Department of Mechanical Engineering at Union College

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Department of Mechanical Engineering at Union College

    Department of Mechanical Engineering at Union College Senior Project Preliminary Proposal for the 2008-2009 Academic Year

    The Automation of Weaving

    An examination of the past and future of loom design

    Proposing Student

    Wendy C. Beatty

    9 May 2008

    Academic Terms

    Fall 08, Winter 09

     COMMITTED Faculty Member


     William D. Keat, Ph.D.



     The craft of fabric weaving is a time honored tradition that has been practiced using a vast assortment of techniques all over the world. Cloths and tapestries have been used as far back as 4,000BC by humans for functional and ornamental purposes, and have become crucial elements of both culture and economy (1). The methods employed to create fabrics are almost as numerous as the purposes for which they are intended, and are implemented on a variety of scales.

     As defined by Ann Hecht (2), weaving is the process of interlacing two sets of threads, know as the warp and weft, together while keeping the members of each set parallel to one another and perpendicular to the other set. The initial, and primary, role of a loom in weaving was and is to keep the warp under tension and in parallel order while the weft is worked into it in and under-over motion. As looms became more complex constructions over time, they allowed for an increase in speed and ease of usage, but often at a cost to the complexity of the work that could be done on them.

    Perhaps the two most important events in the history of the loom were the introductions of the shed and heddle sticks. The shed stick was introduced first, and was a wide, flat stick that went under every other thread of the warp and over the rest. When turned on its small side, its width lifts the threads above it, creating a triangular space between upper and lower warp threads called the shed. The weaver is then able run their weft threads through the shed easily, instead of using their fingers or a long needle (which eventually evolved into the shuttle) to pick under and over the warp in an exceedingly laborious process. However, this still left the problem of needing to get the weft woven through the warp with the other set of threads on top, the ones under the shed stick. Two sticks could not be used, as they canceled each other out, and so for some time this part of the weaving was still done by hand. The heddle stick eventually solved the problem of lifting the lower warp threads above the upper ones by using a string to dip down between the upper strings to drape under the lower strings. This string that looped under every other warp thread was also looped around the heddle stick, and, when the stick was lifted, pulled up the threads and created the counter-shed. Later, a tool called the reed was developed, which used a grid of fine pegs or reeds running between each of the warp threads to keep things in order and untangles. This was integrated with the heddle stick when small holes were introduced in the reed’s teeth (now usually made of metal) that every other warp thread could be run through, holding them in place. The other warp threads moved up and down freely in the spaces between the teeth, called dents, creating the shed and counter shed. The original shed stick thus became no longer necessary. This combination of the reed and heddle became known as the rigid heddle, and is commonly seen on looms today (2,3).

    A classic modern table loom is a small, non-automated loom that allows the weaver to create a sheet of fabric up to about three feet wide with no limit to the length. It typically operates with four heddle sets (though sets of 2 or 8 are also used) that can be

    manipulated manually with levers called finger treadles to control the warp of the weave and thus produce a pattern (3). In the making of a simple, untextured and unpatterned fabric such as what might be used for a sheet or medical gauze, the weaver should not manipulate the finger treadles at all. Some patterning of color can still be done, but nothing too complex. For an extremely complex weave, however, more than 8 heddles (and, thus treadles) might be employed, and each one might be adjusted after every throw of the shuttle (when the weft, wrapped on a spool called a shuttle, is passed through the shed in one direction). Even for only moderately complex patterns, it can be difficult for the weaver to remember the series of motions through which they must move the heddles in order to replicate their work, especially if they leave and come back to it later. Thus, the introduction of a mechanism that would recall and implement the pattern set would greatly benefit a weaver who is interested in performing the motions of weaving quickly and without regard for making small adjustments to the finger treadles after every throw.

    Such automation has been done with large treadle looms, which stand on the floor and typically produce large sheets of fabric. Popular at the beginning of the industrial revolution, the heddles of these looms were initially controlled by foot treadles. It was found, though, that much more complex patterns could be woven using an apparatus thknow as a ‘drawboy’ that was developed in 17 century Italy. A mechanical drawboy

    named after the weaver’s helper it replaced – was a device hung above the loom that used

    harness chords to control each desired shed composition (two threads up, three down, two up; or what have you), but which still had to be operated by hand. The Jacquard loom of 1801 fully solved the problem of pattern automation by utilizing the first punch card system to control an arrangement of hooks similar to the chords of the drawboy, using one card per shuttle pass with punched holes corresponding to the warp threads. A series of cards would be strung in a loop, allowing for the repetition of pattern, and would be advanced by the weaver by use of a single treadle as opposed to the hundred or so that that the cards could replace. This type of punch card loom was developed by Joseph Marie Jaquard [1752-1834 (9)], and was crucial not only to the development of more autonomous weaving structures today’s looms still greatly resemble the Jaquard loom,

    though they are now controlled by computers but also to the development of

    computational machinery (10), and in fact inspired the technology used in the first computers developed at MIT.


    The intention of this project is to examine the problem of pattern execution automation in light of punch card technology, and particularly in application to the classic table loom. Additionally, the history of the development of the loom will be explored in greater depth, with the intention of creating a hands-on educational display. In this way the past and future of weaving will be connected, as with the design component the development of the loom will be proceeding forward even while the designer is exploring the past.


    The scope of this project will be to design and build a table loom that will be capable of recalling and implementing a pre-set pattern while the shuttle is thrown manually. Additionally, a research paper will be written concerning the development of the loom which will include a survey of modern industrial weaving techniques. This paper will then be summarized in the form of an educational display for which informational placards will be prepared and several models of historic hand powered looms will be built.



    This project proposes to explore the past and future of loom development by designing a new component to a classic table loom and by researching the history of loom design development. Specifically, several table loom prototypes will be constructed one is already in existence and experimented with to determine the most

    appropriate method by which to automate the pattern mechanisms. Formal SolidWorks modeling will be done as well, and a final product will be constructed.

    Research materials will include sources that approach weaving from both a mechanical and an artistic perspective, and it is hoped that a tour of an industrial weaving facility can be arranged. The research paper will focus primarily on the loom structures themselves, but will also touch on patterns and the evolution of pattern complexity, as well as the cultural and economic importance of fabric.

    The educational display will take place either within the college itself or in a venue in the vicinity of Schenectady the Edison Exploratorium has already been

    contacted and may take place the term after the project is otherwise fully completed. It will include placards containing relevant information and pictures of different types of looms, as well as several models perhaps a card, a square, an inkle, a Navaho, and the

    table loom that can be touched and used by those who come to view the display.


    The final products of this project will be the following: a redesigned table loom, a research paper on the history of the development of the loom, several models of looms that have been used in the past and are still in use today, and a display of the looms and the ideas within the research paper that is accessible to the public. It is hoped that the resulting table loom will be a viable product with market potential, capable of streamlining the weaving process and allowing the weaver to work without concern for

    their patterns replication. It is also hoped that this project will result in a better understanding of the weaving and design procedure for both the researcher and the community, and that a greater appreciation of fabric is achieved.

Statement of Work

    Task 1)

    What is planned? For this task a classic table loom will be redesigned with

    the intention of automating the pattern formation function.

    How will work be carried out? Hand and SolidWorks drawings will be made,

    and prototypes will be experimented with before a design is finalized. Once a

    design has been deemed optimal, the parts will be acquired and it will be


    The final product to be delivered? A working loom that meets design

    specifications will be the product.

    Task 2)

    What is planned? For this task, a research paper concerning the development

    of the loom will be written. Its final length will be determined by the amount

    of materials available, but it should not be less than 15 pages long.

    How will work be carried out? Both the Union college library and the

    Schenectady public library have already proven to contain many useful

    resources, and other sources may be found and ordered on line. In addition, it

    is hoped that tours of industrial weaving facilities may be taken, and artists

    who utilize hand looms might be interviewed.

    The final product to be delivered? A research paper no less than 15 pages long

    that will be centered on the topic of the evolution of loom design will be the

    final product. It may be submitted for publication if an appropriate journal is


    Task 3)

    What is planned? For this task, a public display will be organized and

    arranged with the intention of summarizing the paper written for Task 2. It

    will include written components as well as hands-on experience.

    How will work be carried out? A venue for the display will be identified, and

    placards and pictures will be arranged. Several examples of looms will be

    built simple designs will be chosen to demonstrate various techniques to

    visitors and to give them a chance to try to weave. The preparation for the

    display will be done during the course of the project, but the display itself may

    be presented at a later time.

    The final product to be delivered? A display open to the public and several

    loom models will be the final product.

    Time line

     Weekly meetings will be conducted with the project advisor to ensure adherence thththto the timeline (see below). In the meetings that take place in the 9, 11, and 15

    weeks*, progress will be assessed and, if necessary, adjustments to the subsequent

    assignments will be made. While the educational exhibit will not be put on display until

    after the given 20 week period, a venue should be secured during the course of the

    project’s completion, preferably during the first 10 weeks. The exhibit may also be presented at Steinmetz, if not installed elsewhere at the time.


Week Assignment

    Week 1 Write initial paper outline

    Week 2 Identify starting research materials, outline a reading schedule for following weeks

    Week 3 Brainstorm and 'sketch' out preliminary design ideas, concepts

    Week 4 Design prototype loom for testing ideas

    Week 5 Build prototype, select loom models to be built for exhibition

    Week 6 Make preliminary drawings of design concepts for all looms

    Week 7 Have three complete concepts for designing automation feature

    Week 8 Experiment with concepts

    Week 9 Document final design plan for loom modification, identify materials needed *

    Week 10 Document final design plans for historic looms, identify materials needed

    Continue research, secure materials if funding is available (do as soon as possible) Break

    Week 11 Revisit paper's progress, identify non-archival sources (i.e. tour, interview)*

    Week 12 Plan topics for presentation, identify materials needed, start building table loom

    Week 13 Build table loom, complete frame

    Week 14 Have five pages of paper written

    Week 15 Work on table loom, build first historic loom*

    Week 16 Have ten pages of paper written

    Week 17 Finish table loom, build second historic loom

    Week 18 Have fifteen pages of paper written, start to prepare finished looms for weaving

    Week 19 Build third historic loom, put together pieces for display, print informational placards

    Week 20 Wrap up display, conclude paper, have looms prepared to weave


    Facilities and Equipment

     As both Tasks 1 and 2 involve building models and prototypes, and then setting them up for use, it would be very beneficial to have a small worktable where models in development could be left safely in various stages of completion, as well as a place where finished models could be safely stored. The SolidWorks program needed for depicting design ideas is available on department computers, and is quite accessible. Equipment needs should not exceed those that can be currently met by the machine shop and other department resources, such as the student shop room and the department laboratory manager.

Budget Estimate

    A. Salaries

     Faculty N/A

     Shop labor N/A

    B. Equipment

     Hammers N/A

     Wrenches N/A

     Screw drivers, ect. N/A

    C. Consumables $500

     Frame materials $150

     Components $200

     Test threads $50

     Presentation materials $100

     Total $500

     Funding for this project will be requested from IEF.


     This project will benefit the public by bringing the historic, cultural, and artistic elements of engineering design to the forefront of an educational display that will trace the development of the loom across the ages of man. It will emphasize the point that engineering, artistry, and innovation can and do walk hand in hand, and will touch on moving forward in development as well as looking back.

     The risks involved in this project will be primarily associated with time, as while the historic looms to be built will be selected in part for their simplicity, the modified table loom will be complex and may require the procurement or manufacture of obscure and specialized parts. Issues may also arise in locating an appropriate venue for the display, and in finding and appropriate avenue of publication for the paper. However, if the time line can be adhered to and no problems arise during the construction of the table loom, the project should be successful.


    1. Harris, Jennifer, Ed. Textiles, 5,000 years. New York: Harry N. Abrams, *INC., 1993

    2. Hecht, Ann The Art of the Loom. New York: Rizzoli International *Publications, INC., 1989

    3. Regensteiner, Elsa The Art of Weaving. New York: Van Nostrand *Reinhold Co., 1970

    4. Burningham, Veronica Weaving Without a Loom. Tunbridge Wells, Kent, *Eng.: Search Press Studios, 1998

    5. Bradley, Lavinia Inkle Weaving. London, Eng.: Routledge & Kegen Paul *Ltd., 1982

    6. Alderman, Sharon Mastering Weave Structures. Singapore: Tien Wah *Press (Pte) Limited, 2004

    7. Davenport, Betty Linn Textures and Patterns for the Rigid Heddle Loom. *St. Paul: Dos Tejedoras, 1980

    8. Lundell, Laila The Big Book of Weaving. Västerås, Sweden: Forma *Publishing, 2005

    9. Humphries, Sydney. Oriental Carpets - Runners and Rugs and Some Jacquard Reproductions. London: A & C Black, 1910

    10. Essinger, James. Jacquard's Web - How a Hand-loom Led to the Birth of the Information age. Oxford, Eng.: Oxford University Press, 2004

    11. Scheid, John, and Jesper Svenbro. Trans. Carol Volk. The Craft of Zeus -

    Myths of Weaving and Fabric. Cambridge, Massachusetts London, Eng.: Harvard University Press, 1996

    12. Schoeser, Mary. World Textiles - A concise History. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2003

    13. Birrell, Verla. The Textile Arts. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1959

     * Obtained from the Schenectady County Public Library; Obtained from Union College Schaffer Library

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