Power Learning Journey
The most important element of the Cotton Industry's development from the 18th century onwards was the mechanisation of processes formerly carried out by hand. With the development of the Water Frame, Mule and Power Loom, the power required to drive ever larger and more complex textile machines became greater than human muscle could easily apply. In the steps that follow, we outline the principal forms of power employed in the cotton industry during the various phases of its development.
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Power Learning Journey Step 1: Hand power
For thousands of years, cotton was spun and woven on various hand-machines. It should be noted that water power had been employed in the wool industry, for the process of fulling (cleaning and beating woollen cloth) which was carried out in mills as far back as the 12th century. For the main part, though, wool, linen and later cotton was spun and woven on hand wheels and looms, and relied on the dexterity, skill and strength of textile workers. In the domestic system, women and children normally carded and spun the fibres, while men generally worked the loom. Even with hand-powered machinery, there were great leaps in efficiency, productivity and quality. When we speak of hand-spinning, we are actually discussing a variety of different techniques and machines of varying complexity. The early spindle and whorl used for centuries by skilled Indian spinners could produce yarn fine enough to be woven into muslin. Even the Jersey or Great Spinning wheel used in Europe from the Middle Ages onwards could not spin yarn so fine.