Story of the Jacquard Invention
The following narrative reports the history of the Hubert Gotzes weaving workshop in Krefeld, created by HdS, and the history of the family of Hubert Gotzes Jr. in Chicago, created in German by Dr. Ulrike Denter and translated in English by Cynthia Beisswenger of HdS.
The year 1725 marked the first improvement of draw loom by French silk worker Basile Bouchon. He introduced a technique wherein perforated band of paper was utilised to generate a pattern. A continuous roll of paper was manually punched, in sections, each of which indicated one press or lash. The number of shots in each repetition of the pattern determined the required roll’s length. Bouchon’s was capable of handling a relatively small number of warp threads. This limitation was overcome in 1728 by Bouchon’s assistant, Jean Baptiste Falcon, also an expert silk weaver of Lyon. For handling more warp threads automatically, the expert introduced a loom attachment wherein a chain of several punched cards replaced the paper punched roll.
A French inventor of automated mechanical toys, Jacques de Vaucanson, attempted to automate Bouchon’s loom. His mechanism removed the complex system of cords and weights for selecting the warp threads to be raised. His mechanism failed to handle enough warp threads for making complicated patterns, considering the cost of the mechanism. Vaucanson’s loom also used a punched roll system from Bouchon’s loom, rather than the more robust punch card setup of Falcon’s loom. The same principle was implemented in the power loom of Edmund Cartwright designed in 1785 and adopted by the England’s budding cotton industry. The invention of John Kay’s flying shuttle in 1733 also contributed to the introduction of power loom that was commercially successful. Cartwright’s loom was infeasible, but the underlying ideas were further developed in Manchester.
A relevant technology that was used at the same time was music boxes. They were automatic musical instrument in a box that produced musical notes, by using a set of pins placed on a revolving cylinder or disc to pluck the tuned teeth (or lamellae) of a steel comb. They were developed in the 18th century and called carillons à musique (French for “chimes of music”).
The invention of Joseph Marie Jacquard
Joseph Marie Charles Jacquard (7 July 1752 – 7 August 1834) was a French weaver and merchant. Jacquard invented a mechanism for the weaving of sophisticated patterns. Jacquard worked on the Vaucanson’s design to improve it. He produced a working prototype in 1790. In 1806, Jacquard patented his invention.
Unlike the dobby machine, which could lift and lower two or more shafts in up and down movements, and control only entire groups of threads, the Jacquard machine allows each individual warp thread to be controlled. This is done by needles scanning a perforated plate. Running across this plate are the perforation cards, which have holes in many places, although not everywhere. In places where the scanning needles do not find holes in the card and the perforated plate, the resistance releases the hooks of the affected warp threads. These warp threads are not raised for “shedding,” but are carried “invisibly” on the underside of the fabric for the pattern. Using the Jacquard head multiple rows of holes are punched on each card, with one complete card corresponding to one row of the design. What became known as the Jacquard loom was actually an attachment controlled by a chain of punch cards, in which one complete card dictated one row of a pattern. More specifically, it is the “Jacquard head” or “attachment” that adapts to multiple dobby looms to create the intricate patterns.
The invention made the production of complex patterns simpler and faster. Before this invention, looms needed a lot of heddles to move warp threads, because these had to shift independently of one another. Thereby the persons working at each loom were at least two: a weaver and an assistant, whose task was to set the heddles going at the right moment. In this way, a loom can be operated by a single weaver, without the need of help to move the threads, as the Jacquard loom does this automatically. The Jacquard invention allowed for more rapid as well as an efficient production of patterns. This made textured patterned fabrics available to more consumers at a lower price.
The Jacquard loom was one of the automation advancements that marked the Industrial Revolution, transforming the European textile industry.
The Jacquard loom was capable of weaving complex and detailed patterns in a fraction of the time that a manual master weaver would take to create the same product. This revolutionised the manufacture of patterned textiles, allowing them to be produced at a fraction of the cost, and therefore making them available to a new market of middle-class consumers, rather than being reserved for the wealthiest in society.
The social significance of the Jacquard invention was the accessibility of patterns, upon clothing. The composition of the visual patterns includes artistic components and their implementation upon textiles is craft. The concept of including art components is usable items is relevant to the Arts and Crafts movement.
The invention had opponents when it was first introduced to industry. Master weavers in the early 1800s took many years to learn their trade, and many were angry at being replaced by a machine that could do the job more efficiently. As an act of protest, weavers began removing their shoes and throwing them into the looms, breaking the threads and rendering the looms temporarily useless. The shoes worn by workers in France at this time were called sabot, and this is where the word “sabotage” comes from.
The improvement underlying the Jacquard attachment was that encoded punch cards that regulated the weaving process such that any intended pattern was automatically reproduced. The needed design is encoded or prearranged as a cluster of punched holes onto a sequence of associated pasteboard cards. Each card holds a line of holes, which is also a row of a weave. Each sequence of rectangular cards forms a grid of columns and rows when linked. The machine enables each warp thread to function separately. Some prefixed combination of punched holes in a row via a separate card facilitated the desired needles or sprung rods to go by the card and hoist a few threads.
Where there is a hole the rod passes through the card and is unmoved whereas if the hole is not punched the rod is pushed to the left. Each rod acts upon a hook. When the rod is pushed in the hook moves out of position to the left, a rod that is not pushed in leaves its hook in place. A beam then rises under the hooks and those hooks in the rest location are raised; the hooks that have been displaced are not moved by the beam. Each hook can have multiple cords. The cords pass through a guide and are attached to their heddle and a return weight. The heddles raise the warp to create the shed through which the shuttle carrying the weft will pass. A loom with a 400 hook head might have four threads connected to each hook, resulting in a fabric that is 1600 warp ends wide with four repeats of the weave going across. The mechanism is comprehensively illustrated in the design of Semen Korsakov’s punch card reader  . At each quarter rotation a new card is presented to the Jacquard head which represents one row. The associated cards formed a loop, which paved the way for repeated patterns (see Figure 3 and Figure 4). The sequence starts again, once all cards are used.
The Jacquard weaving process
The device works as follows:
- “The threads which must work together are collected in the same heddle and joined to a counterweight by means of a string hanging from above.
- Each string is connected to a series of punched cards, placed on a rotating cylinder. The holes on every piece of pasteboard correspond to the pattern which will appear on the fabric.
- The holes on the pasteboard let only the corresponding counterweights fall: if the card has a hole through which the string can pass, then the weight falls and lift only the warp threads connected to it. All other warp threads remain where they are.
- The weft threads can thus interweave with the weft and create the pattern.
- After that, the weaver pushes this weft yarn with a beater and makes the punched cards move forward. In this way, the strings find new holes and the pattern can keep on growing”.
Modern and contemporary Jacquard weaving
Originally the Jacquard machines were mechanical, and the fabric design was stored in a series of punched cards which were joined to form a continuous chain. The Jacquards often were small and only independently controlled a relatively few warp ends. This required a number of repeats across the loom width. Larger capacity machines or the use of multiple machines, allowed greater control, with fewer repeats, and hence larger designs could be woven across the loom width.
In 1983 the first electronic Jacquard loom was launched. The modern technology came up with more substantial capacity looms wherein only a single end warp control can expand to over 10,000 ends. Modern Jacquard looms are controlled by computers in place of the original punched cards, and can have thousands of hooks. This removes the need of repeats and subsequently almost unlimited flexibility.
The Computer Science Narrative
The Jacquard loom is often considered a predecessor to the modern computer because it uses a binary system to store information that can be read by the loom and reproduced many times over.
Similarly to the Jacquard head, early computers used punched cards to store information. Punch card use a binary system in which each space has either a hole, or no hole. With enough spaces, complex pieces of information can be stored. The ability to change the pattern of the loom’s weave by simply changing cards was an important conceptual precursor to the development of computer programming and data entry. The designs retained for generations could now be easily woven on another loom.
In the early 19th century, English mathematician Charles Babbage designed a calculating machine named the Difference Engine. In 1834 he created the Analytical Engine, that introduced computer programming on the basis of Jacquard’s punch cards. When Babbage released his plans for the Analytical Engine, fellow mathematician Ada Lovelace said: “the Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns, just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves”. Babbage knew of Jacquard looms and planned to use cards to store programs in his Analytical Engine. Babbage’s work laid the foundation for general-purpose computers.
At the end of the 19th century, Herman Hollerith created a punched card tabulating machine which he used to store information. In 1884, he filed a patent for a device that rapidly read information encoded in holes punched on paper. Hollerith founded the Tabulating Machine Company, which eventually became IBM. The punch card system created by Hollerith was used for the Pilot ACE (Automatic Computing Engine), a general-purpose computer built in 1951 by the UK National Physical Laboratory and based on English mathematician Alan Turing’s design