Jacquard looms: Videos demonstrating early computer programs


19 Responses to “Jacquard looms: Videos demonstrating early computer programs”

  1. JoeBuck says:

    The Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns, just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves. — Ada Lovelace

  2. pizzicato says:

    It was revolutionary to say the least, hand woven tapestry that would take years to complete. Best part is, these days you can even literally ‘print’ these. 


    But of course these are still in demand.

    • magicbean says:

      Looms are incredible little machines, and handweaving is a very complex mental craft!  

      To be nitpicky about words – tapestry is not the same thing as weaving.  Weaving is a process of making fabric with threads interlocking going over and under one another.  (If you interlock with loops, it’s called knitting or crochet).  Tapestry is a very specific kind of weaving, but it’s not jacquard.  

       And while the pattern for the “printed” tapesty you linked to was printed, notice that it was “sent off to weavers”, it wasn’t just put out of a machine….those giant tapestry machines are likely threaded and tensioned by hand – it’s a slow and very precise process called “dressing the loom”.  Imagine having to get 17,000 threads all in order, one by one, and all the same length and tension.  

      There are really high-end computer driven looms used by artists and designers, you can do some jacquard weaving on these


      I covet one for complex designs, but need $20,000 to fall from the sky.

      And on the topic of geometric calculations, In the Andean Highlands, handweaving patterns are not written down – they are passed from person to person, and the women who have hundreds of motifs and images memorized can rotate, flip, mirror, and change color within one single woven piece….all in their heads.  It’s an incredible skill, almost like painting pixel by pixel (each line and thread is like a dot in the image).   The weavers who design these complex patterns are like little image computers themselves!  What they can process geometrically all without writing it down is a heck of a craft.

  3. theophrastvs says:

    There’s no doubt that Jacquard loom provides much of foundation for many computer concepts to follow.  but… until there’s a result which can change the next step (a ‘branching’ operation) then it never seems to be more than a player-piano or sequencer (albeit a sequence which is pre-”programmed”).  i’m sure i could be shouted down, (especially if there was a loom that could alter its linear sequence of cards), but a sequencer with a fixed program, doesn’t seem to be sufficient to have the term ‘computer’ stuck on it… to me.

    • robcat2075 says:

       yes, “decision structures”, the term i learned, are a minimum requirement. If just reproducing a pattern were enough then we should go back to Gutenberg, or even the ancients who were cuneiform on cylinders to reproduce text.

  4. Atvaark says:

    Today’s version, still called a Jacquard machine:

  5. CygnusXII says:

    WTH? I just watched an episode of QI on youtube, where one of the topics / questions was this very subject.

  6. Don’t forget the James Burke series, “Connections,” that discusses this. I forget which episode, but if you have to watch them all to find it, even better.

  7. geech says:

    I believe there is one at the Smithsonian, something similar at least. Blew my mind when I first saw it. The long chain of punch cards all stitched together to make one long set of instructions for the loom…incredible.

  8. Kaleberg says:

    When I was in the north of England back in the early 1980s I saw a simplified machine for making tweed woven fabrics. The weaving pattern was controlled by a series of metal plates, with or without holes in various positions, linked by a pair of metal chains. It wasn’t a Jacquard machine, but obviously worked on a similar principle.

    • digi_owl says:

      Back then cross border patents were not well respected, so quite likely some enterprising Brit got his hands on a Jacquard at some point and started making the equivalent across the channel.

  9. jrishel says:

    It is very interesting how Jacquard’s invention of basically limitless storage via sequential punch cards went on inspire Babbage and the his work on the the first mechanical computer systems, and later inspired the census taking punch cards which would later grow into IBM.  I think I mentioned this book to Maggie before, but I recommend it to anyone interested in the topic: Jacquard’s Web

  10. jrishel says:

    oh, and want to see what a modern jacquard loom looks like when weaving? no punch cards, this is all electronically controlled http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYVdt5Zmkpc

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