The history of the jacquard loom is very significant. It was invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1801 in Lyon, France, and may well have been one of the biggest influences leading to the industrial revolution. Cloth woven on looms required expert weavers to create patterns and Jacquard was looking for a way to reproduce patterns more simply by mechanical means. Machines could produce cloth amazingly fast but could not reproduce patterns. He conceived of the notion of using punch cards to guide and control the weaving process.
Each row on the punch card corresponds to a row of the design to be incorporated into the fabric. Each potential position on the card acts as a Bolus hook. The hook is either raised or lowered depending on whether the card has a hole punched at that position. The hook raises or lowers the thread called the warp and the base called the weft will lie above or below it accordingly. Each hook can control four threads. The end result is an amazingly complex pattern since some looms have 400 hooks. Thousands of cards can be used to direct the process and weave very complex patterns automatically. With this revolutionary method, even inexperienced weavers could produce accurate patterns in fabric.
The invention is recognised as important because it influenced the development of other automatic processes all over the world. In many ways, this process was the first mechanical computer with the up or down position representing the equivalent of a ’0′ or ’1′. Many fiercely opposed the new advance, especially silk weavers who feared mechanical processes would put them out of business. In fact, there were major riots in the latter half of the century by workers fearful of being replaced by machines.
The loom helped advance not only the textile industry but also automatic processes for other applications. Factories could cut down on human labour. The punch cards could be stored and patterns or processes could be repeated thousands of times with perfect uniformity. In later years the punch card was revived to invent the first calculator. So in many ways the jacquard loom sparked both the industrial and technological revolutions.
Today the jacquard loom is still in use, but it is guided by computers instead of punch cards. It is used to weave many specialised fabrics including brocades, damask, velvet and finally jacquard. These are often employed for upholstery and curtain fabric, table dressings and other uses where sturdy fabric with brilliant colours and textures provide a luxurious feel to upholstered furniture and other fine fabric applications.
Modern jacquard looms can have thousands of hooks. They are quite common throughout the industry but not as common as dobby looms, which can also produce complex patterns. The jacquard loom suffers from the labour-intensive effort needed to thread all of the hooks. Often looms are not re-threaded at all. Robots tie subsequent yarns to the existing warp. It can take days to re-thread a loom, even with as relatively small number of hooks. That is why fabric produced on a genuine jacquard loom is considerably more expensive than other textiles.