This section is from the "A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods" book, by George S. Cole. Also available from Amazon: A complete dictionary of dry goods and history of silk, cotton, linen, wool and other fibrous substances,: Including a full explanation of the modern processes ... together with various useful tables.
Loom. [Literally, an utensil, from the Anglo-Saxon loma, furniture, utensils] The loom is the machine on which weaving is performed, the simplest form of which is the hand loom, which is not now used in this country except by a few families in rural communities. The power loom has so greatly facilitated and cheapened the production of fabrics that it has entirely replaced the former. The power loom differs much in appearance from the old wooden hand loom, being altogether more compact, and made of iron and steel. The motion of all its parts are accomplished by steam or water power, or by power other than that of the operator. The hand loom is now almost wholly devoted to fine silks and carpets, nearly all other fabrics being woven on power looms, either with or without the Jacquard attachment. The credit of the invention of the power loom is due to the Rev. E. Cartwright, of England. The circumstance of his dis-covery, which will be found fully detailed in the following passage, are curious, and of interest in the history of inventions. Mr. Cartwright, says:
" Happening to be at Matlock in the summer of 1784, I fell in company with some gentlemen of Manchester, when the conversation turned on Arkwright's spinning machinery. One of the company observed, that as soon as Arkwright's patent expired, so many mills would be erected, and so much cotton spun, that hands never could be found to weave it. To this observation I replied, that Arkwright must then set his wits to work and invent a weaving mill. This brought on a conversation on the subject, in which the Manchester gentlemen unanimously agreed that the thing was impracticable ; and, in defense of their opinion, they adduced arguments which I certainly was incompetent to answer, or even to comprehend, being totally ignorant of the subject having never at any time seen a person weave. I controverted, however, the impracticability of the thing, by remarking that there had lately been exhibited in London an automaton figure which played at chess.
" Some little time afterwards, a particular circumstance recalling this conversation to my mind, it struck me that, as in plain weaving, according to the conception I then had of the business, there could only be three movements, which were to follow each other in succession, there would be little difficulty in producing and repeating them. Full of these ideas, I immediately employed a carpenter and smith to carry them into effect. As soon as the machine was finished, I got a weaver to put it in the warp, which was of such materials as sail-cloth is usually made of. To my great delight a piece of cloth, such as it was, was the production. As I had never before turned my thoughts to anything mechanical, either in theory or practice, nor had even seen a loom at work, or knew anything of its construction, you will readily suppose that my first loom must have been a most rude piece of machinery. The warp was placed perpendicularly, the reed fell with a force of at least half a hundred weight, and the springs which threw the shuttle were strong enough to have thrown a Congreve rocket. In short, it required the strength of two powerful men to work the machine at a slow rate, and only for a short time. Conceiving in my great simplicity that I had accomplished all that was required, I then secured what I thought a most valuable property by a patent, 4th April, 1785. This being done, I then condescended to see how other people wove; and you will guess my astonishment when I compared their easy mode of operation with mine. Availing myself, however, of what I then saw, I made a loom, in its general principles nearly as they are now made; but it was not till the year 1787 that I completed my invention, when I took out my last weaving patent, August 1st of that year."
Cartwright's original loom was but an imperfect machine, although his patent was minute and detailed. Both he and others devoted much labor to its improvement; and in bringing the invention to a successful issue he spent from $150,000 to $200,000, while in return he received only a gift of $50,000 from the English government. The power-loom fought its way to supremacy but slowly, for an imperfect power-loom is no better than a hand-loom; and it was only after the minor adaptations and adjustments which frequently make the difference between success and failure were brought into operation that the real advantages of power-loom weaving became obvious. Even yet for some purposes, especially for weaving the very finest and most exquisite fabrics, the power-loom has not succeeded in supplanting hand work. The essential parts of a loom are: the frame, which supports the working parts; the yarn-beam, at the back part of the frame, upon which the warp-threads are wound; the cloth beam, at the front part of the frame, upon which the cloth is wound as the weaving proceeds; the heddles and their mounting; the reed, and the batten, which carries the reed. The warp-threads extend in parallel order from yarn-beam to the cloth-beam, being also passed in groups through the eyes of the heddles (or harness), and through the interspaces of the reed. The operation of winding the warp-threads upon the yarn-beam, and passing them in due order through the eyes of the heddles, preparatory to weaving, is called "setting up the piece." The function of the heddles is to form an opening among the warps for the passage of the shuttle, which carries the weft. The warp-threads are separated by the heddles into two or more groups, each controlled and alternately drawn up and down by the motion of the heddles, thus leaving an opening (or shed) between the ranks of the warp-threads, through which the shuttle is thrown, carrying a thread of weft. The reed then beats this weft up close against the weft previously thrown in. The reed is composed of thin slats or fine wires arranged in parallel relation between two parallel bars (similar to a comb), placed at such distance as to allow the threads of the warp to pass through the spaces between the slats or wires freely. The weft-thread is wound upon a bobbin which turns upon a wire in the shuttle, and permits the thread to unwind when the shuttle passes to and fro. The shuttle is made of a piece of hard wood pointed at each end, and having a hollow interior for the reception of the bobbin, Narrow fabric looms for ribbons, etc., generally use an eye-pointed needle as a substitute for the shuttle. The jacquard attachment is a device for forming openings for the passage of the shuttle between the warp-threads, and was invented by Joseph M. Jacquard, a Frenchman of Lyons. This device does away with the necessity of the use of heddles. The invention and adoption of this method of weaving at once advanced the art of figure-weaving beyond the mere limit of geometrical patterns into the realm of fine-art industry. It consists, essentially of a series of perforated metal cards, which one after another are laid flat upon the faces of a revolving and perforated prism, in such manner that the perforations in the cards successively and exactly cover corresponding holes in the prism. Wires, each separately controlling the engagement with a hook connected with a set of warp-threads, are made to enter the holes of the metal card, and cause the warps to be lifted above the common level of the other warp-threads, and thus form an opening for the passage of the shuttle. Each card thus represents a different opening, and as there may be an indefinite number of cards joined together by flexible connections, are carried upon the perforated revolving prism. As there may be also a number of shuttles carrying weft-threads of different tints, there is no limit to variety of form and color in the figures that may be woven. Looms for the most part are distinguished by the names of the material they weave, as ribbon-loom, figured-fabric loom, carpet-loom, etc. They differ chiefly in harness system, or in other words, in the manner in which the warp-threads are raised to form an opening for the passage of the shuttle. There may, in all sorts of looms, be several shuttles used, in order to introduce several colors of weft-threads, and thus produce more complicated patterns than can be formed by a single weft. [See Weaving]