In the 1970s the German organisation Landschaftsverband Rheinland (LVR) began an ambitious project to record vanishing rural crafts, customs and work practices – including bell casting, mousetrap making, clay pipe making, butchery and bakery, as well as the cultivation and processing of flax.
As part of the project, former weavers in the town of Dickenschied were asked to re-enact the traditional linen-weaving that had been common in the area until the mid-twentieth century. A team of filmmakers recorded the process in a series of 16mm films that have since been digitised and made available on YouTube.
Titled Bauerliche Lienenweberie, the films are remarkable in their systematic and highly detailed presentation of the entire weaving process, including the making of a warp, the construction of a loom, and the bleaching of the woven cloth.
Since early 2022 I have been working on English translations of the German commentary to the films. (These translations are now available as blog posts. The first is here.)
The archive includes 5 original films, with a total duration of 2.5 hours, as well as over 400 photographs recording the process.
Part 1 Schären der Kette shows the winding of a warp on a warping mill, twenty ends at a time, with the aid of a paddle to form the porrey cross. (My translation of the narrated commentary for this film can be found here.)
Part 2 Aufschlagen des Webstuhls shows the construction of a loom from its components. (My translation of the narrated commentary for this filmcan be found here.)
In 2020 I made a short film called Die Leinenweberie / The Linen Weavers by re-editing some of this digitised archive film, as a way of thinking about my own practice and exploring the performative dimension of weaving. Wilhelm Mosel and Otto Klos, the weavers in the film, are re-enacting a process they remember from the past. Hand weaving is always a re-enactment, the repetition of a time consuming and methodical process which has been repeated by generations of weavers across the world. My remixed film focuses on the intimate contact between the weavers and their equipment, showing only their hands and feet and replacing the original narration with a constructed soundtrack.
The LVR also produced a series of films called Filmdokumentation Bäuerliche Flachskultur recording a re-enactment of the processes involved in growing, harvesting, processing and spinning flax. Together, these unique films show the entire process of linen making, from soil to cloth.
I am currently working on a translation from German to English of the narration to the Bauerliche Lienenweberie films. The first part forms my next post.
This is an update to my post From Thomas Jackson to Ralph Watson (March 2021), where I describe how I came across a manuscript written between about 1711 and 1769 by four generations of North Yorkshire weavers all called Thomas Jackson, and how that lead me to another manuscript by a weaver called Ralph Watson, also from North Yorkshire. The Thomas Jackson manuscript is in the Cooper Hewitt Museum NYC where it is anonymously listed as Weavers Thesis Book (Accession Number 1958-30-1; Object ID 18423091). It is a remarkable document, giving unique insights into weaving practice in pre-industrial England, and the lives of those involved.
I had written to the museum’s Curator of Textiles in October 2020. There were only two images of the manuscript on the museum’s website, but I hoped they might have more to share. They didn’t, but they did promise to have the manuscript photographed when they returned to normal patterns of work interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
I was delighted when the curator emailed last November apologising for the delay and telling me they had finally been able to photograph the manuscript. The binding was fragile, she wrote, and some of the entries ran deep into the gutter, but they had done their best to capture everything.
In an act of cultural generosity the museum has now put the photographs in the public domain free of copyright restrictions, which is why I am able to include them in this post. High-resolution images of all 66 pages of the manuscript are now available for download from the museum’s website here.
View of Haarlem from the South with Bleaching Fields
View of the Plain of Haarlem with Bleaching Grounds
View of the Dunes near Bloemendaal with Bleaching Fields
View of Bleaching Fields of Family De Mol in Bloemendaal
View of Bleaching Fields of Bloemendaal near Haarlem
View of Haarlem from the Northwest
Dunes and Bleaching Fields
View of Haarlem from the Northwest, with the Bleaching Fields in the Foreground
Bleaching Fields to the North-Northeast of Haarlem
View of Haarlem with Bleaching Grounds
View of Bleaching Fields and Haarlem
A Panoramic View of Haarlem
A Bleaching Ground in a Hollow by a Cottage
The Dutch artist Jacob van Ruisdael (1629-1682) made at least eighteen paintings of the linen bleaching fields around Haarlem. The landscapes are seen from an elevated vantage point, with the church of Sant Bavo on the horizon, and the bleaching fields in the middle distance, intersected by water channels, with strips of white linen stretched out in the sun. The landscapes are dominated by sky – full of air and light.
The paintings date from the 1660s and are now in private collections and museums across Europe and North America. Last week I saw one of them – A Panoramic View of Haarlem – in the National Gallery, where it is on show as a new loan. The gallery owns an earlier Ruisdael called A Bleaching Ground in a Hollow by a Cottage from the 1640’s. The composition is more enclosed, the viewpoint lower, the mood darker. The shady hollow is an unlikely location for a process so reliant on sunshine, and the rain clouds in the background seem to cast doubt on its success.
The National Gallery’s picture was painted on oak, the others on linen. Unbleached linen is a pale greenish greyish brown. Before the discovery of chlorine bleach in the late 1700’s, linen bleaching was a laborious and specialized process. During the 16th and 17th centuries grey linen cloth was sent to Haarlem for bleaching from all over northern Europe, including England and Scotland.
In his Experiments on Bleaching, published in 1756, the Scottish physician Francis Home described the various stages of the Dutch bleaching method. The cloth was first steeped to remove the dressing of starch and tallow used in weaving. This was followed by repeated ‘bucking’ and watering, when the cloth was soaked in lye at increasing temperatures, then stretched out on the grass for watering while exposed to sun and air. It was then soured in buttermilk, and the stages repeated until it was sufficiently white. Haarlem benefitted from a reliable source of fresh water filtered through the surrounding dunes, rich in iron and manganese, as well as a plentiful supply of milk from local pastures. The whole process took around seven months between March and November.
Market and Washing Place in Flanders
There is a lovely painting in the Prado, a collaboration between Joos de Momper the Younger and Jan Brueghel the Elder, showing linens laid out in the sun near a market in Flanders. These aren’t strips of uncut linen but finished goods freshly laundered– tablecloths nightshirts, underwear.
The accumulation of detail in this painting reminds me of the writing of Adalbert Stifter, who Hannah Arendt described as “the greatest landscape painter in literature”. Isabel Fargo Cole has recently translated a collection of his stories called “Motley Stones”. Stifter’s father was a linen weaver in the Bavarian forest town of Oberplan, and there are several references to weaving and cloth in the collection. The second story, Limestone, is told from the perspective of a cartographer sent to survey a barren rocky landscape where he meets and eventually befriends a local country pastor. The pastor lives in utmost poverty, but under threadbare, faded black clothes he secretly wears exquisitely fine white linen. As a boy he had fallen in love with the girl next door, whose mother ran a laundry business. She had told him:
“My mother says that linens are a home’s highest good next to silver, they are fine white silver themselves, and if they are sullied, they can always be cleansed to fine white silver again. They are our noblest and closest garments.”
Woven Example After Jackson (USA); 1963-81-10 (scroll to view)
Woven Example After Jackson (USA); 1963-81-7
Woven Example After Jackson (USA); 1963-81-9
Pages of the Thomas Jackson Record Book
I went looking for Thomas Jackson and found Ralph Watson.
Back in the early days of coronavirus lockdown, stuck at home and spending too much time browsing the internet, I came across a beautiful collection of linen cloths on the Cooper Hewitt Museum’s website. The rather enigmatic caption under the forty-one photographs read: Woven Example After Jackson (USA). No attribution, no date. I had no idea what “After Jackson” meant.
It took a bit of digging but I eventually discovered that the name Jackson refers to three generations of weavers living somewhere near the village of Kirkleatham in the North Riding of Yorkshire in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Father, son and grandson, all called Thomas. Thomas Jackson Junior, Thomas Jackson the third, and Thomas Jackson the fourth. They left behind a record book. Forty of its sixty-six pages contain weaving drafts and instructions, dated from 1689 to 1769. Stripes, twills, damasks, diapers, huggabacks, petticoats, callomanks, satonettes. To be woven in linen or wool, or a mixture: ‘linsy wonsey’.
The Thomas Jackson manuscript was acquired by the Cooper Union Museum in New York in 1958. Sometime between then and 1964, a certain Alice Pastoret MacDonald transcribed all the patterns in the manuscript and wove three sets of samples. Given the number and range of drafts, that’s quite a feat. She donated one set of samples to the Cooper Union, which I assume are the “After Jackson” cloths now on the Cooper-Hewitt’s website, although Alice MacDonald is not mentioned.
She donated another set of the samples to the Shuttle Craft Guild of America, who published a monograph called “Thomas Jackson, Weaver: 17th and 18th Century Records,” with images of Alice MacDonald’s samples and text by Harriet Tidball, in 1964. It’s now out of print but I found a second-hand copy, which is where most of what I know about Thomas Jackson comes from. The monograph contains a few images of the manuscript, but I wanted to see more.
I couldn’t find any trace of the Thomas Jackson manuscript on the Cooper Hewitt’s website, so I emailed the curator of textiles, and asked if she might be able to send some images. She couldn’t, because she was working from home, but she found a note on the database written by former V&A curator John Styles. This included a reference to another slightly later pattern book in the North Yorkshire archives, by a weaver from Aiskew, near Bedale, about 30 miles away from Kirkleatham.
It didn’t take long to find this on the National Archives database, where it is listed as The Weaver’s Guide: linen designs by Ralph Watson of Aiskew 18th cent(Ref:Z371). In October I emailed the North Yorkshire County Records Office, who hold the manuscript, and for a small fee they sent me digital scans.
Ralph Watson Manuscript: detail of page 144 (scroll to view)
Ralph Watson Manuscript: first 'hapings' draft.
Transcription of first 'hapings' draft.
Ralph Watson Manuscript: second 'hapings' draft.
Transcription of second 'hapings' draft.
Ralph Watson Manuscript: third 'hapings' draft.
Transcription of third 'hapings' draft.
Most of the hundred and fifty pages of the Ralph Watson manuscript are taken up with drawings of block diaper patterns, with titles such as “The Keel Man’s Frolic” and “The Deep Wounds of Calder”. Towards the back, however, is a single page of pattern drafts for ‘hapings’, ‘flowered wounce’, ‘damask twill’, ‘huckaback’, ‘buble damask’, and ‘bird eye’. These are inscribed in concise weavers’ notation, indicating the threading draft and loom tie-up. Unlike the block diaper patterns, these drafts give no indication of the cloth’s appearance.
Each felt like a secret to be unlocked, and so I set about transcribing the drafts to get a sense of what these cloths might be like. In January I started weaving a sample of the first ‘hapings’ draft.
I’ll try to post again soon with an update on my progress.
"Mechanics For Textile Students" by W.A. Hanton (1954); dust jacket.
Howard & Bullough School stamp on page 207.
I recently bought a second-hand copy of ‘Mechanics for Textile Students’ by W.A. Hanton (1954). When it arrived through the letterbox I found some of the pages stamped by a previous owner: HOWARD & BULLOUGH SCHOOL – ACCRINGTON.
Accrington is a small town in north-east Lancashire midway between Blackburn and Burnley. It gives its name to the Accrington brick, a hard red engineering brick which I associate with the street of terraced houses in Mill Hill, Blackburn, where my grandfather lived, and where my mother grew up. The houses were built in the early 1900’s to house workers from the local textile mills. They were small, opening directly onto the street, with no gardens and a toilet in the back yard. My grandmother, who died before I was born, had moved to Mill Hill while Grandad was in France for the last years of the First World War. As a boy he had started work at a nearby cotton mill in 1902. Part-time at twelve, full-time at thirteen. He hated the work. During his first year he had the palm of his hand torn off in a machine.
House on Francis Street, Mill Hill, Blackburn
Advertisement for Howard & Bullough Ltd, 1925
Howard & Bullough Ltd used to be the world’s biggest manufacturer of cotton mill machinery. Their factory in Accrington, which closed in 1993, had dominated the town, occupying 52 acres and employing 6,000 workers. A school for apprentices was established in the 1880’s and amalgamated into the Accrington Technical School in 1892. There appears to have been an in-house training school operating in the 1950s and 60s, which must be where my book was stamped.
The chapter on Coil Friction in ‘Mechanics for Textile Students’ would have been useful a few months ago when I was trying to perfect my new selvage bobbins. Selvage bobbins are mounted on the loom on either side of the warp and allow a few threads to be independently tensioned to help make a good selvage. The tensioning mechanism consists of a weighted cord wound round the bobbin, and it relies in coil friction. I eventually got them to work by experimenting with different kinds of cord, different sized weights, and different materials for the bobbin, but it might have been easier with the benefit of the theories, equations and diagrams in the book.
Selvage bobbins on my loom.
I’ve occasionally wondered if a handloom such as mine counts as a tool or a machine, and I guess it depends on your definitions. According to W.A. Hanton “a machine may be defined as an instrument for doing useful work” and “all machines, however complicated, are made up of simple machines, of which there are only two, viz. (1) the lever, (2) the inclined plane. Each of these may, however, be disguised.” Loom treadles and pulleys are kinds of lever, so from an engineering perspective a loom is a complex machine made up of several simple machines, each doing mechanical work.
Machines: detail of page 177.
Fig. 108: Simple Machines: detail of page 179.
Of course there are other kinds of useful work besides the lifting of weights. Some of the work done by a loom is informational rather than mechanical – such as selecting which warp threads to lift at the same time.
Diagrams are instruments for doing cognitive work, so these diagrams of machines are themselves machines of a sort. They get their leverage by showing only what is essential and leaving out everything else. They don’t make a noise and you can’t get your hand stuck.
This is an illustrated list of books, articles and manuscripts about weaving and textile history, technology, and design, with download links for non-copyright items.
Ashenhurst, Thomas R. (1881) An Album of Textile Designs Containing Upwards of 7,000 Patterns Suitable for Fabrics of Every Description, J. Broadbent & Co. Bradford / Huddersfield. Illustrations of 7,200 weave patterns, mostly fancy twills, listed according to the number of ends in a repeat, from 3 to 16. https://www2.cs.arizona.edu/patterns/weaving/books.html
Barlow, Alfred (1879) The History and Principles of Weaving By Hand and By Power. London. Contains some good description and line drawing explaining the mechanisms and operations of hand weaving, such as the English loom, fly-shuttle etc. https://archive.org/details/historyprinciple00barl/
Becker, John & Wagner, Don (2009) Pattern & Loom: A Practical Study in the Development of Weaving Techniques in China, Western Asia and Europe. Copenhagen.
Donat, Franz (1908) Methodik der Bindungslehre, Dekomposition und Kalkulation für Schaftweberei : Bearbeitet für Textilschulen und zum Selbstunterricht. (Methodology of binding theory, decomposition and calculation for shaft weaving: edited for textile schools and for self-teaching) Comprehensive German guide to structure and technology, with beautiful coloured illustrations on patterns and machinery. https://archive.org/details/methodikderbindu00dona/page/30/mode/2up
Donat, Franz (1907) Die färbige Gewebemusterung : ein Lehrgang, Gewebe durch 2-6 färbige Anordnung der Ketten- und Schussfäden zu figurieren (The colored fabric patterning: a course in figuring fabric through 2-6 colored arrangement of the warp and weft threads)
Gilroy, Clinton G (1844) The art of weaving, by hand and by power, with an introductory account of its rise and progress in ancient and modern times. New York, Baldwin. Gilroy appears to have been something of a fraud. Substantial portions of the text are plagiarised from other authors such as John Duncan, while other sections are fanciful inventions. Beautiful engravings, such as Jacquard mountings towards the back. https://archive.org/details/artofweavingbyha00gilr
Guest, Richard (1823) Compendious History of the Cotton-Manufacture; with Disproval of the Claim of Sir Richard Arkwright to the Invention of Its Ingenious Machinery; Manchester. History of developments in British cotton spinning and weaving. Includes engravings of English loom, warping mill, jennies, water frames etc. at back of book. http://www.archive.org/details/compendioushistoOOgues
Hanton, W. A. (1954) Mechanics for Textile Students. Manchester.
Hargrove, John (1792) The Weaver’s Draft Book and Clothiers Assistant; Baltimore.
Heylin, Henry Brougham (1908), The Cotton Weavers Handbook: A practical guide To the Construction and Costing of Cotton Fabrics, with Studies of Designs; London. “By Henry Brougham Heylin of the Royal Technical Institute, Salford” With 358 illustrations “The main objects in writing this work have been—first, in the interests of Technical Education ; secondly, to place before the reader and student—by simple methods of description and in as compact a handbook as possible—the principles and conditions under which cotton goods are respectively constructed and produced.” Includes line drawings illustrating of power loom mechanisms and weave structures. Good clear diagrams of weave structure and loom mountings. https://archive.org/details/cottonweavershanOOheyl
Holmes, James (1896) Cotton Cloth Designing, Burnley. James Holmes was Lecturer in Weaving at Burnley, Nelson, Accrington and Nelson Technical Schools, Lancashire. “The object of this work is to explain the Principles of Designing for Simple woven patterns.” Contains colour plates in black, red, yellow and blue, describing patterns and structures of plain, twill, gauze, leno, double cloth, satins etc. http://www.archive.org/details/cottonclothdesigOOholm
Holmes, James (1912) Manuscript Notes on Weaving. Burnley. Handwritten text and hand drawn illustrations. Notes and exercises for weaving students. Includes cloth patterns and structures alongside diagrams of early twentieth century machinery. https://archive.org/details/manuscriptnoteso02holm/mode/2up
Lumscher, Nathaniel (1736) Des Kunst Bild und Weber Buchs, Vierter Theil https://archive.org/details/neuhervorkommend00lums Note: this item in The Clark Art Institute Library is catalogued as Neu-hervorkommendes Weber- Kunst- und Bild- Buch (# NK8805 L85 1736) but actually contains four volumes in one, with re-prints of earlier Lumscher volumes followed by Des Kunst Bild und Weber Buchs, Vierter Theil. The pdf file from archive.org contains the following: Neu hervorkommendes Weber Kunst und Bild Buch, Erster Theil Des Neu-erfundenen Weber Kunst- und Bild-Buchs, Anderer Theil (from page 145) Des Neu-erfundenen Weber Kunst- und Bild-Buchs, Dritter Theil (from page 269) Des Kunst Bild und Weber Buchs, Vierter Theil (from p 412)
Marks, R. & Robinson A. T. C. (1976) Principles of Weaving. Textile Institute, Manchester.
Murphy, John (1827) Treatise on the Art of Weaving, Illustrated by Engravings, with Calculations and Tables, for the Use of Manufacturers; Glasgow Ch. 1: Loom Mountings: The first loom described is a coutermarche handloom, although not referred to as such, implying this was the commonly used loom. Lamms are called marches, long and short. Harnesses are called leafs, and are lifted by coupers in the top castle. Also includes descriptions of Jack and Stock and Pulley Mounting. Ch. 2: Tweeling: good introduction to tweel patterns, satinets, damboard etc. Some nice pattern plates in the back. https://archive.org/details/treatiseonartofw1827murp/page/n7/mode/2up
Taylor, John T. (1909) Cotton Weaving & Designing, London. “By John T. Taylor, late lecturer on Cotton Weaving and Designing in the Preston, Ashton-under-Lyne, Chorley, and Todmorden Technical Schools, and on Silk Weaving and Designing in the Macclesfield Technical School, author of designs for cotton fabrics, etc., in ‘The Textile Manufacturer’.” Technical instruction manual introducing the processes and equipment of late nineteenth / early twentieth century English industrial cotton weaving. Very technical with lots of industrial machine drawings. https://archive.org/details/cottonweavingdes00taylrich
Tidball, Harriet (1964) Thomas Jackson, Weaver: 17th and 18th Century Records. Shuttle Craft Guild.
White, George (1846) A Treatise on Weaving By Hand and Power Looms. Glasgow. “A Practical Treatise on Weaving By Hand and Power Looms: Intended as a Text Book for Manufacturers by Hand and Power Looms, and Power Loom Engineers, and Especially Designed to Forward the Extension of Machinery to all kinds of Plain Weaving” Contains very detailed description of processes and equipment used in the contemporary manufacturing of cotton cloth. Deals with hand weaving and power weaving separately. Contains wood engraved illustrations in the text, and fine engraved plates of industrial machinery at the back. https://archive.org/details/practicaltreatis00whit/
Worst, Edward F. (1918) Foot Power Loom Weaving. Milwaukee. Edward F. Worst, Supervisor of Elementary Manual Training and Construction Work, Chicago, Ill. “Introduction: The suggestions offered in this manual are for those who believe that the more advanced weaving should be pursued as a most wholesome occupation and that it should again, in the near future, find a place not only in the school but also in the home. The work is so full of possibilities and the results obtained have such a wonderful effect on the character of the worker that these alone afford ample reasons why weaving should be carried on in both school and community. The descriptions given are for the amateur weaver who will find them more easily understood than those given in the more technical books on the subject. It is hoped that those interested will find help through the suggestions offered in this manual.” https://archive.org/details/loomweafootpower00worsrich/