20 Jun 2010


Today was quiet: breakfast, then writing while watching some silly dragon boat races. Before we knew it, it was almost 2pm, time for a late lunch then back to the hotel. A great day, since I love the quiet days. I even like to have some days never leaving my room, except perhaps to run out for a latte. This evening I had some business things to get done, and move my pages from today onto the computer.


Yesterday we went to the MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry). I guess it probably seems pretty mundane to people who live here, but I had a great time, especially in the textiles exhibit: Manchester, Cottonopolis.


As you may know, cotton is not really my favorite fiber. Wool is, and other animal fibers follow. I’m also interested in linen, mostly because of its historical and cultural significance in Lithuania. Although I like to wear linen and cotton, I don’t much like knitting with either of them because they have no give and they just don’t feel good on the needles to me.


But learning about how any fiber is processed is interesting, and I found that there was a lot in this exhibit that caught my attention, even though it was about cotton.


The museum is about industry, and the exhibit focused on the inventions of the industrial revolution, showing how cotton is processed from the bale to a finished piece of fabric. (They talked about picking cotton and removing the seeds, but they didn’t have a cotton gin on display.)


I was going to write a longer post about processing cotton, but I fell asleep and took a nap instead. So instead of procrastinating and probably never getting to it because I’ll have more interesting things to blog about very soon, here’s a quick photo essay.


Cotton is delivered to mills in bales, which are almost as hard as bricks.

cotton bale

A hopper feeder and scutcher are used to break up cotton bales into loose clumps of fiber that can be processed further.

hopper feeder

The scutcher also helps remove any remaining debris from the fiber, and creates large batts of cotton.

cotton batt

A carding engine takes the loose cotton fibers and smooths them out and forms them into a sliver.

carding engine

Drawing frames combine several slivers and smooth out the fibers even more, straightening them and smoothing them out.

drawing frame

Speed frames make the sliver thinner so it will be ready to spin.

speed frame

The spinning machines were kept in the upper level of the mill, but they were driven by large belts connected to steam engines in the basement.

This machine is a spinning mule which had a carriage that moved back and forth drafting the fibers away from the source and adding twist, then moving back toward the fiber source while winding the yarn onto a spindle. This is like a handspinner works. Later machines eliminated the motion to create a more efficient process, but early in the industrial revolution many machines simply duplicated and automated the motions of a manual process. It’s called a mule because it combines features of two previous types of machinery. Today we would probably call it a hybrid.

spinning mule

Why so much about this last piece of equipment? One of the first articles I wrote was about the spinning mule, invented by Samuel Compton. No, don’t bother looking for the article. The magazine it was in is now defunct, and it wasn’t very well written anyway.

You can see the spinning mule in action in this little video we shot during the demonstration.

After all that, the fiber still has to be plied and then put up into whatever form is necessary for weaving (or knitting, etc.) That’s it for now. Hope you’re enjoying your weekend.

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