Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Textile Museum - Jacquard Looms

The Audax Textile Museum in Tilburg has a large display on Jacquard Looms.

These add-ons to "power looms" were invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard in the early 1800's and revolutionized weaving. It was suddenly possible to weave very intricate patterns much more quickly. Patterns were fed into the loom using a set of cards with holes - effectively punch cards. For this reason, the jacquard loom is considered a forerunner of modern computing! The systems were expensive to purchase and operate, requiring highly-skilled weavers and a lot of maintenance. But they could produce high-end damask cloth for table linens in large quantities.

Thanks to the "real" loom weaving lessons I've been taking recently, I was able to understand most of the working parts of these big devices. The patterning comes from having some threads drawn over the others for longer stretches - "overshot" - while the threads underneath continue the standard twill patterning. So the loom has two parts: the basic 4 to 8 shafts for the background twill weave, and the complex, punch-card-driven, individually-controlled string heddles behind this.

The looms were very large - with a second-storey superstructure to accomodate the punch card system:

[jacquard loom in full glory]

The operators basically stood at the loom with their bums resting on a slanted plank, so their feet could operate the levers for the shafts. In the picture above, you can see a leather apron draping down over the finished weaving (to protect it) on the lower right of the loom; the slanted wooden bum rest right in front of this. The white rope is attached to the jacquard pedal, which activates the card reader when the weaver steps on it. The holes in the cards determine which threads get lifted to make the weaving pattern, and each individual card represents one row of weaving. You can see other pedals below the loom under the weaving; these control the "background" weave.

[close up of the heddles]

In the photo above, the hundreds (thousands!) of string "heddles" hanging down with weights are the pattern heddles. Each can lift one warp thread, which runs through a small eye or loop tied in it. To the right you can see wooden frames holding more heddles; these control the background (twill) weave. There are 6 frames and each frame raises every 6th thread across the whole width of the weaving, in turn. These frames are controlled by the pedals, so that by pressing combinations of pedals, you can raise a predictable and repeating pattern of warp threads.

As you can imagine, setting up such a loom with thousands of threads is painstaking work that takes days. And if you make a mistake in threading the heddles, you'll see it in the pattern! So most looms were threaded only once, and then when the weaving was done it would be cut off carefully, leaving the heddles threaded with the remaining threads. You'd tie new threads to the remaining ones (which would still be threaded!), wind up, and start the new weaving. 

You can see how fine the linen warp threads are in the following pictures. The wooden bar across the top photo is a so-called "temple"; an adjustable cross-brace with little grippy teeth at either end, used to stretch the weaving out to a specific width.

[very fine linen warp and the temple in action]

[damask in progress]

These table linens were made using a linen warp (the threads that run through the loom and the heddles) and a cotton weft (the threads doing the actual back-and-forth weaving). The complex pattern is best visible when seen at an angle; it's subtle. That's the beauty - very understated luxury!

The factory had the ability to make new punch cards, so that new designs could be made.

[punch card machine]

Once you have seen these looms, it's much easier to understand the modern ones that were in action at the museum's Textile Lab. This is where textile artists were at work, using computer-controlled looms to create strange new textiles and patterns. That's for next time!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

A Visit to the Textile Museum in Tilburg

I'm on vacation in Holland to see my relatives, and I just had the opportunity to visit the Audax Textile Museum in Tilburg.

This is definitely a place worth visiting, if you are a spinner or a weaver. It's located in an old wool-blanket factory, so there are some rooms dedicated to the old machinery (still all in working order!) that was used to make blankets.

There are other rooms dedicated to the history of jacquard weaving (I'll be blogging about that in a later post), but the major attraction is the Textile Lab, where modern, computer-driven weaving and knitting machines are used by artists to push the boundaries of current tech. Again, for a future post!

So, let's get started.
Quickie tour of the blanket factory:

The factory was in operation between 1900 and 1940, and produced 100% woolen blankets from bales of local wool. The blankets were woven and fulled on site and the entire production chain can be viewed.

The process starts with the "picker" (well, OK, it's called something else in Dutch). The wool shown in the pictures is pretty fantastically clean, and I'm not sure if this was actually the case when this puppy was in current use...but we'll not get picky about this.

[first stop: the picker]

Then, a couple of "carding" steps followed, to produce thin webs of fleece and finally narrow ropes of fleece. Unlike other mills I've visited, this factory didn't use a pindrafter.

[carding, step 1]

[thin fleece mat moving onto second carding step]

[second carding step, producing thin ropes of roving]

The thin rovings that come off the second carder look a lot like those wheels you get from Briggs and Little, called "country roving" - the ones you use to make Cowichan sweaters. See photo below:

[what comes off of the second carder]

These wheels were then used on the "spinner", which was a sort of automated drop-spindle. It thinned and twisted the roving into single-ply yarn.

[the spinner]

Then, weaving ensued. This step wasn't explained fully in the setup (all that was shown was how they set up a warp chain with a machine to do sectional warping - and they didn't demo it with the yarn shown above), but I understood that they produced double-woven pieces of woolen cloth (twill weave) that were then fulled and finally run through the teasel machine. The blankets were of a solid colour, with one side a lighter shade than the other.

The "fuller" took the blankets, soaked in a hot solution of ammonia and soda, and forced them through a pair of rollers, first in one direction and then 90 degrees opposed, to felt the wool fibers. Several passes were required.

[fulling machine]

After fulling, the edges were hemmed and the blanket was run through the "teaseler" a few times: basically a bunch of rollers with nasty burrs on them to raise a nice fluffy pile on the blanket.

[teasel machine]

[closeup of the nasty rollers]

Lots of factors contributed to the downward spiral and eventual death of the factories: the rising popularity of the down-filled or synthetic duvet, the fact that we have central heating in all our houses now, and the rising cost of land which makes selling the factory itself more lucrative than running it as a business. 

Wool blankets are a rarity these days. Most folks have one only as a sort of decorative throw, to cuddle under when watching TV on a winter night, or by a summer campfire. Blanket factories were once relatively common in northern Europe, England, and even in on the east coast of the US.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Sock Yarn Review, v 12

1. KnitPicks Hawthorne - I used the "tonal handpaint" colourway. I was hoping that this yarn would be a "budget" version of Woolen Rabbit Pearl, and it some ways, it is that. At half the price, it certainly is "budget".... The yarn base is nice - not merino, so not as soft as Stroll - with a nice tight ply and lots of boing, so I find it pleasant to knit with. The dye job is not as nice as Woolen Rabbit - the colourways are not as subtle and it stripes in short sections. I think that it's probably not suitable for complex texture designs (like cables) because the colours are overpowering. I've seen other reviewers complain about excessive colour bleeding, but I have not had any issues. I will have to see how this yarn holds up in the long run.

2. Drops Fabel - this is a very popular European sock yarn that I have now finally found a local-ish source for. The colour selection is huge. It's superwash wool (not merino) at 410m/100g, and feels pretty close to Regia, although a little harsher and a bit splittier to knit with. It has an excellent price point! Again, will have to see how this holds up through the laundry.

3. H&W Comfort-Wolle sock wool (uni colours) - got this online from a retailer in Ontario; it's not a common yarn. But, very very nice, right up there with Regia. I'm pumped to see how this will handle repeated laundering; if it's good it will be a close contender to Regia!

4. Not sure if this qualifies as a sock yarn, but I've been knitting a project with KnitPicks Stroll Gradient. Not something I'd knit socks with - the gradient isn't really a gradient - the colour changes are too abrupt. Also, some of the colours stripe/pool during parts of the "gradient". And then there's the fact that it's Stroll - a yarn I am starting to like less and less...

I have recently found an amazing online source for sock yarn: Wool Warehouse. This outfit is based in the UK but shipping to my front door is a flat-rate $CD7, which is f*&*ing cheap, folks! Not to mention that the yarn price is amazingly low! I looooove their selection of Y-chromosome friendly Euro sock yarns.

So, a few days ago, this showed up on my doorstep:

[a crapton of sock yarn, in a lovely organza bag!]

Love the yarn. Love the bag! Can't wait to get started!