While traveling to Lyon in July ’16, I was able to copy plans, and trace, a 19th century Jacquard loom. It has long been a dream of mine to make a Jacquard — arguably one of the world’s first mechanised computers — and now, finally, I can construct make a Jacquard loom. Ive already made several specialist French trimming looms based on 200 year old designs, so how much harder should it be to make a late 19th century year old loom with computer cards?
The Jacquard loom was invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard and first used in 1801. Prior to this intricate patterns, such as brocade, damask and matelasse were created on a draw loom, where a minimum of two people were required to create the fabric where individual strings were pulled to manipulate the patterns. Jacquard revolutionised this by using a punch card system — similar to early computers — allowing just one person to weave intricately patterned fabrics. This was part of the development into the computer age.
This portrait of Jacquard was woven in silk on a Jacquard loom and required 24,000 punched cards to create (1839)
In Lyon’s specialist workshops and museums, I was able to sit with paper, pens and ruler to trace and make notations of the Jacquard mechanisms. I discovered the intricate workings of the mechanism: So many tiny springs, the engineering of the lifting movements, the keys that pull the punch cards on to the next card. Everything I needed to know about how to create a Jacquard loom.
Morison Polkinghorne with Hélène Carleschi from Soierie Vivante and the Jacquard mechanism I was able to work with.
Note Mr Jacquard peering over my shoulder. The back wall is filled with old punch cards.
Since arriving back home in Battambang, I have been working with locals helping me with this project. My metal workers have re-created some of the intricate parts. (see below) I’m still looking for 150 small springs, however, as I can not find them in town. Likewise, it is not easy to find old aged wood that won’t bend and twist. That is the next step for me.
#7. Pulley arm
#15. ‘S’ bar
#20. Cylinder – metal