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Philadelphia was among the first cities in Colonial America to begin the manufacturing of cotton. Because of this, Philadelphia became the first city to see the new invention of the Jacquard loom. The first Jacquard loom was imported by WIlliam H. Horstmann in 1825. WIlliam H. Horstmann & Sons, Manufacturers of Dress Trimmings and Military Goods was located on No. 50 N. Third St. in Philadelphia and began operations in 1815. Their specialty was narrow textile fabrics like upholstery trimmings and coach laces.
Wise coverlet, December 13, 1836
Before the invention of the Jacquard loom, coverlets were of a geometric design. Weavers had limited capabilities on multi-shaft looms. After the invention of the Jacquard loom, intricate patterns of flowers, birds, houses, trains, stars, trees, figures of people, and other designs were possible to achieve by the village weaver. He was only limited by the punch card designs.
By the late 1700's, the French began to experiment with devices to help facilitate weaving. In 1806, Joseph Marie Jacquard of Lyon, France was awarded a pension and royalties for designing an attachment that would fit on top of a loom. This attachment would control the position of the warp which is the lengthwise yarn. With a precursor to the systems used by early computers, punch cards with patterns were used in the loom to replicate the specific designs chosen by the weaver. The punch card allowed many different threads to be picked up independently. The invention reduced time and labor costs.
Joseph Marie Jacquard
Even though the Jacquard loom was first brought to Philadelphia, it was in New York where the first coverlets were woven in the 1820's. Some full seamed coverlets were being produced here as well . The most common woven coverlets were of blue wool and white cotton yarn with a double weave pattern. These coverlets were warm because of the double layer construction.
By the 1830's, the Pennsylvania weavers adapted their looms with the Jacquard attachment. These weavers of southeastern Pennsylvania were all Pennsylvania German men. There is no evidence of any women weavers using the Jacquard looms. They were either first generation weavers or apprenticed with other weavers.
Blue and white double weave coverlet - Windows & Lover's Knots Pennsylvania - front
The earliest coverlets used organic dyes. They were made up of smaller geometric designs which were repeated throughout the piece. The later coverlets were colored with analine dyes and contained larger designs throughout the pattern. The most common materials used in Pennsylvania were cotton and wool. Sometimes single strands were used. At other times, strands were wrapped together to produce a stronger yarn. Each region of the country had its own type and weight of yarns used.
Back of Windows & Lover's Knots quilt
The weaver usually would buy commercially spun cotton from cotton mills in the area. The cotton was either bleached, unbleached, or dyed. The client sometimes provided their own home spun wool to help keep the production cost down. The average price of a coverlet was $2 - $4 a piece. Sometimes linen was used.
As the weaving was taking place, the Jacquard mechanism was attached to the warp. The weft which is crosswise yarns was placed into the warp with a shuttle and the yarns were interwoven producing the design on the coverlet. Wool and cotton were the most popular yarn used for the weft. The cotton part of the weft acts as a supporting fiber to give the coverlet stability. Graphic designs were achieved when the weaver used indigo blue dyes on the cotton. The weaver did the dyeing of the yarns. Sometimes there was a dyeing house on site.
The earlier looms used into the 1850's were hand powered. Shuttles were used to pass the weft through the warp. That is why you see Jacquard coverlets sewn down the middle. The width was as wide as the weaver could throw his shuttle which was usually a yard. Typically, these coverlets were common in Pennsylvania.
The seam where the two pieces were sewn together
The weaver would start out using a continuous length of warp yarn double the length of the coverlet being made. Since the two pieces were sewn together, the width would be half the width of the final coverlet. He started by weaving the bottom edge of the coverlet. This would be placed at the bottom of the bed. He would make a corner panel which could include the maker's name, the client's name, location, and date. He would continue to weave to the top of the bed, then reverse his pattern in the opposite direction running head to foot using the same design. This was the other half of the coverlet which would then be sewn together. The long strip of fabric was then removed. Sometimes he left a short length of cut warp to produce the fringe.
Blue and white interwoven coverlet
Some weavers used this method for the fringe. Other weavers sewed the fringe on later. There is a way to tell which method was used. The fringe color bands would change with the color bands of the coverlet if the fringe formed from the weaver's own weft. If the fringe was sewn on later, the colors of the fringe and coverlet don't necessarily line up. Also, weavers used different materials for the top edge which is the head of the bed. They could use a printed cotton calico, chintz fabric, or wool tape. If the top material was the same material as the center of the two pieces sewn together, then the top material is original to the piece. The top edge of the coverlet usually wore out before any other part of the coverlet. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see a top edge replaced. Another way of telling if the coverlet has been cut down is to measure the length of the coverlet from head to foot. If the coverlet doesn't fit a normal bed length, then the coverlet may have been altered.
The top edge of the coverlet
There was some evidence that weavers used their own designs by using their own punch cards. However, many weavers bought their punch cards from a supplier. Because a supplier was specific to a certain region, it is not uncommon to see the same patterns in an area. The client probably had their choice of designs for the border and central area of the coverlet.
With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, weavers could no longer compete with the cheap yarn goods being imported from other ports. Weaving shops existed up until the late 1860's, but then faded away after this time. One of the last coverlet businesses in existence was located at Strawberry and South Water Streets in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It was owned by Philip Schum (1814-1890) and was called Lancaster Carpet, Coverlet, Quilt and Yarn Manufactory. In 1875, the production of Jacquard coverlets was 400 quilts per week. He was killed when his buggy was struck by a train. At his death, his property consisted of a carpet shop. weaving shop, dye house, retail store, coal yard, and another store. In his inventory he had 390 half wool coverlets with numerous counterpanes. Schum used patriotic motifs and signed his counterpane MADE BY PHILIP SCHUM LANCASTER PA. with a common date of 1869.
1890 Jacquard loom at Shelburne Museum
There is not much evidence left of any Jacquard looms and little evidence of punch cards that exist. However, Shelburne Museum does have an 1890's Jacquard loom in which they give daily demonstrations of weaving. These weavers gave us a wonderful collection of Jacquard coverlets for us to enjoy.
Source: Research, photos & text by Bryan Wright
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