Jacquard fabric, since its invention, is named so due to the style of weaving that forms it. The style is known as Jacquard weaving, which enables almost any loom to hoist self-reliant warp (vertical) threads methodically for generating a textured pattern. Two sets of yarns, vertical and horizontal (wefts) are interlaced such that they cross each other at usually right angle, which is the typical weaving process done on a loom.
Threading a Jacquard loom requires much labor, which is why weavers thread looms only once. Succeeding warps are attached to the prevalent warp with the help of a joining robot functioning to tie each novel thread. Re-threading even for a small loom usually takes many days. In this context, the term ‘Jacquard’ is not restricted to a loom but extends to refer to an additional control mechanism automating the fabric pattern.
While today the process of weaving Jacquard is automated, the historic scene was not so efficient. To handle it, a few significant inventions were invented, of which one was the Jacquard loom. This loom gives special control on interlacing 700 warp threads, which give rise to countless distinct patterns. Because jacquard is a weaving style rather than a material type to be more precise, several fibres are used to generate jacquard textiles, such as acrylic and cotton.
Since ancient times and until the introduction of Jacquard’s loom, raised patterns for fabrics were mostly made by hand. Although hands had a role to play, they were used for running a draw loom that implemented a lengthy and labour-intensive process. The machine also had limited capability of generating complex patterns. For pulling purpose, heddles with warp ends were chosen manually by a draw boy or a secondary operator who worked with the weaver.
Until the early 18th century, the European weaving industry was traditional enough to continue with the manual method followed since hundreds of years. For creating broad finished textiles, thin lengths of fabric were woven by hand after which warp threads were tightly extended across the frame of a loom. This was followed by rising and lowering through the harness of loom due to which weft threads could be woven in between.
While this process came up with elaborated textured patterns and colorful designs, it was time-consuming. It could not give one more than 10cm of fabric each day.
The year 1725 marked the first but remarkable improvement of draw loom by a French silk worker. His name was Basile Bouchon and he introduced a technique wherein perforated band of paper was utilized to generate a pattern. A constant roll of paper was manually punched, in chunks, each of which indicated one press or lash. The number of shots in each repetition of pattern determined the required roll’s length. However, Bouchon’s loom was not so successful, as it was capable of handling a fairly small number of warp threads.
Well, this limitation was overcome in 1737 by Jean Falcon who was 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 strip of Bouchon. This deflected several rows of hooks at once. This improved loom was humbly successful.
During the period from 1747 to 1750, a French inventor of automated mechanical toys, Jacques de Vaucanson attempted to automate the Bouchon’s loom. His mechanism removed the complex system of cords and weights for selecting the warp threads to be raised. However, his mechanism was unsuccessful, as it failed to handle enough warp threads for making enough complicated patterns, considering the cost of the mechanism.
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.
However, the Vaucanson’s mechanism was the starting point for the Jacquard loom. Joseph Marie Jacquard started working on the Vaucanson's failed design to rectify it. After giving many years to it, he came up with a working prototype in 1790.
As bigger mechanized looms continued to replace hand weavers during this time, an explosion of woven items was witnessed in the trade markets of America and Europe. Because they were produced in bulk, these items were inexpensive. Nevertheless, the novel mechanized looms could not beat the skilled labor needed for producing fabrics containing anything, except for a simple pattern like stripes.
By 1793, the Industrial Revolution was at its top level due to which Jacquard was forced to leave his work. However, after battling together his fellow citizens in protection of the new French republic, he started working again in 1801, just after Napoleon came into power. In the same year, he discovered the Jacquard loom as an improvement of draw-loom and showcased at an exhibition in the Louvre to win a bronze medal. This new revolutionary loom was believed to spread mass production against costlier and more complicated designs, thus enabling even complicated patterns to be woven into cloth automatically at the rate of generating a plain fabric.
From 1830 to 1870s, both handlooms and power looms boomed with introduction of the Roberts Loom in 1830 and semi-automatic Lancashire loom in 1841. The latter allows a weaver to operate six looms simultaneously. Finally, for simple patterns, the power loom proved to be more affordable than the hand loom for complex patterning with a Jacquard head. However, tasks were still given to handloom weavers up to 1870s.
The Jacquard loom was an extension of Bouchon’s loom that allowed for more rapid as well as efficient production of patterns. This made textured patterned fabrics available to more consumers at a lower price.
The improvement underlying this loom was 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 weave. Each sequence of rectangular cards forms a grid of columns and rows, when linked.
The machine enabled 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. The associated cards formed a loop, which paved way for repeated patterns. The sequence starts again, once all cards are used.
By mixing any number of associated cards in a loop, the loom showed its ability to weave patterns that were highly complex. These patterns quickly became famous for bed coverings and tablecloths. Along with textile designs having repeated small patterns, Jacquard obtained the limelight for its intricate figurative covers reflecting a big design that is woven in multiple colours.
Jacquard was behind proving his new invention due to which he decided to weave his own portrait. He believed that this would show how to have or copy such a complex image. He finally weaved his own silk portrait in black and white, still preserved as his notable craftwork. This was woven with the help of 10,000 cards.
During 1803, Jacquard was again called to Paris for showing another version of his original design. Well, this second wooded model has the Jacquard attachment or Jacquard mechanism attached atop the frame. The attachment was a device linking the loom to a compatible constant roll of coupled punch cards. This revolutionary method of ‘programming’ a loom allowed the machine to generate damasks, brocades, tapestries, and other intricately woven fabrics of silk more rapidly than the manual mechanism.
The Jacquard's closed/open hole mechanism was the first of its kind to implement a binary system, which is the base of modern basic computer evolved in the 20th century. The designs retained for generations could now be easily woven on another loom. Finally, Jacquard’s machine was detained and openly burned. After the inventor’s death, news of his new engine spread to England after which its details were smuggled. Based on these details, its creation was quickly taken up in Spitalfields, which soon resulted in more Jacquard looms than what was in Lyon.
The initial Jacquards were weaved in hardwood frames with artificial work of iron. In the 19th century, Huguenots such as William Folliott and Zephirin Devoge mastered the art of making such machines and harnesses for the looms. The build size was now not limited, as the weaver’s ability was now not needed to handle the increasing weight of harness and power.
Initially, the Jacquard looms were motor-driven or mechanical in nature, a draw loom being the perfect example. The designs were stocked in a set of punch cards that were associated with each other to create a continuous chain.
The early loom machines were small but could control a few warp ends independently as well as at once. This gave rise to the need of several repeats across the width of loom. With larger capacity machines, control was greater and repeats were less. This made it possible to weave larger designs across the width.
With a mechanical loom, the weaving process demanded much labor and time, as mentioned above. It not only was a slow process but a restricted one, as it limited pattern complexity. Such a loom works when the punched cards are associated together, with having several holes. Each hold keeps in touch with a Bolus hook that is either up or down for lifting or reducing the harness. This is how it carries the warp thread such that the weft yarn remains below or above it.
The series of lifted and dropped threads generated a pattern. Each hook could be linked via a harness to several threads, which enabled multiple copies of a pattern. For example, a loom with a 500 hook head may possess five threads joined to each hook to give a fabric which is 2500 warp ends wide with five repeats of weaving.
By adding an attachment, like of Joseph Jacquard to a mechanical loom, boosted versatility as well as diversity is added to the weaving process. It also facilitates greater control over the warp.
Usually, jacquard weaving is costlier, as its mechanisms are likely to give faults than dobby shedding. Further, the looms run slow and down-time rises, as time is consumed in changing constant chain of cards if the design is modified. This is why mechanical Jacquards are preferred for weaving bigger batches.
It was in 1983 that the first electronic Jacquard loom was launched. The modern technology came up with larger capacity looms wherein only a single end warp control can expand to over 10,000 ends. This removes the need of repeats and subsequently almost unlimited flexibility.
The electronic looms are computer-controlled ones, which considerably brings down the time required for changing the designs. As a result, they can handle smaller batches quite efficiently. These machines do not possess punched cards but have too many hooks.
However, electronic Jacquards are expensive and they may be infeasible for large batch sizes and smaller designs. The bigger machines with single end warp control are costly. So, they are only chosen if great versatility or highly specialized design is needed. Such looms are ideal for boosting the versatility of the niche linen weaving in the West.
Interestingly, the Jacquard loom did not become immediately popular. In fact, several French weavers had opposed it. It took some years to accept this new machine. Although several improvements are made to the original loom, it is in use even today for weaving several textiles, including upholstery fabrics and velvets. It is inevitable to conclude that the loom has revolutionized the process of Jacquard weaving, especially with computerized attachment.