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European Themeroute | Textiles

The thousands of rattling bobbins on the spinning frames in cotton factories have become a byword for industrialisation. British cotton mills were indeed the forerunners of, and models for the industrial revolution. That said, the first textile factory was a silk twining mill. The five-storey building ... more

Icon: TextilesFrom raw materials to the factory. European Theme Route Textiles

The thousands of rattling bobbins on the spinning frames in cotton factories have become a byword for industrialisation. British cotton mills were indeed the forerunners of, and models for the industrial revolution. That said, the first textile factory was a silk twining mill. The five-storey building was constructed in Derby as early as 1720, and contained more than 26.000 water-driven spindles. Since the Middle Ages Italy had been the centre of silk processing, and the machines came from there. The problem was that they were incapable of spinning, and simply twisted thin silk thread to strong yarn. 

One of the forerunners of mechanisation was John Kay’s flying shuttle which he invented in 1733. This speeded up weaving considerably for the weavers no longer had to push the shuttles through the warp threads over the spinning frame by hand. Nevertheless Kay’s invention remained an isolated step forward on the long road to power looms. The mechanisation of the textile industry began with spinning. 

The striking lack of yarn in the wool industry, one of the most important sectors of the British economy, led to attempts to mechanise the work of the spinsters. The women workers would take a bundle of extremely thin short fibres, the so-called shear wool, and pull out the fibres by hand, before stretching and twisting them. In the 1730s two inventors by the name of Lewis Paul and John Wyatt developed a machine with two sets of differential rollers which were able to draw out the slivers of wool and spin them into yarn with the help of spindles, similar to the process in a spinning wheel.

But it was not until 1769 that Richard Arkwright succeeded in constructing a workable spinning machine able to produce strong yarn suitable for the warp threads of the spinning frame. Since he intended his invention to be driven by water it was called a water frame. Arkwright opened his first spinning mill in Cromford, and soon he had built up an empire and become one of the most powerful entrepreneurs in the industrial era. 

An alternative solution was offered by the spinning jenny, invented by a weaver called James Hargreaves in 1764. In it, two boards with several spindles were used to imitate the hands of the spinning women. Experienced workers were necessary to operate the machines, but nonetheless productivity was much higher than by hand spinning. Since the threads produced by the spinning jenny lacked strength they were an ideal complement to those produced on the water frame, and the machine was used for decades by homeworkers. 

In 1779 Samuel Crompton invented a hybrid machine in Lancashire which combined the best features of both its predecessors. His spinning mule was not only capable of spinning warp and weft thread, it could also produce a much stronger finer yarn. Over the next ten years British wool-processing accelerated at an unbelievable rate and spinning mills shot up all over the place. Based on Arkwright's original factory, they were long redbrick buildings on several stories containing water driven machines with a capacity of up to 1000 spindles. 

Crompton’s "mule" was soon adapted to steam-driven power, but it was not until the 1820s that the decisive innovation was made. In that year an engineer by the name of Richard Roberts succeeded in developing the first fully automatic spinning machine. His "self-actor", as it was known, made expert weavers redundant. The spinners, who were now robbed of their basic existence, reacted with desperate and violent protests. 

The final major change was the ring spinning machine, which was much more reliable. It was developed in 1828 in the USA and slowly established itself in Great Britain, where spinning was already strongly mechanised. All the technical problems involved in changing over from hand-spinning to machinery had now been solved, and mechanisation – with the concomitant protests - now moved over to weaving. 

Edward Cartwright had already developed a mechanically-driven weaving loom in the 1780s. He took over all the basic elements of a hand weaving loom and adapted them so that they could be driven by a machine which could size the warps, push the shuttles through the weft threat and stretch the resulting cloth. But it was not until 1822 when (once again) Richard Roberts succeeded in perfecting the technical details and manufacturing the machines mainly from iron and steel, that mechanically-driven weaving looms began to establish themselves. Thousands of handloom weavers were thrown out of work and threatened with starvation, and the last specialist workers were replaced by cheaper, specially trained women. In protest, the desperate workers began to destroy the machines and attack anyone who tried to construct them; and at times the social conflicts resembled a bloody civil war. 

The complete production process was now mechanised, from the original ball of fibres to the completed cloth. Manufacturing was now increasingly concentrated in factories where the fibres were not only spun but also woven. The port of Liverpool with its major exchange, and the expanding industrial city of Manchester made the county of Lancashire the leading textile region in the world. Hundreds of thousands of workers abandoned the countryside for the cities, and the textile industry quickly became the leading sector in the British economy, with cotton processing at the top. In order to satisfy the insatiable demand, cotton plantations were cultivated in America. 

As early as the end of the 18th century British industrialisation began to move to other countries. In 1783 a German entrepreneur by the name of Johann Brügelmann built the first cotton spinning factory in Ratingen, and called it "Cromford" after the original in England. Other factories based on Arkwright's factory were built in France and Bohemia. 

Since mechanisation in weaving came much later than in spinning, other countries were able to keep pace with Great Britain. Competitive weaving industries arose primarily in the New England states of the USA, in France, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium. These also contributed to further technical improvements. For example, a French man by the name of Joseph Maria Jacquard made possible the automatic production of pattern weaving by punching designs into pattern cards joined together to form a continuous chain. The weavers operated the first industrialised jacquard machines by foot. 

The industrial revolution in cotton processing had no fundamental repercussions on other branches of industry. But centralised manufacture in factories radically transformed economic and social life. Tensions between capital and labour now replaced an agrarian landowning system. 

The bale breaker, the beater and the rack all sound like instruments belonging to a torture chamber, but in reality they are part of the machines in an old mechanical cotton mill. The Museum of Industrial Archaeology and Textiles (MIAT) in Ghent dedicates a whole storey to textile manufacture ...
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MIAT Museum about Industry, Labour and Textile
MIAT - Museum over industrie, arbeid en textiel
Minnemeers 9
9000 Gent, Belgium

Lace from Calais has been the best in the world for the past 200 years. It adorns clothing like evening gowns and gloves, and can be seen everywhere on sophisticated lingerie, whether this be the work of Jean-Paul Gaultier, Pierre Cardin or Chantal Thomass. The latter is the patron of the ...
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The International City for Lace and Fashion
Cité internationale de la dentelle et de la mode de Calais
135 quai du Commerce
62 100 Calais, France

Rattling looms, creative fashion laboratory, modern high-tech: tim, the young Augsburg Textile and Industrial Museum, which opened in January 2010, connects the rapid development of the local textile industry with an exciting trip into the history of fashion and clothing over the past two centuries. ...
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tim - State Textile and Industrial Museum
Augsburger Kammgarnspinnerei (AKS)
Provinostraße 46
86153 Augsburg, Germany

Berlin | Germany
Lifeworld Ship”, “From Ballooning to the Berlin Airlift”, “Trains, Locomotives and People”: any technological developments that Berlin witnessed during the past 120 years are showcased in the capital's Deutsches Technikmuseum (German Museum of Technology). Greeting travellers from a distance there ...
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German Technical Museum
Trebbiner Strasse 9
10963 Berlin, Germany

Whirring belts, rattling looms, the smell of oil and work: the Industrial Museum Textilwerk Bocholt replicates the activities in an early 20th century cotton mill. The reconstructed brick buildings follow the historical examples of the region: the boiler house and shed roofs, workshop and office, ...
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TextilWerk Bocholt LWL Industrial Museum
Uhlandstraße 50
46397 Bocholt, Germany

The framework: a listed factory building from around the turn of the 20th century. Inside: an exhibition split up under striking headlines like “Consumers”, “Entrepreneurs” “Workers”, “Creators” and “Karl-Marx-Stadt inhabitants”. Faces stare down from the walls; historical, contemporary, famous and ...
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Saxon Museum of Industry | Chemnitz Museum of Industry
Zwickauer Straße 119
09112 Chemnitz, Germany

Delmenhorst | Germany
Twelve hours work in suffocating factory rooms followed by a meagre dinner in a house belonging to the company, and maybe a chat over the garden fence with the neighbour before going to bed. This was more or less the typical pattern of everyday life in the north German Wool Combing and Worsted ...
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Nordwolle
Nordwestdeutsches Museum für Industriekultur
Am Turbinenhaus 10-12
27749 Delmenhorst, Germany

Dust hangs in the air. It smells of oil and wool. Coffee mugs stand forgotten amongst the machines. Pieces of scribbled note paper are lying untidily around. In the factory owner’s office stands a safe riddled with bullet holes from the Second World War and files of yellowed paper. Suddenly the ...
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Mueller Cloth Mill LVR Industrial Museum
Carl-Koenen-Str. 25b
53881 Euskirchen, Germany

They represented the acme of European technology prior to the Industrial Revolution: the Bologna-type silk-throwing machines. Not a single of them has survived, but a half-size reconstruction in the Museum of Industrial Heritage keeps them impressingly alive. Coupled with other functional models ...
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Museum of Industrial Heritage
Museo del Patrimonio Industriale
Fornace Galotti Via della Beverara 123
40131 Bologna, Italy

In the centre of Prato there can be found an industrial heritage site of European importance: The Campolmi Textile Factory. The two-storey, faithfully restored rectangular building with its courtyard, elegant water basin and slender brick chimney was constructed in 1863. Today it is a symbol of ...
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Campolmi Factory | Lazzerini Library | Textile Museum
Istituto culturale e di documentazione Lazzerini Via Puccetti, 3 59100 Prato Telephone +39 (0) 574 - 1837800
Museo del Tessuto Via Santa Chiara 24
59100 Prato, Italy

Pratovecchio Stia (Arezzo) | Italy
The elongated stone buildings with their regular, multi-storey rows of windows appear to be down-to-earth and tidy. Functional metal posts structure the bright and spacious room inside. Around 1900 this place in the hills of the Casentino region not far from Florence witnessed the hustle and bustle ...
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Museum of the Art of Woolmaking
Museo dell’Arte dell Lana Fondazione Luigi e Simonetta Lambard
Via Giovanni Santori 2
52017 Pratovecchio Stia, Italy

Enschede | Netherlands
The TwentseWelle Museum is truly encyclopaedic. Het Grote Verhaal - "the huge narrative" - invites visitors to embark on a journey through time from the ice age to the present day. It is located in the town of Twente in the West of Holland, which once boasted a flourishing textile industry. One of ...
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TwentseWelle
Het Rozendaal 11
7523 XG Enschede, Netherlands

The Norwegian Museum of Technology is full of pioneering, life-sustaining, and also miraculous discoveries and inventions. In a swift, highly varied and interactive manner it displays the extent to which the development of science, technology, industry and medicine are continually determining our ...
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Norwegian Museum of Science, Technology, Industry and Medicine
Norks Teknisk Museum
Kjelsåsveien 143
0491 Oslo, Norway

Salhus Tricotagefabrik was founded in 1859, as one of the first knitwear factories in Norway. Trikotasje means knitted fabric. Long and short underwear for men and women, undershirts, socks, athletic apparel, swimwear and many other items were made at the Salhus factory. Perhaps you are familiar ...
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Norwegian Knitting Industry Museum
Norsk Trikotasjemuseum
Salhusvegen 201
5107 Salhus, Norway

Stefan, Mietek, Dolores and Ziuta are names that are close to the hearts of the local museum guides. For behind these names are four extant historic weaving looms that are regularly used to demonstrate the weaving techniques used in Lodz at the end of the 19th century. Demonstrations are part of the ...
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Manufaktura | Museum of the Factory
Muzeum Fabryki
Drewnowska 58
91-002 Lódź, Poland

S. Joao da Madeira | Portugal
Industry is very important in S. Joao da Madeira. And, more recently, industrial history as well. This combination makes the city and its surroundings an exciting destination for fans of industrial heritage. The visitor center in the tower of the former sewing machine plant Oliva offers information ...
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Turismo Industrial
Rua Oliveira Junior nº 591
3700-204 S. Joao da Madeira, Portugal

The most eye-catching feature of the Vapor Aymerich, Amat i Jover in Terrassa near Barcelona is doubtless its unique roof. It consists of row upon row of 161 shell-shaped half arches, each with gently curving windows like stylised crests of waves. At first sight the building, designed by the Catalan ...
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Catalonian Museum of Science and Industry
Museu nacional de la Ciéncia i de la Tècnica de Catalunya (mNACTEC)
Rambla d’Ègara 270
08221 Terrassa, Spain

Norrköping | Sweden
Walking the streets of Norrköping is like a promenade through 400 years of industrial history. The town centre is literally scattered with former factories. Most of them were built between 1850 and 1920 to produce fabrics. One of them, once a cotton mill, nowadays hosts the Museum of Work. Because ...
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Museum of Work
Arbetets museum
Laxholmen
602 21 Norrköping, Sweden

Cromford | United Kingdom
The first modern factory in history was built in Cromford in the Derwent valley, not far from Nottingham. The Derwent is anything but a fast-flowing river. That said it flows quickly enough to be able to drive waterwheels. Richard Arkwright, a former wigmaker, recognised this fact and promptly ...
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Cromford Mill World Heritage Site
Cromford Mill
DE4 3RQ Cromford, United Kingdom

Dundee | United Kingdom
The ground shakes when the factory thunders into life. Carding machines, drawing frames, spinning machines and weaving looms comb, stretch, whirl, spin and weave the very same thread for which Dundee was once famous. Jute. In the late 19th century the Scottish port had more jute factories than ...
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Verdant Works
West Henderson´s Wynd
DD1 5BT Dundee, United Kingdom