WOOLGATHERERS Jacquard Design and Weaving  
Jacquard Center - Oriole Mill

The Oriole Mill experience

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Sara von Tresckow – Dec. 2010

 Weaving on a Jacquard is a distinctly different experience from weaving on shaft looms. A traditional handloom has shafts and treadles – requiring a threading, tieup and treadling plan to execute a fabric design. Dobby looms have multiple shafts and require only a threading plan and a liftplan – eliminating the tieup and opening possibilities for an unlimited number of virtual treadles. The Jacquard machine eliminates threading plan (all heddles are threaded straight across the web) and tieup and runs with a point plan that spans the total width of the hooks or heddles that allows the weaver to control which warp ends are raised for every pick. This allows for mixing and matching structures on a thread by thread basis over the entire piece of fabric.

  Naturally such capability is not inexpensive. There are now a few smaller handoperated Jacquard looms available to weavers, small enough to fit into a normal sized studio. For those artists wishing to specialize in Jacquard weaves, they present interesting opportunities. Since I weave a wide variety of fabrics in a smallish studio, I have personally decided to “invest” in renting time on a variety of Jacquard looms. Over time, the expense of traveling to looms and paying the course fees and rentals will probably be nearly as costly as purchasing a small Jacquard loom for home use, but the range of looms and fabrics available for experimentation should  be worthwhile.

 The Jacquard Center/Oriole MIil in  Hendersonville, NC is a perfect place to learn about Jacquard looms, the software that controls them, and to design fabric for production on top quality industrial looms.

 In Spring 2010, I set out to find a course in Jacquard design to continue exploring the technology. I was to have been in the first “graduating” class in Pat Williams’ program at EMU in 2009, but unfortunately, Pat was diagnosed with terminal cancer before the class could convene. I knew of the Jacquard Center in Hendersonville, and looked through their offerings. Run by Bethanne Knudsen, the mill houses an amazing collection of state of the art industrial Jacquard looms with 3000 to nearly 20,000 threads in the warp. The Jacquard Center is a lovely mountain retreat purchased as a training center for JacqCad textile CAD software. Several well appointed guest rooms support a computer room with computers set up to produce the files needed to produce fabrics on the Jacquard looms at the mill

 The choice of which of the JacquardCenter courses was easy – in late Sept. there was a class involving damask on a 60” single repeat loom at 51 epi. My drawloom has been set up with a black 20/2 cotton warp at 60 epi for a few months. What a wonderful opportunity to extend the fabric designs I had already been exploring. In Jan. 2010, we attended our first opera at the Met in New York and now possess tickets for 4 consecutive performances in Jan 2011. While my nice red silk damask jacket is still in excellent condition, you simply cannot attend 4 operas in a row in the same outfit. 60” wide clothing fabric sounded quite exciting. Since I import Swedish linen yarn for our business, I have quite a stash of various weights and colors. Bethanne sent a packet of fabric samples labeled with weft material and pick density. Hoping to match the quality of a Jacquard woven towel from Ekelund mill in Sweden, one of the samples was so close that I made closeup photos of both and returned the kit to the mill. The preparation instructions for the class read that the graphic input for the fabric should be scanned into a photoshop file and prepared to fit the 3072 hooks on loom #8. Weft material could be provided by the student or taken off the shelf at the mill.

 How to plan for this? I spend hours looking at photos of jackets at the largest NYC stores – Bergdorf-Goodman, Nieman Marcus, Nordstroms, Saks – and found a beautiful St. Johns jacket in black and white with a diamond shaped pattern. 




1Style of desired jacket2Vogue Pattern 8123


The simple lines and contrast fit my personal vision of the jacket I wished to create. Not normally someone who puts a lot of patterning in clothing fabrics, this presented a tasteful example of all over pattern in an elegant garment. After much searching, I discovered a Vogue pattern that was similar in style.

What for a pattern? First thing to consider was the loom to be used for the class. A Jacquard harness is set up to control repeats or lack thereof. Loom #8 is a single repeat of 3072 hooks and 3072 warp ends allowing the designer to make a wide piece of fabric with a graphic image or to make an allover design with several smaller repeats, or a combination of both. For a jacket, the pattern should have a repeat small enough to fit on the pattern pieces 3-4 times across a front. The latticed diamonds in the jacket I found provided a starting point .

 Summer came and there was no diamond shaped design – only a vague idea of how it might look. While in New Mexico for Convergence, we visited the Taos Pueblo – and in one of the pueblo shops there was a collection of Acoma Pueblo pottery – lovely geometry in black and white. I purchased one that fit on the small bookcase and upon returning home, studied every photo of Acoma pottery I could find. Several motifs recurred – especially a nice flower. Since pottery is rounded, it is impossible to scan any of the designs and I prefer to make my own, if possible. Distilling the imagery seen so far, I sketched 2 squares with a soft pencil on fine graph paper so the sizing would match. One was that lovely flower, the other a geometric pattern including the “rain lines” that had drawn me to that style of pottery. Stitching scans of the two squares and making a double repeat produced an image in Photoshop that tiled accurately, but not in a sterile way – it looked more like a woodcut. Once this image was sized to repeat 8 times across the warp, the colors were adjusted. I chose to use a silver gray linen that looks very similar to natural, but will not fade out over time.

3 Acoma pattern 384 x 420 pixels. Eight times 384 = 3072

Suffice it to say that while waiting for the course to begin, I designed a tablecloth based on my hang tags and sew in labels to be used in our business, put together a collection of photos taken of poppies in our garden and had a library of other graphics on the laptop prior to flying to North Carolina.


At the mill.

 This was a class of 5 weavers of varied backgrounds. The work at the Jacquard Center is centered around an understanding of the equipment to be used and using JacqCad to refine graphic files into viable weaving plans that will run on the control computer at the loom. The textile CAD software contains a number of features that are fabric and loom specific – to make sure that the cloth is viable as it comes from the loom. Structures must be compatible in terms of takeup. Floats need to be checked to avoid long stretches of loose thread on the front or back. The areas where structures merge need to be examined and possibly cleaned to avoid unnecessary sharpness or fuzziness. The final step – making the cut file, includes extra information for the loom about selvage control and weft packagecontrols for up to 4 different cones of weft yarn.

 The day before the fabrics were to be woven, the group toured the mill and had a chance to become familiar with the process. Warps of 1500 yards are beamed with industrial sectional equipment – winding the warp onto the huge drum from a massive creel containing hundreds of cones. Phyllis, the warper, knows more about the importance of keeping even tension, respecting the lease(cross) and following rules than many intermediate handweavers. There was one heavy iron warp beam on display with disheveled leftovers from another crew’s assumption that a “little mistake” would be correctible on the loom. The looms are full sized industrial Jacquard machines. #8 has a single repeat harness – the others were set up with 2 to 4 repeats across the full width of the loom. The looms are constructed in a modular fashion – the weaving machine is at ground level with the harness cords reaching many feet in the air to the Jacquard head mounted above. You climb stairs on the gantry to reach the top of the head. This distance is needed to provide adequate room to lift the warps accurately. To set all those cords between the heddles and the head takes months of work and thousands of dollars. When finished, that loom works at the sett of the harness and only that sett until the harness is restrung. To keep the warps not raised level while weaving, there is a spring keeping the threads down until lifted by the head.

 Once the cut file has been approved as not having any fatal flaws, it is transferred into the control computer for the loom. The loom operator addresses the loading and operation of the loom. He is attuned to all of the flaws that can creep into fabric if the loom is not operating correctly. Drop wires behind the heddles stop the loom in the case of loose, tight or broken warp ends. Tight ends pull the wires up until the lower edge makes electrical contact that trips an off switch. Likewise, loose or broken ends cause the wire to drop until contact is made. Now, we are ready to push the button and see what happens. For me, having no further control was a bit intimidating. On a hand operated loom like the TC-1, if something was amiss, a few rows could be “unwoven” and developing issues could be dealt with pick by pick. At 300 picks per minute, all you can do is watch.


LEFT:Acoma fabric in gray on the doffing roll showing both sides. RIGHT: Completed jacket - ready to wear in New York.

Fortunately, the results were quite pleasing. Length of a design can be chosen by number of repeats, a set length in yards, or set to when the weft cone runs out. The Acoma design looked so lovely in gray that after doing a poppy piece in red, decided to run the rest of the red on more Acoma yardage. The tablecloth in natural worked out well, and as an afterthought I worked up a short piece that produced 2  banners as a birthday present for Wisconsin Handweavers 60th anniversary.

 Net result – 5 wonderful days in the mountains of North Carolina, 15 yards of lovely fabric that will keep me in sewing projects for quite a while, and a decidedly positive learning experience. For all weavers wishing to know more about Jacquard weaving and whether it is something they wish to pursue, the JacquardCenter/Oriole Mill is an excellent choice for instruction and mill time.


Representation of tablecloth woven in 8-end shaded satin. Actual cloth is black/natural linen and the other colors are symbolic of the chosen structures. Design is 3072 pixels wide.


Representation of basic pattern showing the satin shading in true color.


Bethanne Kudsen explaining in the mill.


Poppy runner and Wisconsin Handweavers banners on the doffing roller.





Here is a short VIDEO of the weaving process.

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  TC-1 Basics   TC-1 Intermdiate   Jacquard Loom Operation   Jacquard Center/Oriole Mill