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Jacquard loom
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Jacquard loom

The Jacquard loom is a mechanical loom, invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1801, which used the holes punched in pasteboard punch cards to control the weaving of patterns in fabric.  The loom enabled even the most amateur weavers to weave complex designs. Each punch card corresponded to one row of the design and the cards were strung together in order.

hole in the card corresponds to a hook, which can either be up or down. The hook raises or lowers the warp thread so that the weft will either lay above or below it. The sequence of raised and lowered threads is what creates the pattern. Each hook can be connected to a number of threads, allowing more than one repeat of a pattern. A loom with a 400 hook head might have 4 threads connected to each hook, giving you a fabric that is 1600 warp ends wide with four repeats of the weave going across.

was the first machine to use punch cards to control a sequence of operations.  Although it did no computation based on them, it is considered an important step in the history of computing hardware.  The ability to change the pattern of the loom's weave by simply changing cards was an important conceptual precursor to the development of computer programming.

The term "Jacquard loom" is a misnomer. It is the "Jacquard head" that adapts to a great many dobby looms such as the "Dornier" brand that allows the weaving machine to then create the intricate patterns.

Jacquard is the staple of the textile industry due to the fact that so many different weaves can be made from one warp. Modern looms are computer controlled and can have thousands of hooks. Because the threading of the loom is so labor intensive, many looms are threaded only once and subsequent warps are then tied in to the existing warp with the help of a robot, which must tie each new thread on individually. Even for a small loom with only a few thousand warp ends the process can take the better part of a day.

Based on the FOLDOC entry