Sunday, November 30, 2008

Weaving Shop (formerly known as Cotton Gin Mill, Textile Mill, Textile Shop)

This building, built in 1840 and originally from the Richmond Hill plantation in Bryan County, Georgia, once housed cotton gins used for separating the seeds from the cotton. At that time, most of the first floor was open, allowing access for horses to the drive mechanism for the gin. A hundred years after it was built it found itself in its new and permanent location north inside of Greenfield Village. When it was initially rebuilt inside of the Village, the first floor remained open, but by 1944 the lower level had been enclosed.

It now houses old weaving machines that date from the colonial period through the 19th century, and are demonstrated by skilled weavers.

An experienced fly shuttle loom weaver can produce about a foot of fabric an hour. Also on display are a modern electric powered loom and knitting machines.

Today, the process of weaving cloth is demonstrated, from colonial hand methods to 20th century power looms. Presenters demonstrate the skill of weaving on a colonial hand loom; the fly-shuttle loom, the first steps towards mechanized textile production; and the jacquard loom, a 19th century weaving machine that could be "programmed" in much the same way as today’s computer.
Of all the looms in this shop, the Jacquard loom (see photo above and below) is perhaps one of the most fascinating, for it's actually a computer from the early 19th century. The Jacquard loom, a mechanical loom invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1801, was the first machine to use punched cards to control a sequence of operations (can anyone say IBM?). Although it did no computation based on the cards, it is considered an important step in the history of computing hardware. The ability to change the pattern of the loom's weave by simply changing cards was an important conceptual precursor to the development of computer programming. This simplified the process of manufacturing textiles with complex patterns such as brocade and damask. The process of the punched card system works in this way: the loom is controlled by the punched cards with punched holes, each row of which corresponds to one row of the design. Multiple rows of holes are punched on each card and the many cards that compose the design of the textile are strung together in order. Each position in the card corresponds to a hook, which can either be raised or stopped dependent on whether the hole is punched out of the card or the card is solid. The hook raises or lowers the harness, which carries and guides the warp thread so that the weft will either lie above or below it. The sequence of raised and lowered threads is what creates the pattern. Each hook can be connected via the harness to a number of threads, allowing more than one repeat of a pattern. A loom with a 400-hook head might have four threads connected to each hook, resulting in a fabric that is 1600 warp ends wide with four repeats of the weave going across.

Natives of the district of Bryan County, Georgia, say that the framed structure was the only building on the plantation left standing by General Sherman when he passed through the district on his march to the sea.


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