Machinery of the Mills

Turning Cotton into Cloth

How 19th Century Machines Turned Cotton Into Cloth

These are the five basic actions that machines performed in 19th century textile mills to produce cotton cloth:

Willowing The willow broke open the bale and loosened the fibers before picking.

Picking removed dirt, bugs, leaves and seeds from the cotton fiber. Picker machines used rotating teeth to clean the cotton, producing a thin blanket of cotton called a “lap” ready for carding.

Carding combed the cotton fibers to align and join them into a loose rope called a “sliver” (pronounced “sly-ver”). Carding machines used wire teeth on huge rotating drums to produce the sliver, which was then combined, twisted and drawn out to form a loose yarn called “roving.”

Spinning twisted and drew out the roving and wound the resulting yarn or thread onto a bobbin. Spinning mules or frames used a series of rollers to spin the cotton into yarn.

Warping gathered yarns from many bobbins and wound them close together onto a reel or spool. From there they were transferred to a warp beam, which was then mounted on a loom. Warp threads were those that ran lengthwise on the loom.

Weaving was the final stage in making cloth. Crosswise woof (or weft) threads were carried by a shuttle in and out of the warp threads on a loom. A 19th century power loom worked essentially like a hand loom, except that its actions were mechanized, and it wove much more quickly than a person could.