Gateway to the Classics: Display Item
Jean Henri Fabre


"E XAMINE a piece of cloth, woolen, cotton, or linen, and you will see that it is composed of two sets of threads which cross one another, each thread passing alternately over and under a transverse one. Of these two sets one is called the warp, and the other the woof or weft, and their crossing produces the woven fabric, or cloth.

"The work of weaving these threads into cloth is done by means of a loom. I will try to describe to you an old-fashioned hand-loom, which is much simpler in construction than the modern power-loom. A solid wooden framework supports a cylinder in front and one at the back, and these cylinders are turned each by a crank whenever needed. The front cylinder, its crank within reach of the operator seated ready for work, receives the woven stuff a little bit at a time; the other, fixed at the opposite end of the machine, is wound with threads in regular order side by side. These threads will form the warp of the cloth, and they are stretched with careful regularity between the two cylinders the whole length of the machine. They are divided into two sets, the odd-numbered threads forming one set, the even-numbered threads the other. Two heddles hold the two sets and keep them separate without possibility of intermingling. A heddle is a series of very fine metal wires, or it may be simply threads, stretched vertically between two horizontal bars."

"The heddles are those two gridiron things in the middle of the loom?" asked Claire.

"Precisely. At every wire or thread of the heddle there is passed, in order, through an eye or ring, one of the strands composing the two sets of the warp. Now notice that by means of two pedals or levers placed under the operator's feet the two heddles can be made to rise and fall alternately. In this alternate movement they draw by turns, up and down, one the even threads and the other the odd threads of the warp.


Modern Power-Loom

"While the warp is thus slightly open, all the even threads on one side, all the odd on the other, the operator sends the shuttle through the space separating the two sets. The shuttle is a piece of boxwood, well polished so as to slide easily, tapering at each end, enlarged in the middle, and provided with a cavity that holds a bobbin of thread fixed on a very mobile axle. This thread unwinds automatically with the throwing of the shuttle, and is left lying between the two sets of threads of the warp. Then with a pressure on one of the pedals the order of these sets is reversed, the threads that were above passing below, those below coming uppermost, and the shuttle sent in the opposite direction leaves another thread stretched across. This thread furnished by the shuttle and passing by turns from right to left and from left to right between the two lines of the warp forms what is called the woof or weft of the cloth."



"So the feet," said Marie, "by pressing the pedals make the odd and even threads of the warp move up and down, while the hands, sending the shuttle from right to left and then from left to right, interlace the thread of the woof with the warp."

"That is the double movement the operator has to learn—the pressing of each foot in turn on the pedals and the sending of the shuttle from one hand to the other. But in order that the cloth may acquire sufficient firmness, with no open spaces between the threads, these two movements are supplemented by a third. A comb-like instrument called a reed is used to 'beat up' or press close together the threads of the woof after every two or three passages of the shuttle through the warp, or sometimes after every passage, according to the nature of the fabric.

"Such, in short, my dear children, is the process by which all our woven fabrics of two sets of intercrossed threads are made, cloth, linen, taffeta, calico, and a great many others."