The Making Of: Jacquard in Coimbatore, India

What is Jacquard?

The Jacquard craft was invented in 1804 as a mechanical weaving technique used for more complicated patterns such as textiles with intricate designs and patterned knitwear. One of the very first looms with an automatic production function, the Jacquard loom, named after its creator, Joseph Marie Jacquard, is considered to be one of the most important inventions in the field of weaving. 

Jacquard’s most unique characteristic is the “punch card” control mechanism. This characteristic was groundbreaking because for the very first time in history, it made the automatic production of unlimited varieties of pattern weaving possible. The strength of the Jacquard loom lies in its speed and ability to create exact duplicates of intricate patterns. The innovative adaptation of the Jacquard loom allowed for artisans to weave intricately patterned pieces at an economical cost without the pressure of time, which subsequently lowered the prices of these textiles. This led to the popularisation of patterned textiles amongst the masses in 19th century Europe. 

The Jacquard weaving process begins when the designs and patterns of the fabric are sketched and punched into paper cards, with one card corresponding to one row of the design. These cards are then formed to make a continuous chain and “fed” into the loom. As is typical of many other looms, the pattern is then weaved in with a shuttle. 

Nowadays, most places use power-looms to implement the jacquard technique, making the process faster than than those of ikat weaving and hand-looming. This allows for artisans to produce fabric nearly ten times faster than the handloom, but only in a limited variety of designs and patterns. However, we have actively chosen to use Jacquard handloom technique. This is because the handloom process makes the fabric softer than if it were to made by power loom, and also because the irregularity of textured pattern due to the handmade process is something we deeply appreciate.

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Photo by National Museums Scotland and Justen Soule

The Woven Silk Prayer Book

One of the most famous creations made using the Jacquard technique is the Woven Silk Prayer Book, issued in 1886 and 1887, and publicly displayed at the 1889 World’s Fair. All 58 pages of the prayer book were made of silk, woven using a Jacquard machine, using black and gray thread. The pages have elaborate borders with text and pictures of saints. It is estimated that 200,000 to 500,000 punch cards were necessary to encode the pages, at 160 threads per cm (400 threads per inch).

Interestingly, the Jacquard technique’s influence is not just limited to the world of textiles–the use of “punch cards” actually influenced the development of modern computer science. Charles Babbage, the originator of the concept of the digital programmable computer, was inspired by Jacquard’s invention of allowing the weaver to change the patterns of the loom’s weave by simply changing “punch cards”. Charles Babbage, in turn, replicated this system for computer programming and data entry, and the rest is history. 

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Photo by Coverlet Gallery

Our Artisan Partners 

We first saw a sample of jacquard when we were visiting Sonica Sarna Design during our trip to India in 2018, and fell in love with it. At that time, however, only samples that were machine loomed were available and Sonica was in the process of developing the samples in handloom. We knew we wanted to work with artisans who practiced handlooming in the jacquard craft, in large because artisanship is one of the most important tenets of our brand and also because it is a dying craft that we wanted to support

Despite many artisan clusters in South India converting to power loom to create their products, Sonica was eventually able to connect us with our current artisan partner Chennamalai Central Weaver Board to create our newest range of Multi-Way Wrap Tops and Classic Wideleg in Amulet Charcoal and Natural. Producing jacquard in handloom takes much longer than machine looming because the handloom punch cards can only weave 1 meter per day. In fact, it took six weavers nearly 100 to 120 days to complete our most recent order. 

Take a look at our handloom jacquard range of Multi-Wrap Tops and Classic Wideleg in Amulet Charcoal and Natural.

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