level at which deafness occurs after prolonged exposure.

   The basic patterns or weaves include plain (or tabby), twills, and satins.

   Plain, or tabby weave are the simplest and most common of all weaves. They require only two harnesses and two warp and weft yarns in each weave unit. The warp yarns are held parallel under tension while a crosswise weft yarn is shot over and under alternate warps. The weave unit is completed at the end of the second row of weaving. When the weft has been shot over and under the opposite set of warps, this locks the previous weft in place. The fabric length is increased with the insertion of each additional weft yarn. When warp and weft yarns are approximately equal in size and quantity, the finished fabric is called balanced and potentially stronger than cloth made of the same kind and number of warp and weft yarns in any other basic weave. Tabby woven with different-sized warp and weft yarns gives you such fabrics as taffeta and poplin, those in which many fine warps are interlaced with proportionately fewer thick weft yarns to form fabric with crosswise ridges or ribs. The term extended tabby describes any weave where two or more warps or wefts, or both, are interlaced as a unit. This group includes fabrics with basket like effects and fabrics with ribs formed by groups of warps or wefts in each shed.

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