Weaving is the art of working a web of cloth from silk, cotton, or other fibrous thread, in a loom, with a shuttle. The principle of the art may be sard to consist in crossing two sets of threads at right angles to each other; and it was probably first conducted in an extremely coarse and simple manner, like the interlacing or platting of rushes to form mats. An uninformed savage having effected thus much, would naturally be led to operate upon finer materials, which nature might present to his hands, and he would be able to weave them with the same, or nearly the same facility, as he did the coarse matting; the assistance which he might receive from a fellow-labourer, in perhaps opening the threads of his warp with a piece of stick, or in thrusting the weft through its interstices; would naturally suggest the use of sticks, for opening the alternate threads of the warp, and beating up the weft. For want of assistance, our primeval weaver might fasten the ends of his warp, which we will conceive to have been long stripes of the inner bark, to the stumps or boughs of trees.
With his sticks he would then be able to operate with comparative rapidity and excellence; and as it could not fail to escape his notice, nor that of the by-standers, that the alternate threads of the warp, divided into two distinct sets, were alternately raised and depressed by the sticks, and that, sometimes, from accidental circumstances, some of the threads of the warp were raised or depressed by a pull instead of a push; hence we may imagine that some contrivance resembling or performing the same office as the treadles or lams of our present looms, were resorted to; thus we have a complete, though rude machine, excepting the shuttle; the gradual steps to which pretty contrivance must obviously have been made, by the weaver first poking, next sliding, and, finally, as his manual dexterity increased, throwing the weft.
As the early history of weaving is involved in total obscurity, we have thus endeavoured to trace the probable origin and earliest practice of the invention, and at the same time explain the really simple process of which plain weaving consists. In fact, the process is even now conducted in India, and many of the eastern nations, by similar means; the weaver performs his labour in the open air, choosing his station under trees, whose shade may protect him from the scorching rays of the sun. Here extending the threads which compose the warp of his intended cloth lengthwise, between two bamboo rollers, which are fastened to the turf by wooden pins, he digs a hole in the earth large enough to contain his legs when in a sitting posture; then, suspending to the branch of a tree the cords which are intended to cause the reciprocal rising and depressing of the alternate threads of his warp, he fixes underneath, and connected with the cords, two loops, into which, inserting the great toe of either foot, he is ready to commence his operations.
The shuttle with which he causes the cross threads or woof to interlace the warp, is in form like the knitting needle, and, being somewhat longer than the breadth of the warp, is made to perform the office of a baton, by striking the threads of the woof close up to each other. With this rude apparatus the patient Indian succeeds in weaving fabrics which, for delicacy of texture, cannot be surpassed, and can hardly be rivalled, by the European weaver, even when his labours are aided by the most elaborate machinery. '
The machinery by which the process of weaving is conducted in this country varies but little, whatever may be the material of the fabric; the difference in looms for weaving silk or wool, chiefly consisting in the greater stability and strength of the latter, on account of the greater coarseness and elasticity of fibre and the thickness of the cloth woven.
Of late years there have been numerous and great improvements in weaving machinery, and these have, to a great degree, superseded the mechanism of the last century. Nevertheless, the old-fashioned common loom, for weaving plain silks, being still extensively used, especially in Spitalfields, we shall commence our account of the mechanism employed, by giving a description of it.
A, in the annexed figure, is a roller called the cloth-beam, on which the cloth is wound as it is wove; at one end it has a ratchet wheel, and a click, to prevent its running back; at the same end it has also four holes in it, and is turned by putting a stick in these holes: at the other end of the loom is another roller I, on which the yarn is wound; this has two small cords b b wrapped round it, the ends of which are attached to a bar d, which has a weight hung to it; by this means a resistance is caused, which prevents the roller I turning by accident. Ffare called lames; they are each composed of a pair of sticks, between which are fastened a great number of threads; to the bar e are fastened two cords g l, which pass over pulleys, and are fastened to the bar h of the lame F; the lower bars of each lame are connected by cords with the treadles G H; the workman sits on the seat P, and places his feet upon these treadles: as they are connected together by the cords g l, when he presses down one, it will raise the other, and the lames with them; a great number of threads, according to the width of the cloth, are wound round the yarn beam I and are stretched to the cloth-beam A; the middle of the threads which compose the lames E F, have loops called eyes in them, through which the threads between the rollers, which are called the warp, are passed; the first thread of the warp goes through the loops of the lame E, the next attached to the lame F, and so on alternately; by this means, when the weaver presses down one of the treadles with his foot, and raises the other, one lame draws up every other thread, and the other sinks all the rest, so as to make an opening between the sets of thread.