The loom invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard marked a pivotal point in the history of the textile industry and of Luigi Bevilacqua’s fabric mill, too. We’ll tell you how it works and what the characteristics of Jacquard fabrics are.

The history of the Jacquard loom

Until early 1800s, looms like those in our weaving mill were completely hand-operated. Standing next to the weaver, an assistant pulled some grips on the side of the loom to lift the heddles and make the warp’s threads pass through them. Assistants were usually girls, often the weavers’ daughters, who could thus learn their mother’s job by observing her all day long. This production was a slow and complex job, and an experienced weaver could only make 4 inches of fabric a day.

In France, where there was a greater openness to technological innovations, the domestic textile industry made much progress. In 1806, Lyons-born Joseph Marie Jacquard (1752-1834) patented a machine which, when applied to traditional wooden looms, was able to simplify and speed up the production of woven fabrics and velvets with complex designs.

This innovative machine caused a real revolution in the sector and textile workers, fearful of losing their jobs because of it, started riots all over Europe. However, despite this, the Jacquard loom soon became very popular, arriving in Venice as well.

One of our 18 antique Jacquard looms

Characteristics of Jacquard loom and fabric

Called the forefather of computers, because it can read the information contained on a punched card, this single device brought together 3 projects of the previous century:

  1. the use of needles and a perforated paper tape, containing the pattern, which Basile Bouchon tested in 1725;
  2. the replacement of the paper tape with punched cards attached to one another, which Jean Baptiste Falcon put forward in 1734;
  3. the use of a mechanical cylinder above the loom, which Jacques Vaucanson had designed in 1744 to automatically replace punched cards while weaving.

Integrated into a traditional loom, it simplified and sped up the production of even very complex patterns, eliminating the need for assistants for the weavers, who could thus operate it independently. In fact, through a system of strings, it allows the heddles to be raised automatically, according to the holes on the cards that reproduce the design to be made in a simplified but perfect way. It was a true revolution, becoming the first machine which could automatically repeat a series of actions.

Without this invention, even our production of handmade velvets would be much slower. Jacquard fabrics, in fact, are characterized by their extremely elaborate patterns and the high number of colors that are woven directly in the fabric and therefore not printed or embroidered.  In our historical archives we keep more than 3,500 ornamental patterns that we can reproduce with our looms.

tessitura a mano velluto soprarizzo | Tessitura Bevilacqua

The production of Italian Jacquard fabrics at Tessitura Bevilacqua

The 18 antique looms in our weaving room are all equipped with these machines ever since the Tessitura was founded in 1875.

They are the devices that allow us to produce about 35-40 cm of velvet per day, using the same methods as back then. It’s a handmade work, anyway, because these looms are handled by our weavers, who operate them and must cut velvet by hand, too.

We take care of them by still using punched cards made of cardboard and by replacing their damaged parts with those we collect from our other machines.

The Jacquard loom was the forerunner of modern industrial textile looms, but we still use original antique looms, part of our history, to produce unique and exclusive velvets and jacquard furnishing fabrics worthy of tradition.

Macchina telaio Jacquard | Tessitura Bevilacqua

Jacquard machine at Tessitura Bevilacqua

Cover Photo by Davide Zugna for Venezia da Vivere
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