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Making Cloth

This slideshow contains 22 items
1
Cataract Falls, Saco, ca. 1895

Cataract Falls, Saco, ca. 1895

Item 22445 info
Dyer Library Archives / Saco Museum

The story of making cloth begins with geology -- two falls, one eight feet high, the other 40 feet.

The Saco River enters Biddeford and Saco, is narrowed by a large island, and moves along with such force that early industrialists knew they had to build mills near the falls.

In 1843, twelve years after he first arrived in the area, Samuel Batchelder, builder of the Hamilton Mill in Lowell, began building the Pepperell Mills on the Biddeford side of the river.

He already had taken over the mills on Factory Island.

His Saco Water Power Co. bought water rights far up the Saco River and along the Ossippee River to provide waterpower to manufacture cloth.


2
Saco and Pettee Shops, Biddeford, 1910

Saco and Pettee Shops, Biddeford, 1910

Item 23316 info
McArthur Public Library

The machines used to process and manufacture cotton textiles in Biddeford came from machine shops in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and England.

The York Manufacturing Company in Saco produced machinery, but was unable to build everything that was required for the growing mills on both sides of the river.

Eventually more machinery was produced in Biddeford and Saco at the Saco Water Power Machine Shop and its later incarnations as Saco and Pettee Machine Shop, and finally the Saco-Lowell Machine Shop.


3
Coal docks, Factory Island, Biddeford, ca. 1912

Coal docks, Factory Island, Biddeford, ca. 1912

Item 27760 info
McArthur Public Library

Cotton and coal came into the docks at Factory Island, Saco, mostly from New York.

Raw materials were shipped to Biddeford and Saco by schooner, because water transport was less expensive than transport by railroad; Pepperell Mills owned two of their own schooners.

Finished goods bound for Boston and New York left from the same docks. The rail-lines adjacent to the mills were sometimes used for shipping of rush orders.


4
Bale breakers at the Pepperell Mills, Biddeford circa 1925

Bale breakers at the Pepperell Mills, Biddeford circa 1925

Item 29102 info
McArthur Public Library

The story of the mills in Saco and Biddeford can be seen as stories of economic impact, of the growth of communities or of exports and markets.

But one crucial story of the mills is that of the workers who ran the machinery and who made the cloth for which the mills became known.

Once the cotton arrived at the docks, it was transported to the warehouse or storehouse. A bale of cotton was about 2.5 feet square by 5 feet long, and weighed about 500 pounds.

From the storage area the bales traveled to the Picker House.

Workers here, usually unskilled men, put the bales into "bale breakers" that tore the cotton apart and cleaned and fluffed it.


5
Picker machines at Pepperell Mills, Biddeford circa 1925

Picker machines at Pepperell Mills, Biddeford circa 1925

Item 29103 info
McArthur Public Library

The cotton, while deseeded by a cotton gin at the plantation where it was grown, still contained all kinds of dirt, bugs, leaves & twigs.

In the earliest mills, raw cotton was placed on a wooden frame and workers beat it with great rods to release the impurities.

By 1925, men no longer beat the cotton. Instead, they fed it into a series of machines in the Picker House and monitored its progress.


6
Finisher pickers, Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, ca. 1925

Finisher pickers, Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, ca. 1925

Item 29104 info
McArthur Public Library

Workers then blended various grades of cotton together, operating "'Breaker Picker" and "Finisher Picker" machines that continued to clean, mix and fluff the cotton.

Wide sheets of loosely matted cotton, called "lap", are the result of the picking process.

Waste cotton -- from the picking, carding and spinning processes -- was sold to manufacturers of paper, mattresses and batting, and produced income for the mills.


7
Carding machines at Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, circa 1925

Carding machines at Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, circa 1925

Item 29105 info
McArthur Public Library

Now, workers began the process of manufacturing cotton cloth.

First, they carded the cotton. In the Pepperell Mills, the carding took place in the topmost floors.

Carding Room workers generally were unskilled men and women

The carding machines had opposing layers of wire teeth to remove dirt and shorter fibers, and process the strands of cotton into grades of yarn.

Employees sent the lower grade, or carded yarn straight to drawing.

They ran the higher grade, or combed yarn, through an extra process, called lapping, prior to drawing.

In carding, lapping, drawing and slubbing the machines spin, pull, and add fibers; spin, pull, and add fibers, over and over again. The more this is done, the better the quality of the yarn produced


8
Slubbers at Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, circa 1925

Slubbers at Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, circa 1925

Item 29108 info
McArthur Public Library

Workers operating the carding, lapping and slubbing machines oversaw the process of pulling, drawing out, and twisting the yarn until it was the proper size, weight, and strength.

The containers from which the yarn is being drawn are called "cans."


9
Vacant Spinning Room in Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, 1910

Vacant Spinning Room in Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, 1910

Item 23525 info
McArthur Public Library

Men and women known as spinners were skilled workers and among the best paid employees in the mill.

They oversaw the process of making yarn in which strands of roving were spun together.

The spinners made yarn on the mule -- named because it was a hybrid of the spinning jenny, which could spin one strand at a time, and the spinning frame, which made coarse, but strong, yarn by twisting strands.

The mule -- an intermittent process -- made finer thread.

Ring spinning -- a continuous process -- produced coarser thread.

The thread was then wound on bobbins.


10
Spinning room in Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, 1910

Spinning room in Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, 1910

Item 23527 info
McArthur Public Library

Most machines had no automatic stop if a thread broke, so it took many operatives to watch the spinning machines.

In general, the proportions of workers to machines were one girl to 2-3 drawing (throstle) frames of 128 spindles each; and one man and one boy to 2 mule spinning frames of 576 spindles each.

At some other factories the work was reversed, and the women tended the mule frames and men tended the drawing frames.


11
Web-drawing at Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, 1910

Web-drawing at Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, 1910

Item 23526 info
McArthur Public Library

As the rope was spun, the thread got longer and more tightly wound.

Then it went to the web drawing room, where hundreds of threads on racks were wound parallel to each other on a large bobbin.

The yarn making was now finished, and operatives sent it on to produce the different types of cloth.


12
Spindles from Draper textile equipment catalog, 1901

Spindles from Draper textile equipment catalog, 1901

Item 29116 info
McArthur Public Library

Spindles used in the manufacture of cotton textiles from a catalog put out by the Draper Company of Hopedale, Massachusetts, in 1901.

A drawing or throstle frame had 128 spindles, and a mule frame had 576 spindles.

Each operative oversaw about 260-390 throstle frame spindles or about 1,150 mule frame spindles.


13
Parts of a spindle from Draper textile equipment catalog, 1901

Parts of a spindle from Draper textile equipment catalog, 1901

Item 29117 info
McArthur Public Library

The parts of a spindle as seen in a textile equipment catalog from the Draper Company of Hopedale, Massachusetts, in 1901.

Yarn in its finished form was wound onto spindles.

The parts are the spindle blade, whorl, cup and brass washer, shown at left.

At the center top are the assembly of the bolster, packing spring and step; and at the upper right are those parts disassembled.

At the bottom center are the spindle base and doffer guard. At the bottom right are the washer and nut.


14
High speed warping at Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, circa 1925

High speed warping at Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, circa 1925

Item 29106 info
McArthur Public Library

The yarn that runs lengthwise (vertical) in the cloth is called warp.

The yarn that is woven (horizontally) through the warp is filling (or woof or weft).

The way the warp is placed on the loom and the way the filling is woven through it determines the pattern in the cloth.

Operatives further refine the filling and warp by the conditioning process, which used either steam or a spray solution to set and straighten the threads.


15
High-speed warping room, Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, circa 1925

High-speed warping room, Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, circa 1925

Item 29109 info
McArthur Public Library

Workers sometimes dyed the warp at this point.

Otherwise it was not bleached or dyed until woven into cloth. That process was done at bleacheries and dye houses in Maine and Massachusetts.

Finished goods that had not been bleached or dyed were said to be "sold in the brown."


16
Slashing machines at Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, circa 1925

Slashing machines at Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, circa 1925

Item 29107 info
McArthur Public Library

The final stop in the Spinning Rooms was at slashing.

Here, workers oversaw the winding of the yarn, dyed or natural, that came off the warp or filling machines as it was wound on big, three-foot diameter spools called section beams.

On the slashing machines section beams were combined into even larger loom beams, and now the warp and filling was ready to go to the Weaving Rooms to be turned into cloth.


17
Jacquard looms at the Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, circa 1925

Jacquard looms at the Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, circa 1925

Item 29112 info
McArthur Public Library

Employees in the weave room were the weavers, mostly women and considered skilled workers, and the loom-fixers, men who were considered semi-skilled.

Weavers used either Dobby or Jacquard looms.

Dobby looms were used for simple weaves, and Jacquard looms were used to create complex weaves and designs using punch cards.


18
Wide sheeting looms at Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, circa 1925

Wide sheeting looms at Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, circa 1925

Item 29110 info
McArthur Public Library

The Pepperell Mills made various kinds of cloth for export and domestic markets, including: 30-39-inch shirtings, flannels, jeans, drills (strong cotton fabric used for uniforms and sails); and 58-105-inch sheetings, duck (canvas), sateens, and coutils (herringbone weave twill used for corsets).

Later, they also produced blankets (especially crib blankets), and experimented with various other woven cotton and mixed-cotton goods.


19
Shuttle, bobbin and cop skewer from Draper textile equipment catalog, 1901

Shuttle, bobbin and cop skewer from Draper textile equipment catalog, 1901

Item 29115 info
McArthur Public Library

The warp, or vertical, threads come from the Loom Beam.

The filling, or horizontal, threads are woven through using a shuttle that holds a bobbin of yarn.

As the shuttle is passed along horizontally through the warp, the filling is left behind.

When the shuttle is all the way through to the other side of the warp, the machinery reverses the thread positions and the shuttle and bobbin are passed back through to the opposite side.


20
Brushing machines at the Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, circa 1925

Brushing machines at the Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, circa 1925

Item 29111 info
McArthur Public Library

Once the weavers and the looms do their magic, the woven cloth goes to the Cloth Room to be "finished" or "dressed" by a process of mechanical brushing and shearing to further remove imperfections or impurities.

This works like a shaver or a lint remover.


21
Weighing finished cloth at the Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, circa 1925

Weighing finished cloth at the Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, circa 1925

Item 29113 info
McArthur Public Library

Unfinished cloth can also be known as "greige" or "greige goods."

Finished cloth, after brushing and shearing, is inspected and graded.

Inspectors look for dirt, oil, grease, imperfections and defects; trouble areas are cleaned and repaired as much as can be done.


22
Inspecting and packing cloth at Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, circa 1925

Inspecting and packing cloth at Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, circa 1925

Item 29114 info
McArthur Public Library

Finally, the cloth is graded -- firsts, seconds, shorts or remnants -- then packaged for shipping or storage.

Some cloth was sent to the bleachery or dye house.

Anything else was shipped to markets in Boston and New York.

From there the products were sold on the domestic market or exported to markets all over the world.


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