Principal parts of a traditional hand loom.—© Merriam-Webster Inc.

Machine for weaving cloth. The earliest looms, from the 5th millennium BC, consisted of bars or beams forming a frame to hold a number of parallel threads in two alternating sets. By raising one set of these threads (which together formed the warp), it was possible to run a cross thread (a weft, or filling) between them. A shuttle carried the filling strand through the warp. The fundamental operation of the loom remained unchanged, but over centuries many improvements were introduced in both Asia and Europe. The drawloom, probably invented in Asia for silk weaving, provided a means for raising warp threads in groups as required by a pattern. In the 18th century Jacques de Vaucanson and J.-M. Jacquard mechanized this function by the ingenious use of punched cards; the cards programmed the mechanical drawboy, saving labour and eliminating errors (see Jacquard loom). In England the inventions of John Kay (flying shuttle), Edmund Cartwright (power drive), and others contributed to the Industrial Revolution, in which the loom and other textile machinery played a central role.

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