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What are the Different Types of Weaving Machine?

By Jane Olcott
Updated May 16, 2024
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Weaving machines are used to make products such as upholstery fabric, silk and ornate carpets. They can be divided into three types: shuttle, circular, and narrow fabric. Most of these machines are for commercial use and require a certain amount of training and mechanical knowledge to use. For arts and crafts weaving, handheld knitting is still the best way to weave at home.

A shuttle weaving machine usually is controlled electronically, and it weaves a tight warp and weft pattern. The warp pattern is the vertical threads in the fabric, while the weft pattern is the horizontal threads in the fabric. The shuttle, a narrow piece of wood or plastic with notches on the end to hold the yarn, is automatically moved back and forth between the vertical warp threads in order to weave through the horizontal weft threads.

These machines are used mainly in industrial operations to create a tight-weave fabric. Silk fabric is woven through this method, as are many commercial textiles and linens. There are hand-operated machines as well, but most non-electric ones tend to be used by trained professionals for artisanal weaving.

A circular weaving machine also is controlled electronically. It has two or more shuttles moving simultaneously in a circle to weave the weft threads in a section of the warp thread at a time. This type of machine is used with thicker yarn and materials and can be used to weave cotton. Handbags and heavy drapery usually are woven using circular machines.

The narrow fabric variety, also known as a jacquard loom, uses an electronically controlled thread carrier or eye point needle instead of a shuttle. The needle tightly weaves the threads to create the fabric. This type of weaving machine has been used to create the narrow and tight weaved wicks of candles and oil lamps.

These machines also are used to create frame webbing that is used in the automotive industry. This material typically is soaked in oil and placed between conjoined parts of the car to prevent squeaking. Jacquard fabric, which has an intricately woven pattern and is used to make upholstery and drapes, is also made on this type of machine.

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Discussion Comments
By anon242304 — On Jan 23, 2012

I think you need to do a little more research.

A shuttle loom weaves closed edges on the cloth, as the same thread is thrown back and forth. The closed edge doesn't unravel in the wash. Shuttle cloth is often used for a silk kimono, as they are constructed in traditional ways which requires that good closed edge.

The problem with shuttle looms is they run rather slowly. It's onerous to heave a projectile back and forth. That projectile (the shuttle) can and does come flying out of the loom upon occasion. In the old days, if there was an interruption in the power supply (lightning flicker) weavers would go flat on the floor and cover their heads. A shuttle that was launched halfheartedly might fly, but it's the ones that weren't received properly (didn't seat correctly in their boxes) that would be launched when the power came back. That was in the old days of manual looms, before electronic controls.

With the advent of electronics, the “rapier” loom came into vogue. Each piece of yarn is cut as the entry rapier grabs it, transfers to the exit rapier in the middle of the cloth, is pulled out the far end. (rapier is pronounced ray pierre, with the accent on ray). These run much faster and tend to be safer. I've run rapier looms at 430 picks a minute; the old shuttle looms could make maybe 60 picks a minute.

A pick is one weft, one piece of thread from edge to edge, inserted into the warp.

The technology has continued to advance. There are air jet looms, where a “bullet” grabs the yarn and is foofed across the width of the goods, to be followed by another. I've also heard of a water jet loom, although I have no idea how that works. The jet looms run even faster than today's rapier looms.

Now to talk about the head. Most artisan weaving looms are dobby looms. The warp ends are entered onto different shafts. Most home looms have two, four, or six shafts. The weaves tend to be plain, such as a twill or a button-down shirt. Plaids tend to be dobby weaves, although that's not set in stone.

A jacquard head (named after the frenchman who invented it) is a much more complex mechanism, much more expensive to buy and maintain, as well as being harder to weave on. A jacquard head is raised onto a gantry above the loom, where a jacquard harness is hung from the head down to the loom. Depending upon the size of the jacquard head, the horizontal repeat can be as small as 3" or as large as the width of the cloth. Most settle for eight to fifteen inches of horizontal repeat.

The vertical repeat can be as long as the capability of the loom. In the older days of punch card patterns, vertical repeat was restricted by how much of the waffling stuff could fit on the rack and still run smoothly. Today, it's the size of the head's memory that limits the length of the pattern.

The width of the goods; jacquard looms make bedspreads and bedsheets and draperies, just like dobby looms can.

Home (artisan) looms can be small and narrow, but in the manufacturing world, it's not like that.

As to the weaves themselves, they can be so loose as to be sheer, or so tight the cloth seems indestructible, on either type of loom. And by the way, *anything* woven is made on a loom of some sort.

I never heard of a circular loom before. Had to go online to see one. Interesting. Not really big enough for drapes, though. Except possibly those semi-sheer panels folks like to hang. It is incredibly difficult not to have stop/start marks in sheer cloth on a dobby. A circular loom appears to have licked that problem by not having a tensioned take up.

To distinguish between warp and weft: The warp is the length of the goods -- be it one yard or fifty. The weft is the width of the cloth, which is constant, no matter how long the yardage.

Shuttle, rapier, or jet are ways of moving the weft from selvedge to selvedge.

Dobby (sometimes called shaft) or Jacquard are different types of heads which raise and lower the individual warp threads to create the weave. Each type of head has a different type of harness, which contains the actual warp yarn that goes up and down

My knowledge is flat weaving. There are plenty of videos online. I'm presently working on Dornier looms, of German manufacture.

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