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  • Writer's pictureAlex

Who or What is "Jacquard"?

Portrait of Joseph Jacquard
C'est MOI!! Zut alors!

Hi, I'm Alex, and I tend to write 'how-it's-made' type articles. I'm one of Granny's kids and I run an online store called Sungold's Emporium (you can find many of Granny's artworks there!)


Let's start with a close-up:

An example of Jacquard Fabric with floral design
Image Credit: stux

In a nutshell: Jacquard is any fabric woven on a loom with a Jacquard device attached to it.

The device was patented by French textile artisan/businessman/inventor Joseph Marie Charles dit Jacquard. (His branch of the Charles family were "dit" -- nicknamed -- Jacquard).

The date commonly given for the debut of this world-changing invention is 1804, but, like most new technology, it was based on models made by a long line of tinkerers going back years, and only perfected after much shuttling back-and-forth (sorry).

These loom devices are the forerunners of modern computers.

#1 Arachne spinning,1440. Credit: British Library | #2 Hand-weaving close-up. Credit: Sophia Tsourinaki CC-BY-SA 4.0 | #3 Azerbaijani weaver from Karabakh, 1905. Credit: Unknown, public domain|#4 A power loom on display in Masson Mills, Yorkshire. Credit: Clem Rutter] #5 At the spinning machine. Credit: Library of Congress and Hine, Lewis Wickes

  • "Jacquard" indicates HOW a fabric has been woven -- it's not a specific pattern.

  • The pattern is woven-in, not printed or dyed onto the textile.

  • Jacquard-like fabrics include brocade, matelassé and damask.

  • The device is programmed to control which threads appear on top (jacquard is typically non-reversible) -- black and white or coloured -- to make the pattern.


A brief history

Weaving complex fabrics had always been an arduous task, making the end product incredibly expensive -- these works of art could take YEARS to create by hand.

[#1 Silk Brocade drape, public domain | #2 Silk brocade shoes, 18th Century, public domain | #3 Cope and Chausable, Brocade of Lyon, 19th C. Credit: MOSSOT CC-BY-SA 3.0]

By the dawn of the 19th Century, significant progress had been made in loom technology (in the West, at least; it's worth noting that China had been producing brocade since at least 260 BCE).

"Spinning mule" machine -- the only example left, I think
A Crompton "spinning mule"

Picture this -- it's the Industrial Revolution in Britain, they've got a ginormous Empire and are leading the world in trade -- business is booming.

Meanwhile, across the Channel, Napoleon Bonaparte has declared himself Empereur, and wants his country to be able to compete with the Brits economically. He puts in a huge order for Lyonese silk in 1802 in an effort to stimulate the textile industry...

#1 L'Empereur | #2 Where the lions live, obviously.

In Lyon lives Joseph Marie Charles dit Jacquard, and, by 1805, Napoleon is aware of him and his invention, granting the patent to the city, for which Monsieur Jacquard receives a reward.

Skip forward a few years and, despite huge protests from hand-weavers who are put out of business, the advent of mechanical looms gives both countries' economies a boost, and the rest, you could, say (if you're lazy like me, and don't want to go into any more detail), is history. did the device work?

It was operated with a chain of punched cards. This early mechanical computer could be programmed to produce patterns by rearranging the cards.

The patterns were actually sometimes stolen by rival companies.

The loom devices directly inspired the early computer scientists -- even the 1890 American census was compiled using a variation of this technology. Punch cards remained the primary means of operating electronic computers until digital input took over in the mid-20th Century. (Older readers might remember punching-in-and-out of work sites).

#1 Close-up of the punch-cards on a Jacquard loom | #2 The loom from another angle. On display at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, England. Credit #1 & #2: George H. Williams, public domain | #3 The punched cards that inspired Lovelace* and Babbage in their study of the Analytical Engine -- one of the earliest Turing-complete computers. Credit: Catherine Cronin, CC-BY-SA 2.0


The most famous image in the history of computing

Jacquard on Jacquard!

Oh's Jacquard on jacquard!

The image above took 24,000 punched cards to create. Charles Babbage (he of the Analytical Engine) had a copy of this picture in his study, which apparently inspired him to look into using the punch-card method of computing. You can still see the real thing for yourself at the Science Museum in London. Ada King, Countess of Lovelace also worked on the Analytical Engine and wrote programs for it, becoming the first computer programmer. Upon viewing the Jacquard loom in 1833, she remarked: "This Machinery reminds me of Babbage and his gem of all mechanism."



Nowadays, the biggest producers of Jacquard fabric correlate with the biggest producers of textiles: China for silk, India for cotton and Australia for wool.

Vibrant pink jacquard-type rucksack

As of writing, most of my own jacquard-like stock happens to be in the form of some loud and lovely bags!

I like to check out suppliers from all over the world and simultaneously wonder at videos shot in factories that turn out millions of garments a year. (Which I don't think is a good thing, by the way; it's difficult being an anti-consumerist shop owner, but the human condition is rather puzzling).

I wonder what Monsieur Jacquard would have made of it all?

Signature of Monsieur Jacquard
The inventor's signature. Image Credit: Charavay, Étienne

Thanks for making it through! Have a link to a funny and informative webcomic about the fictional steampunk adventures of Babbage & Lovelace, featuring handy notes by the author -- she knows much more about any of this than I do!


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