1800 - 2017

The Development of Textile Technology


Inside the TextilTechnikum (Textile Technology Center) in Monforts Quartier, Mönchengladbach

The TextilTechnikum (Textile Technology Center)
Mönchengladbach is one of the most important textile sites in Germany. For this reason, the city has spent many years bringing together looms, spinning machines, and other equipment from old factories, resulting in an internationally unique collection of textile technology. Its main focus is weaving, and the collection ranges from the oldest looms to modern air-jet technology. In the TextilTechnikum in Monforts Quartier—a former textile machine factory—evidence of Mönchengladbach's textile history has been preserved, brought back into operation, and exhibited to the general public. 
Hand Weaving
The textile industry is one of the most important industries in history. Textile production primarily involved the use of flax (linen) and wool until well into the 19th century. The Lower Rhine region was dominated by flax working, with the exception of Krefeld, which was turned into a "silk city" through a state monopoly. For a long time, textiles were produced by hand in home weaving mills, either as a hobby or a full-time occupation. Production was organized using a distribution system. Weavers worked for a distributor, who managed the distribution of their fabrics and provided some of the raw materials and equipment required. First in England, and then in Germany from the start of the 19th century, industrialization replaced traditional production methods with mechanized and automatic procedures in new factories.

The Handloom

The handloom consists of a frame made of thick oak planks that are mortized together. Three movable rollers, called "beams," are attached to this frame: the warp beam, which stockpiles the unwoven warp threads; the breast beam, used as a deflection roller in front of the weaver; and the cloth beam onto which the finished material is wound. The crosspiece, shafts, and beater sit between the warp beam and breast beam.

The weaver uses the beater to feed the weft thread through to the finished fabric. The shafts are operated alternately after each weft using both treadles. This allows each half of the warp threads to be raised or lowered in turn. This creates a "shed," into which the weaver inserts the weft thread by throwing the shuttle. With this throwing action, the material winds itself from a small spool in the shuttle. The weaver then takes their foot off the treadle and strikes the beater to feed the inserted thread through to the finished fabric. This process is repeated as the weaver constantly changes treadles, throwing the shuttle from the left and then the right through the open shed, and striking the beater.

The "reed," also called the "comb," can be found in the beater. This keeps the threads of the warp parallel and in position. A gap is also created between each thread. However, before the warp threads can be passed through the reed, they need to be moved to one of the two shafts using the "heddle." In the simplest form of weaving, known as plain weaving, this means that one warp thread is assigned to the front shaft and the following thread to the back shaft, with the back thread then moving to the front in sequence. This ensures uniformity of the plain woven fabric. The crosspiece establishes the order of the warp threads so that each thread can be repositioned in the correct place after a thread break or tear.

Flax—From the Fields to Linen Thread

Flax is an annual plant, and the bundles of fibers within its stalks can be used to produce linen thread. After sowing the seeds on the 100th day of the year and allowing the plant to grow for another 100 days, its blue flowers bloom and the flax grows sap capsules. The roots die off and the flax can be harvested by "pulling" or uprooting the plants along with their roots. The only part of the plant that is useful for producing linen thread is the stem. The linseed is then extracted by "rippling". After subsequent "retting" of the flax, the following processing steps are performed: breaking, scutching, heckling, spinning, reeling, and spooling. The finished linen yarn is then used as warp or weft for weaving.

Steam Power 
Textile production changed fundamentally in England from the 18th century, and in Germany primarily from the 19th century. Manual work made way for machine production, which required a central energy source. To begin with, water energy was still widely used, but this was quickly overtaken by the steam engine, which was first devised in 1712 by Thomas Newcomen. Traditional, decentralized home-weaving mills were replaced by new factories, and factory workers took the place of home weavers.

Steam Engine

The steam engine for textile work was created by Otto Recke—a company based in the borough of Rheydt—in 1901. It was used in the mechanical linen and jute textile mill, P.W. Blancke in Heinsberg, until the business closed down in 1981. Using transmission belts, the engine ran not only the mill's textile machines, but also its other machinery, as well as a generator for producing electricity.

Machines from the former P.W. Blancke jute-weaving factory in Heinsberg

In the foreground, there is a warping machine for creating the warp beam and, on the right, two calenders. Calenders complete the finishing of a fabric by pressing it at a high temperature.

All Blancke machines—from looms to machinery in the workshop—were driven by steam engine via transmission belts, until the plant was closed in 1981.

Before fabric can be created on the loom, thread needs to be produced. Spinning, reeling, and twisting are essential steps in this, all of which are part of the "pre-work", or the processes carried out before weaving. The spinning process in particular changed dramatically as machinery continued to evolve, and contributed to textile production's industrial revolution. One early example of this is the semi-automatic spinning mule from the 19th century. The automatic machines that came afterwards—called "self-actor" spinning machines—all worked in the same way and tensed one yarn thread after another in succession. The next important step in the development of weaving machinery was the ring spinning machine. The pre-yarn is stretched over the number of fibers required before being wrapped and immediately wound to create the thread through a ring rotor that rotates quickly around the spindle. With the latest rotor spinning machines, such as the Autocoro from 2002, the spinning process itself is no longer visible. The pre-yarn is automatically drawn in, stretched using very quick rotation movements, and wrapped to create the thread. This is directly wound onto spools and is then used in modern weaving mills as both weft and warp yarn.The machine can also automatically fix failures such as thread tears, called "thread breaks," or start the spinning process independently, winding the new thread onto the spools provided. However, the yarn on the spools from the ring spinning machine is not meant to be used immediately. The spun threads are rewound onto thicker spindles using the cross-winding machine, which lengthens them. These can then be reprocessed into warp using a warping machine, or into weft spools for shuttle looms. Twisting increases the tear resistance of the threads as required. Previously spun thread is wrapped around another thread using rotation. The use of twisted warp and weft threads creates fabrics that are especially durable. 

Semi-Automatic "Mule Jenny" Spinning Machine

The "Mule Jenny" works semi-automatically and represents a link between the manual spinning of the "Spinning Jenny" and fully-automatic spinning machines. It marks the evolution of "Spinning Jenny" technology for factory operation and was developed in 1779 by Englishman Samuel Crompton.

The front part of the machine with the spindles can be extended. As the carriage moves out, the roving, which is placed in rollers on the machine, is stretched and spun by the rotating spindles. Then, the carriage is retracted again and the finished yarn is wound onto the reels.

The outward movement of the carriage and the rotation of the spindles is no longer powered by hand, but by a central power source, which is transmitted to the machine via a transmission belt. However, the return movement of the carriage and the winding of the yarn must be carried out by hand. This is clearly visible on the machine. The operator would do this by pressing on the leather cushion with their knee. At the same time, the spinner regulated the winding of the yarn with the large handwheel.

This "Mule Jenny" has eighty spindles and is six meters wide, but it was possible to have 300–500 spindles and widths of up to 14 meters.

The next development was the fully-automatic spinning machine or "self-actor" from 1825/30. However, the "Mule Jenny" continued to hold its own for a good while because the "self-actor" offered only a 20% improvement in performance, was much more expensive, and consumed far more energy.

This "Mule Jenny" was built in the CE Schwalbe spinning-machine factory in Werdau, Germany, around 1850. It is on loan to the TextilTechnikum from the LVR-Industriemuseum (Textilfabrik Cromford) in Ratingen, Germany.

The yarn that comes from the spinning mill needs to be rewound onto the warp beam of the loom before being used for weaving. This process is performed by the warping machine, involving the parallel winding of the yarn sheets onto the warping drum. Yarn spools are placed on "warping creels." In warping, the warp threads from the warping creel that have been sorted by the gathering reed are wound onto the warping drum. Not all required warp threads can be wound at the same time, due to the large amounts of warp threads required, or the limited number of yarn spools that can be held by the warping creel. Spooling the threads from the warping creel onto the warping drum only results in a narrow band. This process is therefore repeated and bands wound next to one other until the desired number of warp threads has been reached. The warp threads from the warping drum are then rewound onto the warp beam.

DSB warping machine made by Schlafhorst, Mönchengladbach 1972

Good warps are an absolute prerequisite for a top-quality finish on woven products. The warping machine controls and monitors the entire warping process, guides the warp section, and measures the section lengths.

The warp creels of this machine can be equipped with 640 yarn spools, meaning 640 warp threads can be spooled simultaneously. The reed determines the thread density and, therefore, the warp width.

After warping, the spooled warp threads are "taken up," or wound onto a large metal roll—the warp beam of the loom.

Silk weaving machine produced by Tonnar in Dülken, Germany, in 1920

The warping machine was used to produce silk warps for the Orth company in Willich, Germany. Machinery from this company can be found in the TextilTechnikum.

Mechanical Weaving
The typical basic shuttle loom from the beginning of the 20th century is operated using a wooden wheel and shaft, and was previously run using leather transmission belts powered by a steam engine. All of the movements that used to be performed by the hands and feet of the weaver are created by eccentric discs in the mechanical weaving mill. These discs lift and lower the shafts and also move the beater, attaching the thread to the fabric. The shuttle with the weft threads is then triggered by activating a lever below. For this reason, this type of loom is also called an "underbeater." Early mechanical looms could only weave using the yarn from one spool in the shuttle without stopping. The loom had to be stopped by the weaver and the shuttle removed from the beater. The weaver then changed the spool and started the weaving machine up again. This meant that, every day, the weaver was occupied with supplying about four to six looms with yarn feeds on spools and managing the weaving process. A typical loom created about 80 warps per minute and produced approximately two meters of fabric in one hour. If one of the spools ran out unnoticed, the loom automatically stopped. To check if the threads were still entering the shed, a "thread monitor" was used—a fork-like device that checked the weft threads after each finished weft. If the thread monitor couldn't find any more threads, it was no longer raised. This automatically stopped the loom. 

Shuttle loom, produced by Robert Hall & Sons Makers, Bury, England, c.1910

Originally, the weft spools in the shuttle had to be exchanged individually by hand when the weft yarn had been weaved. In 1930, the loom was retrofitted with a drum magazine so the weft spool could be changed automatically.

A dobby was also fitted. During weaving, the lifting and lowering of the warp threads forms what is known as the "shed." The shuttle with the weft yarn is passed through this and the fabric is produced. In the simplest case, every second warp thread is raised or lowered, producing a simple, grid-like fabric. The warp threads can also be lifted and lowered in other sequences, enabling more complicated structures. A particular fabric structure is called the "weave," common examples of which are twill, linen, or huckaback weave. The warp threads are lifted by wires, known as "heddles," which are fastened to rods or harnesses Creating different weaves requires several harnesses and these are controlled accordingly. That is is the purpose of the dobby.

Originally, power was supplied via a transmission belt. The transmission wheel is still visible on the loom. An electric motor was later installed for demonstration purposes.

Differentiating Loom Technology

Over time, weaving machines became more specialized. On ribbon looms, for example, numerous narrow fabrics are formed next to one another. On this ribbon loom, constructed by Edmund Finkensieper Bandwebstuhlfabrik in Wuppertal around 1880, twenty-eight strip fabrics (hangers, labels, gauze bandages, colored ribbons, etc.) can be produced in parallel.

Jacquard Machines

Jacquard control technology enabled even greater perfection during the weaving process. Joseph-Marie Jacquard invented the machine named after him around 1800. This machine made it possible to weave even the most complicated patterns by scanning punched cards. Unlike the dobby machine, which could lift and lower two or more shafts in up and down movements, and control only entire groups of threads, the jacquard machine allows each individual warp thread to be controlled.

This is done by needles scanning a perforated plate. Running across this plate are the perforation cards, which have holes in many places, although not everywhere. In places where the scanning needles do not find holes in the card and the perforated plate, the resistance releases the hooks of the affected warp threads. These warp threads are not raised for "shedding," but are carried "invisibly" on the underside of the fabric for the pattern.

Another significant part of weaving is the lift box. To both the left and right of the shed is a movable shuttle box with, at most, four slots built in, so weaving is possible with a maximum of seven shuttles. Changing the shuttle can change colors within a pattern, for example, to place different colored stripes adjacent to one another.

Improvement of Loom Technology

The technology of shuttle looms improved continuously over the years, especially with regard to weaving speed. The number of looms that a weaver could operate at the same time also increased steadily.

Looms from the second half of the 20th century create around 150–200 picks per minute. Despite the high speed, the spool in the shuttle is changed automatically when it is empty. The empty spool core falls into a container on the loom at the same moment as the full spool is pushed out of the spool storage shaft.

At this speed, however, the limits of shuttle weaving are determined by the weight of the shuttle and the spool together with the material. The high speed increases the wear on many parts of the weaving machine and makes the resulting fabric more expensive.

Advances in Modern Weaving Technology

To achieve faster weaving speeds, machines without the traditional shuttles were developed, such as the gripper loom. Higher speeds can be achieved here because less weight is moved and braked. The pick rates range from 300–400 picks per minute.

A gripper at the end of a bar is guided with thread into the open shed of the fabric. The thread is then taken up from the other side by the opposite gripper and pulled through the shed to the end of the fabric. The thread is always fed from one side. As a result, no closed selvages are created, only open ones, and these are cleaned using scissors during the weaving process.

The gripper can be guided by a belt or a rod, giving this technique its name. As no shuttles are used here, yarn insertion takes place using pre-loaded weft spools. These supply the appropriate thread length before the thread is inserted, because direct, jerky unwinding from a large cross-wound bobbin would generate too much resistance.

It's possible for weaving to be even faster with air-jet technology. For example, the air-jet weaving machine at the TextilTechnikum made by Picanol in 2000 can weave up to 1000 picks per minute. In this case, the thread, which is also delivered by pre-loaded weft spools because of the speed, is conveyed through the opened shed by air blasts. It's not just one air blast, but numerous short, small blasts from nozzles arranged in a relay that convey the thread piece by piece through the shed.

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