Cotton yarn can be made into cloth by knitting or weaving but weaving is by far (in Lancashire although there was a knitting industry in Nottingham) the most important and the only one described here. Weaving is carried out on a loom. Threads run lengthways from back to front of the loom. These are known as the "warp". Using a shuttle yarn is threaded widthways - this is the "weft". At one time it was probably threaded by hand — under; over; under; over; under; over etc with something like a needle. But even in early times, using a hand-loom, it was found to be much quicker to raise alternate warp threads and lower the others. The weft could then be carried between them in a straight line. The position of the warp threads was then reversed and the weft sent back in the opposite direction.


In this diagram as in those that follow the warp is the brown threads running up and down the page (from back to front of the loom) and the weft is the green going from side to side. The different colours are just to distinguish warp and weft. Normally the same colour would be used for both. The nature of the weave is important in determining the 'feel' and qualities of the cloth — how it folds, how it hangs, its strength, and so on.

This diagram shows a simple twill. You can see how it gives rise to a pattern of diagonal lines. In a slightly different twill the weft could go over 2 warp threads and then under 1, over 2, under 1, and so on. In this case the warp would dominate one side of the cloth and the weft the other. The two faces of the cloth would be different. More so if the warp is coarser than the weft. "Jean" and "denim" are variants of such twills.


Here an extra degree of complexity is added. The long lengths of warp shown in this example can make the cloth weaker or more fragile. More vulnerable to damage in wear. All three diagrams show regular and predictable patterns which repeat at frequent small intervals.

The Jacquard loom is capable of much more complex patterns than this — such as weaving motifs and "pictures". Most looms are horizontal but the Jacquard loom is vertical.


The heald is the part of the loom that is used to moved the warp threads up and down. The threads pass through eyelets on the heald. As explained above for a simple weave pattern alternate eyelets are moved up to raise the corresponding warp threads, and the threads between are moved down. When the shuttle travels back their positions are reversed. The reed is like a comb and its purpose is to control the separation of the warp threads. "Reed makers" seems to be a fairly common occupation in the census so perhaps this means that the reeds had a relatively limited life. The shuttle was impelled across the loom, between the "up" and "down" warp threads, by being hit with a "picking stick. The cycle being repeated perhaps 200 times a minute this was responsible for a lot of the noise.

All the warp threads have to be threaded through the heald eyelet and its gap in the reed. This is done by "drawers" and "reachers". Where a new warp thread (or "end") had to be joined to an old one this was done by a "loomer" or "twister". Overlookers, also known as "tacklers", are responsible for setting the looms up with fresh warps and keeping the machinery in good working order. The same word could be used less precisely to mean a "supervisor".

With a basic Lancashire loom the weaver had to replenish the weft thread in the shuttle. There was a trend towards increasing the size of the shuttle and the pirn or cop that it held. Also the loom had to be stopped whilst the shuttle was reloaded which could affect the continuity of the cloth - perhaps leaving a slight imperfection at the place where the stoppage occurred. Automatic looms came in from the start of the 1900s and made this stoppage unnecessary by automatically reloading the shuttle when needed during its momentary stop before it reversed direction. In his book Tippett discusses some modern looms which move the thread across without a shuttle. But this would be after the time of most our ancestors.
FINISHING After weaving there were various processes to finish the cloth some of which are briefly described on the next page.

Last update 12/05/2005