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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. 

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

Montplaisant | France
Montplaisant is a small town in the valley of the River Nauze which flows into the Dordogne at Siorac. The filature de Belvès originated as a corn mill in the middle ages and in the early twentieth century became the wool spinning factory of the Theillot family. It is now called the Centre ...
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The Belvès Spinning Mill
La Filature de Belvès
Fongauffier
24170 Montplaisant, France

Mulhouse | France
Mulhouse was a free city until 1798 when it became part of France. It was already celebrated for the manufacture of printed cotton goods, and subsequently became a leading centre of the textile and engineering industries. The museum of printing on fabrics began with the establishment of an archive ...
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Museum of printing on fabrics
Musee de l’impression sur etoffes
3 rue des Bonnes-Gens
68100 Mulhouse, France

Notre-Dame-de-Bondeville | France
The museum on the banks of the River Cailly at Notre-Dame-de-Bondville, west of Rouen, is located in a former ropeworks, a partially timber-framed building of 1822. The factory was re-equipped in 1880, and the French and English machines installed at that time remained in use until operations ceased ...
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Vallois ropeworks industrial museum
Musée industriel de la Corderie Vallois
185 route de Dieppe
76960 Notre-Dame-de-Bondeville, France

Roubaix | France
The town of Roubaix in the French part of Flanders was already a centre of textile production in 1469 when it was granted the privilege of weaving coarse woollen fabrics. The right to weave fine yarns was held by the nearby city of Lille with which Roubaix maintained a fierce rivalry over the ...
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La Manufacture
La Manufacture Musée de la mémoire et de la création textile
29 avenue Julien Lagache
59100 Roubaix, France

The Lille conurbation, that includes the town of Roubaix, was during the 19th century the principal centre in France for the manufacture of woollen, cotton and linen textiles. Some handloom weavers’ cottages remain but the town also accommodates the museum, opened in 2001, that now portrays the ...
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La Piscine. Museum of Art and Industry
La Piscine Musée d’Art et d’Industrie André Diligent
23 rue de l’Espèance
59100 Roubaix, France

Saint Etienne | France
Saint-Etienne is one of France’s most notable industrial cities. Nearby coal mines stimulated the growth of ironworking, glassmaking, textiles, particularly ribbons, and the manufacture of armaments in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and the first railways were built in the area in the ...
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Museum of Art and Industry
Musée de l’Art et de l’Industrie
2, place Louis Compte
42026 Saint-Etienne, France

Saint Hippolyte du Fort | France
The mountainous Cevennes region of southern France was one of the most important silk-producing areas in Europe in the nineteenth century. The mulberry tree flourishes in the Cevennes, and silk was produced on a domestic process from the thirteenth century, but about 1810 the ‘Gensoul’ proce was ...
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Silk Museum
Musee de la Soie en Cevennes
Place du 8 Mai
30170 Saint Hippolyte du Fort, France

Saint Pierreville | France
Saint Pierreville is a small town between the mountains of the Ardéche and the Rhone Valley. Ardelaine is a co-operative established late in the twentieth century when it was realised that sheep farmers in the Ardéche were throwing away their wool because it could not be sold on national markets. ...
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Living Museum of wool and sheep
Musée Vivant de la Laine et du Mouton Ardelaine
Puausson
07190 Saint Pierreville, France

Sedan | France
The Dijonval cloth factory at Sedan has the appearance of a palace rather than a textile mill, and is an evocative monument to the role of the state in the economy of France of the ancien regime. The factory was founded in 1646, not long after Sedan became a French possession, with the aim of ...
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Dijonval Cloth Factory
Le Dijonval
6, Avenue Margueritte
08200 Sedan, France

St Pierreville | France
St Pierreville is a small town between the mountains of the Ardéche and the Rhone Valley. Ardelaine is a co-operative established late in the twentieth century when it was realised that sheep farmers in the Ardéche were throwing away their wool because it could not be sold on national markets. The ...
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Living Museum of wool and sheep
Musée Vivant de la Laine et du Mouton Ardelaine
Puausson
07190 St Pierreville, France

Bärnau | Germany
The town of Bärnau in the Upper Palatinate (Oberpfalz), 48 km south-east of Hof, has for centuries been one of the chief sources of buttons in Germany, and the industry continues today. The museum, located in a former brewery and opened in 1975, displays the town’s products, the machines that ...
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German Button Museum
Tachauer Strasse 2
95671 Bärnau, Germany

The cellar is amazing! Suddenly it opens out into a complete mining gallery! Rough hewn timber struts support the walls and ceilings, trolleys and drills stand at the ready, a hoisting cage is there, a throwshovel loader and even a latrine bucket. Once these were all accompanied by the noisy ...
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Regional Museum of Mining, Handicraft and Trade
Burggraben 9-21
51429 Bergisch Gladbach, Germany

Bielefeld | Germany
The historical museum tells the story of Bielefeld from its foundation by Count Hermannn of Ravensberg in 1214 to the present. It is located in the former Ravensberger spinning mill and its main focus is on the city’s industrial heritage. Some spinning and weaving machines are still in place and ...
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Historical Museum
Ravensberger Park 2
33607 Bielefeld, Germany

Bielefeld | Germany
The Museum Wäschefabrik (linen wear factory museum) at Bielefeld is one of the relatively few places at which the heritage of the manufacture of clothing (as distinct from the production of fabrics) is commemorated. It is also a testimony to the fate of Jewish industrialists during the Third ...
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Linen Wear Factory Museum
Museum Wäschefabrik (Linen wear museum) Victoriastrasse 48 33602 Bielefeld Germany {49 (0) 521 604 64 www.museum-waeschefabrik.de info@waeschefabrik.de
Victoriastrasse 48
33602 Bielefeld, Germany

Bramsche | Germany
Textile manufacturing in the city of Bramsche, 22 km north-east of Osnabruck, flourished for 400 years, chiefly due to the water-power available at mills on the River Hase that were owned by the bishops of Osnabruck until 1849 and then by the Clothworkers’ Guild. In the 18th century Bramsche was ...
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Museum of Fabrics
Mühlenort 6
49565 Bramsche, Germany

Detmold | Germany
The open air museum at Detmold, capital of the former principality of Lippe-Detmold, is reckoned the largest of its kind in Germany. It extends over 90 ha and its collection totals more than a hundred buildings. It displays in rich detail the material culture of peasant society in a prosperous ...
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Westphalian Open Air Museum
Krummes Haus
32760 Detmold, Germany

If you don’t believe that office work is bad for your health you should try the so-called “compulsory posture”, a kind of corset which imitates the unnatural position adopted by most people when they’re sitting in front of a computer. It is only one of countless experimentation points in the German ...
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DASA - German Occupational Safety and Health Exhibition
Friedrich-Henkel-Weg 1-25
44149 Dortmund, Germany

Eibenstock | Germany
The tin and iron ore mining of Eibenstock, a small town in the western part of the Ore Mountains, had almost come to a standstill in 1760, so that the plight of the local miners and their families far surpassed the usual poverty. It was necessary to somehow secure the survival of the region. Help ...
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Eibenstock Embroidery Museum
Bürgermeister-Hesse-Straße 7 - 9
08309 Eibenstock, Germany

When Friedrich Engels, the son of a Wuppertal textile manufacturer, visited Manchester during the early years of the industrial revolution he was shocked by the working conditions in the factories. In 1848 he and Karl Marx published the “Communist Manifesto” and very soon they were known all over ...
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Ermen & Engels Power Station LVR Industrial Museum
Engels-Platz 2
51766 Engelskirchen, Germany