The story of the Jacquard loom

The story starts with Joseph Marie Charles Jacquard (7th July 1752 – 7 August 1834), born in Lyon’s Couzon-Au-Mont d’Or, France. He is widely accredited for the creation of the Jacquard loom that not only transformed weaving but also aided the development of other programmable machines like the early computers.

The Jacquard Loom is a mechanical device that uses cards with punched holes, each card corresponds to one row of the design. Multiple rows of holes are systematically punched into the cards and then multiple cards are used to compose the design of the textile. Earlier inventions by his fellow countrymen, Basile Bouchon and Jean-Baptiste Falcon and subsequently Jacques Vaucanson provided the early technology and concepts for Jacquard to build upon and perfect.

Jacquard weaving is the raising of different warp threads allowing the use of coloured threads in the weft and allowing for a different texture within a patterned design. Automating an otherwise laborious process meant that luxurious and desirable fabrics could be created. This especially changed the terry towel and silk weaving industries.

On April 12, 1805, Emperor Napoleon and his wife Empress Josephine visited the nearby town of Lyon to view Jacquard’s new loom. Emperor Napoleon granted the patent for Jacquard’s loom to the city of Lyon, paying Jacquard a lifelong pension of 3,000 francs and a commission of 50 francs for every Jacquard loom to be sold in the ensuing 6 years.

The loom that we use today for Jacquard weaving our towels and robes is conceptually unchanged even now, albeit the programming is computerised.

Indeed in this new world, which has been changed by the Covid 19 pandemic we have used Jacquard looms to weave designs into our cotton face masks and face coverings, allowing them to be branded for corporations and visitor attractions.