THE SPINNING PROCESS



A spinning mill carries out many processes which transform bales of raw cotton into a yarn ready for weaving. The term "spinning" can refer to the whole activity or just to the final process of making the yarn.


BALE TO LAP The raw cotton arrives in the form of large bales. These are broken open and a worker feeds the cotton into a machine called a "breaker" which gets rid of some of the dirt. The cotton may not be consistent in quality from bale to bale and samples will be taken.

From here the cotton goes to a "scutcher". (Operated by a worker also called a scutcher). This machine cleans the cotton of any remaining dirt and separates the fibres. The cotton emerges in the form of thin "blanket" called the "lap". (Think of how "cotton wool" holds itself together). An important quantity is called the "tex" which basically measures the mass per metre. Ideally the tex of the emerging lap should stay more or less the same. The final end product of the mill, the yarn, needs to be of constant quality and character and this is achieved by checking the cotton through all the preceeding stages. One way to achieve this is by blending. The output from several breakers can be fed into the scutcher so that the contents of different bales are being blended to produce a more uniform output. The stress on quality control is something that has changed over the years and what used to be achieved by the experienced eye of the workers now relies more on measurement.

LAP TO SLIVER Here we have two processes: CARDING and DRAWING
CARDING This is done by a machine called a "card". The fibres are separated more completely and the tex is reduced many times. The output from these machines is more like an untwisted 'rope' than a blanket. Maintenance is done by 'strippers' and 'grinders' according to Tippett but in the census they are generally called 'cardroom hands', 'cardroom operatives'.
DRAWING This is carried out on a machine called a 'draw frame'. This further straightens the fibres. It also combines the output of several carders thus again giving a more uniform product. This combining is referred to as 'doubling'. [Note that the same term 'doubling' is used to refer to the twisting together of two finished yarns]. Sometimes drawing is supplemented by 'combing' which gets rid of short fibres. This is normally for higher quality fabrics. The output from drawing is a loose untwisted 'rope' of cotton.

SLIVER TO ROVING Here the yarn is further attenuated — i.e. it is being stretched so that the weight per unit length decreases further. The process is very similar to drawing. The process is carried out by 'speed frames' and quite often there are three sets in series.
The output from the first is called 'slubbing' The output from the second is called 'inter'(mediate)
The output from the third is 'roving'
'Slubber' and 'rover' are often given as census occupations.

ROVING TO YARN
(SPINNING)
The term "spinning" is sometimes used to denote this final process in the production of the yarn. This involves attenuating (stretching) the yarn to the required tex. Giving the thread strength by adding twist. And winding it on to a bobbin. There are two main methods:
  • MULE SPINNING
  • RING SPINNING
The MULE was originally developed by Samuel Crompton from the "jenny". He never patented his invention and this must have helped its wide introduction. The mule operated in two stages. In one stage the whole 'front' of the machine (perhaps 100 feet long) moved away from the back part stretching and twisting the thread as it did so. It would move several feet (say 5 feet). In stage two the front carriage moved back and at the same time wound the stretched yarn on to a bobbin (or cop). With the early mules the carriage was moved forward by the operators turning a wheel but the invention of the self-acting mule meant that the carriage moved forward itself. Mules would be placed in lines so that the front of one faced the front of the next. As the carriages moved forward, towards each other, only a narrow gap would be left between them for the spinner to walk between. The mules were tended by spinners, piecers, doffers. Piecers would mend broken threads and doffers would remove the full cops. Often they would be men. Mules could at one time produce much finer yarns than ring frames but as the latter have become more capable the mule has become less used.

RING-SPINNING was a development from Richard Arkwright's "water frame". Many Lancashire manufacturer's found that Arkwright's patents were too restrictive so the early water frames lost out to the mule. Ring spinning was not used much in Lancashire until the later years of the 19th century (though invented in USA in 1829) and is carried out on a machine called a ring frame. The process is continuous rather than intermittent, and higher speeds can be achieved. This became the dominant method by mid-1900s. Ring frame tenters were often women and again the full bobbins are removed by doffers. THROSTLE spinning was also developed from the water frame.

TENTER This is as good a point as any to say something about this occupation which can have a number of meanings. The most usual meaning in Lancashire census records is someone who looks after something, cares for something, tends it. So an "engine tenter" is someone who looks after an engine. Another usage which goes back to the early days refers to the days when bleaching was carried out by putting the cloth in the sun. In small quantities the cloth could simply be laid on the grass but later long lines were set up in bleaching crofts and the cloth was hung from these lines on "tenterhooks". The workers who did this could be "crofters" or "tenters" or "tenterers". Looking again at the Tippett book I see he has a picture of cloth going through a bleaching machine which he calls a bleach croft. So prehaps when modern chemistry enabled bleaching to be done inside the factory the word "croft" stuck. Perhaps the term "crofters" was also applied to these inside workers.
WINDING The yarn which emerges from the spinning process cannot usually be woven directly and needs some preparation. Winding is the process of transferring the yarn to larger bobbins or cones. The idea is to get a long continuous length. Weft-winding inolves winding on to smaller bobbins that will go into a shuttle. "Winder" is a common occupation in the census records.
BEAMING The beam is a long cylinder with flanges and perhaps 600 threads are wound on to it side-by-side. The machine is watched over by a "beamer". The full beam is very heavy. In early days beaming was often done in the weaving mill but then tended to be transferred to the spinning mill which would send the full beams to the weavers. Note that this is more specifically called a "warper's beam"
SIZING The yarn is a little fragile for the rough treatment imposed by the weaving process and a "size" is applied to make it more robust. A number of warper's beams (as above) are placed at the back of the sizing machine and the yarn is drawn through and wound on to a "weaver's beam". If the machine is fed by 8 warper's beams of 500 threads each then the weaver's beam will have 4000 parallel threads. Generally the set of warper's beams will produce up to 20 weaver's beams each of 1000 yards or more. The operative is called a "tape sizer" or a "taper". This was a skilled job to get the right degree of dryness.

Last update 25/05/2005