The Flying Shuttle (1733)
The flying shuttle, invented by John Kay, greatly accelerated the process of weaving. However, before understanding how the shuttle worked, it is essential to grasp the fundamental ideas behind weaving and how it's done.
If a piece of cloth is observed closely, one can see the pattern of threads intersecting at right angles. These right angle intersections are created due to the way cloth is woven. A loom could be thought of like a harp, with thread going across the frame, like strings of a harp. These threads are called the warp. To achieve the crossing pattern, thread needs to go over and under every alternating warp thread. This thread that accomplishes this is called the weft thread. However, if the weft were to manually go over and under every a
lternating warp, the process would be extremely time-consuming and tedious. Due to this, warp threads are attached to bars perpendicular to the warp, called heddles. There are two of these horizontal bars, and each consecutive warp thread is attached to an alternating bar. Due to this, the weaver merely has to lift one heddle, and throw the shuttle across. Doing this over and over again, alternating between heddles that are raised and lowered, will create a woven piece of cloth.
John Kay wanted to hasten this process which was relatively slow (although one weaver required the threads made by four spinners to keep going at a steady pace). His flying shuttle mechanized the process of throwing the shuttle when the heddles were raised. He arranged spring-loaded boxes on either side of the loom, hence having shuttles flung back and forth. The process was a little more complex, however it freed one arm which could operate the reed comb – an object that separated the weft threads and kept the warp threads together.
Before the invention of the flying shuttle, one weaver kept pace with four spinners. However the flying shuttle made the process four times faster – requiring 16 spinners to adequately supply one weaver. Therefore, weavers often spent more time in search of thread than before.
This machine aided those working in the woolen trade in addition to the cotton-weavers who also used the flying shuttle but did not often pay royalties to John Kay. Due to the uncooperative nature of many of the people who used Kay's devices, he was eventually led to flee the nation for France where he started afresh.
Deane, Phyllis. The First Industrial Revolution . New York : Cambridge University Press, 1965.
Industrial Revolution . 11 Mar. 2006 . 21 Mar. 2006
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