Silk and Innovation: The Jacquard Loom in the Age of the Industrial Revolution
Silk has been used for weaving fabrics for at least two millennia. Whether in its smooth satin finish or its many other textures, silk has long been associated with luxury, particularly when combined with decorative patterns. The weaving of these fashionable patterned fabrics had traditionally been done manually, using looms that required two operators with the mental agility to visually remember the complex interlacement of the yarns. Errors were frequent and the process was tedious. The Jacquard machine revolutionised this process through a technique that augured the operation of modern programmable computers, eliminating at the same time the need for a second operator. This innovation of French origin arrived in England in 1820, and this book is the story of its diffusion across the country. The narrative begins with a brief history of the technology and the man behind the invention, before looking at the political, economic and social factors that influenced the adoption of this innovation. The wider context of the silk industry is exposed, from the mass exodus of the Huguenots to the repeal of the Spitalfields Acts, from the glory days of Spitalfields to the Cobden-Chevalier Treaty which hastened the decline of this trade. This story also reveals the critical role played by Stephen Wilson, an entrepreneur from Streatham, Surrey, in the take-up of the Jacquard technology.
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About the picture above: This derivative work is in the public domain. It represents a point paper for jacquard weaving of Dove and Rose wool and silk double-cloth based on William Morris’s design of 1879.
The author provides a fantastic insight into the world of silk production and distribution, and of the technological innovation which aided a huge growth in the British silk industry. The book is clear and concise, yet creates a picturesque narrative of England in the 18th and 19th centuries. From politics to business entrepreneurs and the fashions during the Industrial Revolution, this is a must-have for anybody interested in this innovative and ground-breaking period of time.