Note: when following Huguenot links, please use back button to return to this page.
The Huguenots, who escaped from France and the Low Countries in the 17th Century, settled in the Spitalfields area of London and established the Silk Weaving industry. Not all the Weavers were Huguenots, many were of English families who had been weavers for centuries and there were others, such as ex farm workers, who moved to the metropolis and took up the trade. The Spitalfields area became so crowded that the industry expanded into the Bethnal Green, Mile End and Shoreditch areas. The industry was regulated by the Weavers Company, a type of guild, which endeavoured to maintain a high standard of craftsmanship. Unfortunately, the Company grew lax in its supervision and allowed non weavers to buy themselves into the Company, some even becoming Freemen.
The profitability of the industry depended upon the level of customs duty levied on imported silk goods, this protection having been in place for some considerably period. In 1765 and 1776 import regulations were strengthened and in 1773 the first of the Spitalfield Acts was passed but these were repealed in 1824 and some import duties relaxed two years later. During the period of the strengthened protection, the industry experienced stability and much less poverty. The removal of the remaining import duties in 1860 spelt the demise of the London Silk Weaving industry."
Weavers, generally speaking were not well paid and a government commission in the 1830s established that many journeyman weavers and their families were living in poverty. However, it should be stressed that by and large they were no worse off than their neighbours employed in other trades. Another commission in 1839 found that weavers' children were brought up into the industry and tended to marry into other weaver families. It is apparent that by the middle of the 19th century, most weavers were trying to establish themselves in other types of work. That some were not successful is evident from the number of families who ended up in the Workhouse.
A Rather Romantic Depiction of Weavers.
Simple hand weaving was aided by hanging the warp fibres from a tree--a practice believed to have led to the development of the first vertical looms. The earliest looms date from the 5th millennium BC and consisted of bars or beams that formed a frame to hold a number of parallel threads in two sets. By raising one set of these threads, which together formed the warp, it was possible to run a weft thread between them. The block of wood that is used to carry the weft through the warp is called the shuttle.
One of the most significant improvements to this simple loom was the introduction of the heddle. The heddle is a device that lifts every other lengthwise thread to permit the weaver to pass the weft under a series of warp threads with a single stroke, rather than under one warp thread at a time. The space between the two sets of warp threads is called the shed.
The operation of modern hand looms is essentially the same as it was for ancient looms. After the warp threads have been laid out and the ends have been attached on horizontal beams, the weaver activates the heddle by means of either a crankshaft or a foot pedal. The weaver then passes the shuttle, which contains the bobbin on which the weft thread is wound, through the shed, pushing it close to the preceding row with a comb like device called a reed. The beams that hold the cloth rotate to take up the section of cloth already produced.
The first automated loom (the Jacquard loom) was developed by the Frenchman Joseph-Marie Jacquard in the early 1800s and formed the basis for modern automatic looms. The weave designs were punched into metal cards that were laced together and fed into the loom to control the weave pattern automatically.
Modern power-operated looms have become increasingly automated. The most commonly used power loom is the plain loom, which is used for one-colour fabrics such as those that are made into plain bed sheets. This machine consists of one shuttle that is automatically replenished by a revolving bobbin. Box looms are used for patterns requiring four to eight colours. Threads of different colours are wound on separate shuttles.
The most advanced loom in use today is the shuttle less loom. Weft threads are inserted from revolving cones and are drawn across the warp either by means of long, needle like instruments called rapiers or by extremely powerful, narrow jets of water.
A highly valued animal fibre, silk has long been used for the production of luxurious textiles of the finest quality. Silk is produced by silkworms. The silkworm is not really a worm at all; it is a caterpillar that spins a protective cocoon for use as a shelter while it changes from a caterpillar into a moth. This cocoon is the source of commercial silk.
Almost all commercial silk is made from cocoons spun by silkworms of the genus Bombyx. The finest quality raw silk and the highest fibre production comes from the commonly domesticated silkworm, Bombyx mori, which feeds on the leaves of the mulberry tree (morus is the Latin word for "mulberry").
The whiteness and regularity of the B. mori fibre make it superior to the silk fibres produced by wild silkworms, though wild silk fibres are also used commercially. They are produced in smaller quantities by various large, wild silkworms of the saturniid moth family, Saturniidae. Tussah, also called tasar or tussore, silk, for example, is produced by species of Chinese and Indian silkworms. Tussah silk varies in colour from brown to silver-grey. Eri silkworms produce a white, creamy white, or reddish silk, and muga silkworms produce a golden or creamy white silk. Other types of silkworms are cultivated regionally. Silk produced by wild silkworms is generally thicker than that of the B. mori, and the cocoons often cannot be reeled, or unwound.
Other animal silk fibres are produced by spiders. However, these fibres are very fine and for various reasons have proved impractical for textile use.
Silk is stronger than other natural fibres. When dry, silk filaments are comparable in strength to such synthetic fibres as nylon and polyester; however, silk filaments lose some strength when they are wet. Garments made from silk are lightweight but warm and absorbent. Silk fabrics have excellent draping properties and a natural resistance to creasing and wrinkling. Silk fibres is highly receptive to dyeing, and dyed and printed silk fabrics have a richness and variety seldom found in other textiles.
The major uses of silk are for clothing, including Asian kimonos, Indian saris, and such Western apparel as suits, dresses, scarves, neckties, and hosiery. Silk is used as bolting cloth (for sifting flour and powders) and for sewing thread, surgical sutures, and fishing lines and nets. Silk is also used in electrical insulation, bicycle tires, and typewriter and computer ribbons.
The unwinding of the fine silk filaments from the cocoon is called reeling, and the process is carried out in a building known as a filature. The cocoons are first put into hot water in order to soften the sericin. After soaking, the cocoons are lightly brushed to find the ends of the filaments so that they can be unwound. Although there may be as much as 13,000 feet (4,000 meters) of filament in one cocoon, only about one fifth can be reeled into the continuous filament known as net silk.
Depending on the final thickness that is desired, between five and ten cocoons are usually reeled simultaneously. The filaments are drawn upward together through a small hole or guide to form a single strand. To help the sericin hold the filaments together and to remove any water that may be clinging to them, a system of small pulleys is arranged so that a filament is crossed at one point either with itself or with a neighbouring filament. This crossing is known by the French term croisure. The resulting strand is then wound onto a reel and dried. The wound strand is called a hank.
Reeling was once a long and arduous operation requiring many hours of labour. Today it is highly automated. Modern reeling machines can reel up to 11 pounds (5 kilograms) of raw silk in eight hours. Much reeled silk is traded in hank form, bound into bundles called books. These are packed into bales for sale or export.
Organzine is a strong, thrown yarn used for weaving or knitting. It is composed of single strands that are first twisted and then folded together in two or more folds, then twisted in the direction opposite to that of the first twist. Tram yarns are also used for weaving. They consist of two or more strands run together and then twisted.
Crepe yarns are used in crepe fabrics, which are characterized by a crinkled or puckered surface. Crepe yarns are highly twisted, folded yarns. Doupion, or dupion, yarns were originally taken from a single cocoon spun jointly by two silkworms. They produce an irregular, rough fabric with a coarser texture.
The thickness or fineness of silk filament yarn is expressed in terms of denier, which is defined as the weight, in grams, of 9,000 meters of the yarn. The lower the denier, the finer the silk.
Silk that contains sericin is called raw silk. The gummy substance affords protection during processing and so is usually retained until the yarn or fabric stage. It is then removed by boiling the silk in a mildly alkaline solution. This process, called degumming, leaves the silk soft and lustrous, but it can reduce the weight of the silk by as much as 30 percent.
Silk weaving is similar to the weaving of other types of yarns: warp and weft threads are intertwined according to a pattern to produce a woven fabric. Sheer, soft fabrics like chiffon or lightweight crepe de chine; satin, taffeta, twill, damask, and brocades; even velvets are all woven from silk.
Three basic types of power looms are used in making woven carpets. They are the velvet, the Wilton, and the Axminster.Jacquard mechanism for weaving patterned fabrics. The design of a carpet is drawn on cross-ruled paper, and the coloured yarns are selected. Then the design is punched onto Jacquard cards which are laced together and hung on the loom. Each card controls a row of tufts. As a card passes over the head of the loom, its perforations designate which of the colours of pile yarn on the loom will be lifted to show on the surface. The other yarns are buried in the rug to add more body and resilience. The pile is formed over wires. Multilevel patterns may be created by using serrated wires.
In all three processes the unseen back yarns are the weft (called shot or filler shot in carpet weaving) of jute, the warp chain of cotton, and extra stuffer yarns to add thickness and body.
Most of the rugs marketed today are made by the tufting process. In tufting, a pre-woven backing fabric moves through a high-speed machine as a bank of giant needles inserts individual tufts into the material. Yarn from spools on giant creels is air-blown through plastic or copper tubes to the needles. On the face side of the carpet, the yarn is caught by a hook that forms the loop. For cut pile, a small knife beside each hook slits the loop.
A layer of latex over the back of the carpet locks the fibres into place. A second woven backing may be added to increase stability and strength. Through electronic control of the yarn feed and the needle action, the height of the pile may be varied, creating textured patterns.
A type of finger weaving, braiding is a process of interlacing lengths of hair or of intertwining strands of yarn or other material to form a fabric. Although the terms braiding and plaiting are often used to mean the same thing, there is a difference in method. In plaiting, the strands being braided are linked with adjoining ones; in braiding, the strands simply cross over or under one another.
A three-strand braid of hair is made by bringing the outside strands in, working alternately on one side and then the other. One strand goes over the second and under the third, and this zigzag pattern is repeated down the braid. This simple braid is a good example of the basic method of fabric braiding, though many more than three strands may be used. No matter how great the number, each strand goes in a diagonal line toward one edge of the fabric and then back toward the other edge in a diagonal line at a right angle to the first.
The basic over-and-under method can be varied by increasing the number of threads in each strand. For example, two lengths of yarn can be worked over a second pair and under a third pair. Braiding can also be varied by skipping more than one strand in a regular way. This is called twill braiding. Over two and under two, or over three and under three, results in a more strikingly patterned fabric. Hopi Indian men traditionally made wedding sashes for their brides in an over-three, under-three twill.
Patterns also depend on how the yarns are used. They can be worked across the fabric from one edge or the other, from both edges toward the centre, or from the centre toward the edges. Fabric braiding is normally used in creating narrow articles, such as belts and ropes. This is because of the difficulty in weaving the large number of strands needed for a wide fabric. Even so, ancient Peruvians produced braided textiles that were up to 18 inches (46 centimetres) wide. Braids are sewn together for rugs, hats, or handbags.
A Link to the Macclesfield Silk Museum Web Site