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Jacquard Weaving

by Aubrey Hansen


The Jacquard loom greatly expanded design possibilities in weaving with its invention in the early nineteenth century, a vital role it continues to play today in the textile industry. The Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection has numerous objects woven on Jacquard looms; a few illustrate the infinite possibilities the Jacquard loom offers.



HLATC 2001.02.001

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, France’s silk industry was in a slump as fashion turned toward plainer cotton fabrics. In an effort to revitalize this industry, the government offered subsidies for inventors who could improve the weaving process. In 1804, in response to this trend, Joseph Marie Jacquard of Lyon, France, created the first Jacquard mechanism. It was the beginning of great changes in the European weaving industry. The Jacquard machine, unlike the drawloom that had been used for the past 1,500 years, was an automated weaving system. Using a series of punched cards onto which a complex design could be programmed, the Jacquard loom, which consisted of the loom and the Jacquard head, allowed for the creation of the most detailed images seen in woven textiles.


A variety of weaves could be incorporated into a single textile, and all this was done with more precision and speed than the drawloom. The forms in the designs could now be curvilinear and shaded, creating more realistic images. Words could be included in the designs as well.


The Jacquard loom did not immediately gain popularity; in fact, its use was strongly opposed by many French weavers and it took a few more years for the industry to convert to this new machine. Many improvements have been made to this original machine, and today it is used to weave countless textiles, including apparel and upholstery fabrics, laces, and velvets. The following are examples in the HLATC of textiles woven on early Jacquard looms. During the Empire period of the early 1800s, it was fashionable to wear a shawl outdoors. The shawls from Kashmir, India, quickly migrated to Europe and were extremely popular, due in large part to the fashionable Empress Josephine. However, Kashmir shawls were very expensive because they were hand-manipulated in a very labor-intensive process. The invention of the Jacquard loom allowed European weavers to compete with this market by creating imitations in a fraction of the time it took to create an original in India. Additionally, it lead to new developments in European design, and the shawls became a major art form of the nineteenth century. The loom made it economically feasible to use multiple colors and to fill an entire shawl with pattern.


Paisley Shawl

Figure 1: HLATC 2001.02.001
The term paisley comes from the Scottish city of Paisley, where a vast number of Jacquard woven shawls were created between 1840 and 1870. The shawl detail pictured (Fig. 1, HLATC 2001.02.001) is considered a typical paisley, and is a good representation of what many
European shawls looked like during this time. While the designs used in paisley shawls were most likely derived from existing Indian designs, these cone or mango shapes have come to be known as paisley. This shawl dates between 1840 and 1859, and was made in either England or France. It is a rectangular, predominantly red, Jacquard-woven wool shawl. measuring 125 x 60 inches. The edges are all bordered: the long edges have a border with curving vines, the two shorter edges have traditional “harlequin” borders.

A harlequin border consists of blocks of color filled with pattern. The center area is red, with the motifs of red, orange, light blue, black and green. A large paisley motif extends from each corner and intertwines with the four paisley motifs extending from the center. The structure is a two-faced weave, meaning the structure of one face differs from that of the other face. This is a limitation of the Jacquard looms; although the floats on the back are clipped, they cause the image on that side to appear less crisp.

Although the paisley shawl’s popularity died out with the Franco-Prussian war in the 1870s, the paisley pattern continued to be used in apparel garments in the Victorian era. This bodice dated 1886–1892 (Fig. 2, HLATC 1993.03.003) is one of two in the collection from Delevan, Wisconsin. It uses Jacquard-woven fabric and features a paisley pattern down the front. The short, tightly fitted basque bodice is made of brown silk, with a contrasting Jacquard fabric in green, blue, yellow, pink and red used for the center front and sleeve cuffs. This Jacquard fabric has an overall geometric pattern. Beads in the form of paisley motifs decorate the center front. The left sleeve appears white because it was never completed and since there are no signs of wear it may never have been worn.

Jaquard Bodice

Figure 2: HLATC 1993.03.003


Jaquard Furnishing yardage

Figure 3: HLATC 2002.01.003

Another Jacquard-woven object is a section of silk yardage (Figure 3, HLATC 2002.01.003) 17.25 x 21.75 inches in size, meant for home furnishings or apparel. The yardage is from France and dates between 1895 and 1910. This object is an excellent example of how a Jacquard loom can create shading by incorporating different weaves into a single textile; in this case, four different weaves were used. The shading adds greatly to the overall visual appeal of the textile, giving the lily-type flower and cloud designs, done in off-white, a more three-dimensional look.

The Jacquard holdings in the collection date back to the use of the first Jacquard looms in the early nineteenth century and continue through the 1980s. Besides women’s garments, there are furnishing fabrics, coverlets, carpets, and men’s wear from many countries across the world, which document how widely this weaving technology has been used.

Selected Sources
Ames, Frank. The Kashmir Shawl and Its Indo-French Influence. Woodbridge: Antique Collectors’ Club, 1988.


The Kashmir Shawl. New Haven CN: Yale University ArtGallery, 1975.


Exhibition, Pixels and Textiles: Digital Close-ups and Objects from the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection: October4–December 16, 2001. Gallery of Design, School ofHuman Ecology, University of Wisconsin–Madison.


Marcoux, Alice. Jacquard Textiles. Providence, R.I.: Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 1982.


Warm and Wonderful: The Jacquard Coverlet. February 27–March 26, 1988. New York NY: Hirschl & Adler Folk, 1988.