Learning about the process of weaving.

As I have mentioned before in this part, I did not know a whole lot about textiles, nor did I ever bother to find out more about such a vital element in our world. While working on my exercises and researching about textiles and their uses, I got curious. I originally wanted to go to a textile history museum in the Netherlands but was not allowed in because my province, Antwerp, is an orange zone there. I then looked up some other textile relating museums and managed to get into one specialised in weaving.

Here is what I learned:

The museum had three rooms, the watermill room, the history room, and the weaving room or factory.

Watermill room:

In this room, there were three videos, one that sketched the history of weaving, one explaining what the wheel did for the textile makes, and one that told a story about Van Gogh and his fascination with textile weavers.

The history of weaving:

Weaving, whether by hand or with a machine, is the process of interlacing two sets of yarn or string and pressing these together to form a fabric or textile. In further research I found out, the first accounts of such a process were back in ancient Sumerian times, 3000BCE [18]. The Sumerians had clay tablets that show them utilising looms, machines that aided in the manufacturing of textiles. Some scholars predict there were textiles even in the Paleolithic era, but this cannot yet be proven. [17]

However, the weaving museum annotated the existence of weaving in Egypt and China as the first. They showed images of wall paintings from those times, and, indeed, the oldest clothing piece dates back to ancient Egyptian times, dating to about 2600BCE. While they did not use cotton for their fabrics as is customary now, they used linen. Which is spun from flax fibres, they spun this with a spindle which made, according to legends, the most elegant clothes almost transparent. The ancient Egyptians not only made these textiles at home but also in ateliers of the more wealthy families. [19]

On the other hand, China used silkworm threads to make their woven textiles. Only they did this a while later than the Egyptians. A single silkworm can produce a 0.025mm thick thread over 900 meters long, they usually use these threads to spin their cocoons, but the Chinese found a way to extract this thread and weave textiles with them. It is said it was first invented by Leizu, the wife of the Yellow Emperor, around 2696BCE, when a cocoon fell in her tea, and she saw it unravel [15]. Just as in Egypt, mostly women did the weaving in the beginning, but as demand grew workshops were set up, and both women and men worked at the craft. [12] Nowadays, with the Slow Movement, the practice of making silk stayed much the same, they only stopped killing the worms, and now waited for them to use the cocoon to harvest it for the thread.

[9]

The next grand civilisation they mentioned in the weaving museum was ancient Greek and Romans. We know that the Greeks cultivated flax for linen before the 1200sBCE. This linen was not only used for clothes, but also nets, sails, theatre awnings, and many more. At a later time, they started to use a cotton-linen hybrid to construct canopies. Cotton was an imported fabric from India and came to them via the trade routes. Another cloth that was used a lot was wool. This was better for the ancient Greek and Romans because it was easier to dye than linen and not as expensive as importing cotton. Silk was also utilised by the Roman empire when the worms got smuggled into the land. Emperor Augustus opened up the trade routes to India, which also made silk more accessible. As always, women did the weaving in ancient Greece. Mostly at home, but some delicate fabrics required professional care and were crafted in a primitive factory setting where masters of weaving got together to create. It is also thought that the Romans were the first to develop coloured patterned clothing as evident on a Kore statue with elaborately painted fabrics, from the year 530BCE. [16]

When the Romans were conquering significant parts of Europe, they came across a small country, Belgica, where they found high-quality woven cloths. This was around the 11th century. There are even records of these cloths being sold in Russia at this time. The Flemish cloth industry took off almost eminently. Many of the Low Countries were skilled craftsmen, the region thrived, and as the land was great for keeping sheep, wool was abundant. When the Flemish-cloth demand grew so much, English wool was imported to be spun and transformed in Belgica. In the next hundreds of years, more of the textiles were exported, and many of the towns in Flanders became bustling harbour towns. As always there had to be an end. When Bruges, the biggest harbour began to slip closed, the preferred port for exports moved to Antwerp, but because of its proximity to Germany other exports were more profitable than textiles. Another reason for the collapse of Flanders cloth industry was the rising tensions between two neighbouring countries of the region, England and France. [14] While Belgian textiles are still being produced to this day, every year there are less of them as demand for cheaper and more diverse clothing becomes more prominent. They are diversifying and focusing more on the Nomad concept and those textile needs.[13]

The next part of textile history explained in the Weaving museum, was the English industrialisation of the mechanics, jumping forward a couple of centuries, to the late 18th when mechanised the textile industry. Better transportation of raw materials, steam and coal-fueled machines made low-productive jobs such as home textile making obsolete. The spinning jenny, which was briefly used in the Flanders textile weaving process too, got incorporated into textile manufacturing plants but soon got replaced by the water frame which used water wheels instead of manual power. [21] More about the evolution of the weaving machines later on in this post.

What the wheel did:

The wheel, a replica of a 1700s waterwheel, it was used to spin wool into threads and made the weaving machines work at a steady pace [21]. Steam was not yet reliable enough at this time and would break more threads when weaving [20]. When the industry managers got into fights with the farmers around the textile factories, because the water lever the factories needed to rotate the wheels made the farmland waterlogged, the factories shifted over to ox wheels.

[8]
Van Gogh and weaving:

While the industrial revolution was making many home-based weaving families obsolete, in a few more remote places they still thrived. One such location was Neunen in the Netherlands, and this is where Vincent Van Gogh went to sketch and paint the, then, dying craft. He was always fascinated by the more common folk, from the people picking potatoes on the field, to the people walking around in Montmartre, he always wanted to portray the real world. Presumably, he studies these people to get them just right, as he has done the weavers in Neunen. [11] When he was in Neunen, he was in a phase of drawing peasant’s heads. He made one of his most famous paintings here, The potato eaters, which are probably a family of weavers too [22], or at least they were according to the weaving museum.

History Room:

[2]

The next room in the museum was more focused on their history than the world’s history. There were a few exciting machines that you don’t see often. Such as:

  1. A weft pattern card maker
  2. A thread thickness measuring device [2]
  3. An old-timey hygrometer [3]
  4. A thread moisture meter [1]
  5. Durability measurer [4]

The museum was in Dutch, so I had to translate some parts.

[1]

Weaving room or Factory room:

Here in this room, somebody led me around and showed how the various looms operated and how they evolved. It was fascinating to see how those machines evolved. I only filmed a few of the devices, but there were even ones that use airflow to make the weft. I was genuinely fascinated by the way the weft pattern cards worked. It’s truly an art.

Bibliography:

Images:

  1. Maesen, M. (2020) A thread moisture meter [photograph] In possession of: The author
  2. Maesen, M. (2020) A thread thickness measuring device [photograph] In possession of: The author
  3. Maesen, M. (2020) An old-timey hygrometer [photograph] In possession of: The author
  4. Maesen, M. (2020) Durability measurer [photograph] In possession of: The author
  5. Petrie (1898) Linnen tuniek, gevonden in een graf uit het einde van het Oude Koninkrijk [historic, photograph], At: www.handwerkwereld.com (Accessed on 17/08/20)
  6. Unknown Artist (s.d.) Ancient History of Egyptian Weavers [photograph, wall painting], At: ghorbany.com (Accessed on 16/08/20)
  7. Unknown Artist (s.d.) Illustration of lord checking the weavers [Illustration] At: www.discoveringbelgium.com (Accessed on 17/08/20)
  8. Unknown Artist (s.d.) Illustration of 1770’s water powered textile mill [Illustration] At: www.locallocalhistory.co.uk
  9. Unknown Artist (s.d.) Women Checking Silk, Song China. [illustration] At: www.ancient.eu (Accessed on 17/08/20)
  10. Van Gogh, V. (1884) Brabantse wever aan zijn weefgetouw [painting] At: www.cultuurarchief.nl (Accessed on 17/08/20)

Websites:

  1. Capelleveen, R. (s.d.) Wever van Vincent Van Gogh, At: www.cultuurarchief.nl (Accessed on 17/08/20)
  2. Cartwright, M. (2017) Silk in Antiquity, At: www.ancient.eu (Accessed on 17/08/20)
  3. De Cat, K. (2017) Belgische textielindustrie: ‘Hoe technischer, hoe liever we het hebben’, At: trends.knack.be (Accessed on 17/08/20)
  4. Discovering Belgium (s.d.) The Rise and Fall of the Medieval Flemish Cloth Industry, At: www.discoveringbelgium.com (Accessed on 17/08/20)
  5. Duckster (s.d.) Ancient China Legend of Silk, At: www.ducksters.com (Accessed on 17/08/20)
  6. Encyclopedia (2020)The Textiles Of The Greek And Roman World, At: www.encyclopedia.com (Accessed on 17/08/20)
  7. Fowler, B. (1995) Find Suggests Weaving Preceded Settled Life, At: www.nytimes.com (Accessed on 16/08/20)
  8. Ghorbany (s.d.) Ancient History of Egyptian Weavers, At: ghorbany.com (Accessed on 16/08/20)
  9. Handwerk wereld (s.d.) De ‘Tarkhan Dress’ uit oud-Egypte blijkt het oudste geweven kledingstuk ter wereld, At: www.handwerkwereld.com (Accessed on 17/08/20)
  10. Local Local History (s.d.) 1770’s – Water-Powered Textile Mill, At: www.locallocalhistory.co.uk (Accessed on 17/08/20)
  11. Lumen (s.d.) Textile Manufacturing, At: courses.lumenlearning.com (Accessed on 17/08/20)
  12. Vincent van Gogh.org (s.d.) The Potato Eaters, 1885 by Van Gogh, At: www.vincentvangogh.org (Accessed on 17/08/20)

Published by MissMM

I'm a student at OCA where I study drawing and photography. I'm from Belgium and I was born on 13 November 2000. I speak English and Dutch.

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