Sunday, November 2, 2014

Handloom Weaving

Matthew Cassels came from a family of hand loom weavers. The industry was in its heyday between 1795 and 1850, though there were eras when different fibers dominated. Prior to 1790, linen was most frequently woven. When the tariffs against American cotton were relaxed, it began to dominate the looms of Lanarkshire. At the end of the 19th century the invention of the Jacquard hand loom enabled weavers to execute complicated and intricate patterns at much faster speeds than previously.

It was a family business and the trade was often passed from father to son with women being responsible for tambouring and embroidery.  There were usually agents in the villages where weavers would obtain their raw materials and return the finished fabric.

Weavers were usually prosperous when the cottage industry was at its peak, owning their own property. Their houses frequently had a room for the looms. The Stonehouse Heritage website described the typical home:

Image from "Spinning and Weaving: Scotland's Past in Action," by
Enid Gauldie

"The houses were generally, though not always, one-story terraced houses with the front door opening to the street. This door led to a stone-flagged entry which gave access to the weaving shop on one side and to the living quarters of one or two rooms to the other. A ladder from the entry to the loft gave storage and extra sleeping space. A wash house was usually added at the rear of the building. The weaving shop would hold from one to six looms which were worked by the weaver and his family."

It has been been said the Scottish textiles industry employed nine-tenths of the labor force in the 1820s, overshadowing most other industries prior to the Industrial Revolution. With the invention of power loom, factories became more common and the hand loom weaving industry declined. They could not compete with the prices the factories could charge. Weavers found their earnings reduced and were frequently unemployed. This is likely why we did not see Matthew Cassels follow in his father's footsteps, even though we know from census documents he knew how to weave cotton.

The power loom was invented in 1785 by Edmund Cartwright, but it would take 40 years of modifications before his ideas were turned into a reliable power loom.

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