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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. 

Česká Skalice | Czech Republic
The only museum of the textile industry in the Czech Republic occupies the 19th century buildings of an Ursuline convent at Česká Skalice. Its displays cover the history of textiles of all kinds throughout the Czech lands in the pre-industrial period before 1800, as well as the subsequent history of ...
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Textile Museum
Muzeum textilu Česká Skalice
Maloskalická 123
55203 Česká Skalice, Czech Republic

Arhus C | Denmark
The Old Town in Arhus, the principal city of Jutland, is unusual amongst European open air museums in that it consists largely of urban buildings rather than farmsteads that have been removed from their original sites and re-erected, and that it is located close to the modern city centre. The ...
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The Old Town
Den Gamle By
Viborgvej 2
8000 Arhus, Denmark

Herning | Denmark
Herning in central Jutland is one of Denmark’s youngest towns. It developed from about 1870 when the making of hosiery, long-established in the area as a domestic industry, was re-organised on a factory basis. The Textilforum, part of the mid-Jutland Museum Service, is based in a hosiery factory of ...
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Textilforum
Vestergade 20
7400 Herning, Denmark

Kongens Lyngby | Denmark
From the first water-driven factory to modern mass manufacture à la LEGO, the Brede Værk makes 150 years of Danish industrial history so palpably clear, that you might almost think that you had been part of it yourself. The central venue is the Brede Klædefabrik, one of the largest 19th-century ...
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Brede Works
Brede Værk
I.C. Modewegsvej
2800 Kongens Lyngby, Denmark

The cotton mills at Narva are part of an integrated textile community consisting of a monumental factory, workers’ housing, schools and institutes, comparable to Saltaire in England, built in the mid-nineteenth century by the entrepreneur L Knopp, with design input from the School of Architecture in ...
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Narva Museum | Kreenholm Cotton Mill
Narva Castle
Peterburi mnt. 2
20308 Narva, Estonia

Helsinki | Finland
Finland’s national open air museum was established, like those of other Scandinavian countries, in the period of Romantic nationalism before the First World War, at a time when Finland formed part of the Russian Empire. It was founded in 1909 on Seurasaari island, close to the centre of Helsinki by ...
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Seurasaari Open Air Museum
Seurasaari
00250 Helsinki, Finland

Killinkoski | Finland
Killinkoski is a village in the Häme region of central Finland, 21 km north of Virrat and 23 km south of Ähtäri, where a ribbon factory flourished for more than a century. The factory is now a museum where visitors can see the machines for ribbon manufacture imported from France and Germany as well ...
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Killinkoski Old Factory
Killinkosken Wanha Tehdas
Inkanti 60
34980 Killinkoski, Finland

Korkeakiski | Finland
The Whitewater Museum at Korkeakiski, north-east of Tampere, is situated in the Juupajoki Korkeakiski leather factory, one of the enterprises set up in response to the opening of the Tampere-Haapamäki railway in the 1890s by Edward Wallenius. He established a tannery in 1894 and the factory for the ...
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Whitewater Shoe & Leather Museum
Koskenjalan Kenkä-Ja Nahkamuseo
Koskitie 43
35500 Korkeakiski, Finland

Tampere | Finland
Tampere was a new town of the late 18th century, and has benefited from water-power, the result of its situation between lakes Phäjärvi and Näsijärvi. In 1820 a Scot, James Finlayson, established an ironworks to which he added woollen and cotton factories, that from 1836 were taken over by a Russian ...
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Museum Centre Vapriikki
Alaverstaanraitti 5
33101 Tampere, Finland

Bussières | France
Bussières is a village of about 1,500 people 70 km west of Lyons in the Beaujolais region in the department of Loire. There have been weavers in the community since the Middle Ages, but the weaving of silk became particularly important in the mid-19th century. Following a strike of weavers in Lyons ...
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Weaving Museum
Musée de Tissage
Place Vancanson
42510 Bussières, France

Caudry is a small town in northern France, 63 km. from Lille and 160 km. from Paris, close to the Belgian border and to the battlefields of the First World War. From the early nineteenth century entrepreneurs in the town specialised in the manufacture of lace, and particularly of tulle, a fine silk ...
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Museum of lace and embroidery
Musée des Dentells et des Broderies
Place des Mantilles
59504 Caudry, France

Chazelles sur Lyon | France
Chazelles sur Lyon is a small town 50 km south-west of Lyons, whose population is currently rather less than 5000. From the 16th century until the late 1970s the townspeople specialised in the manufacture of hats, particularly of fashionable hats for ladies. When the industry was at its peak in the ...
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Hat museum
Musee de Chapeau de Chazelles sur Lyon
16 route de St Galmier
41240 Chazelles sur Lyon, France

Chazelles-sur-Lyon | France
Chazelles-sur-Lyon is a small town in les Montagnes des Lyonnais, 30 km north of St Étienne and 45 km west of Lyon. The making of felt hats was the principal manufacturing occupation in the region for several centuries making use of fur from wild rabbits and hares, and from domestic rabbits that ...
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Hat Museum
Musée de Chapeau
31 Rue Martouret
42140 Chazelles-sur-Lyon, France

Cholet | France
The textile manufacturing community at Cholet a small town in Maine et Loire, 66 km south-east of Nantes, was established in the seventeenth century by Edouard Colbert, brother of Louis XIV’s minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert, who arranged for the settlement in the area of a group of weavers. Textile ...
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Textile museum
Musee du Textile
Rue de Dr Roux
49300 Cholet, France

Échirolles | France
Échirolles is one of the largest suburbs of the city of Grenoble, where in the mid-twentieth century more than 2,000 people were engaged in the manufacture of viscose (otherwise rayon, or artificial silk). Processes for making artificial silk were developed both in France and the United Kingdom in ...
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Musée de la Viscose
27 Rue de Tremblay
38130 Échirolles, France

Fourmies | France
Fourmies was the principal centre of the woollen textile industry in France in the second half of the 19th century. The ecomusée which portrays the region’s history includes a display in the single-storey former Prouvost-Masurel wool-spinning mill which worked between 1874 and 1970. All the ...
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Écomusée de l’Avesnois
Place Maria Blondeau BP65
59612 Fourmies, France

Husseren-Wesserling | France
The textile ecomuseum at Husseren-Wesserling in the department Haut-Rhin, 35 km. from Mulhouse and 65 km. from Colmar opened in 1996. The town was the location of a royal textile enterprise, comparable in many respects to Dijonval at Sedan. The museum is based in a five-storey factory of 1819 ...
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Wesserling Park Textile Ecomuseum
Parc de Wesserling-Écomusée Textile
Rue du Parc
68470 Husseren-Wesserling, France

Langogne is a small town in the department of Lozère (the province of Gevaudan before the French Revolution), in the present-day region of Languedoc-Roussillon. It lies on the River Langouyrou, which in the past provided power for several watermills and process water for several tanneries. ...
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The world of thread at the Calquières spinning factory
Le Monde de Filaine á la Filature des Calquières
23 Rue des Calquières
48300 Langogne, France

Louviers | France
Louviers, on the River Eure in Normandy, was celebrated for its woollen cloth in the middle ages and in the 18th century specialised in high-quality broadcloths, using Spanish wool imported through Rouen. The first mechanised cotton-spinning mill in France was built there in 1785, with the ...
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Municipal Museum
Musée Municipal
Place Ernest-Thorel
27400 Louviers, France

Lyon is Europe’s pre-eminent silk-working city. The industry’s origins in the city go back centuries before the Industrial Revolution, and it is fitting that the displays in the museum take a long view of silk-manufacture. The making and trading of silk in Chinese, Coptic, Persian, Byzantine and ...
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Museums of fabrics and decorative arts
Musees des Tissus et des Arts decoratifs
34 rue de la Charite
69002 Lyon, France