Operating Draper Looms
                                         and Other Textile Machinery                                  

                                                                              Mike Cyr
                                          
    I found your comments about not knowing a lot about Draper products interesting. We all grew up
    knowing the fact that Draper’s was the “World’s Largest Producer of Automatic Looms”. It’s amazing
    how much impact that had.  As a kid who had no intention of working at “The Shop," I had no clue of
    what the textile industry and textile machines were about. I do remember working on a Textile Merit
    Badge back in 1968. I think Eldon Biggs was the merit badge counselor. And I remember, I was at
    his house when the news that Martin Luther King had been shot.

    My exposure to looms and other textile machinery actually came four years later. I was able to get a
    job with a large textile firm named Albany Felt Company. I worked there for a few years and then after
    an extended layoff got a job with a similar company called Huyck (pronounced Hike) Felt Company.
    Between the two companies, I got a REAL education in textile manufacturing and the machines used
    to produce various fabrics and yarns.

    At Albany Felt, my first position was “wool sorter and blender”. In addition to that job, I also was a
    roving carding machine operator, a weaver, a web card operator and needle loom operator.

    I soon learned first-hand that getting to that finished woven and non-woven products involved many
    steps that, involved the machinery produced by many companies from Massachusetts. These
    included Draper looms.

    The process starts with making the threads or yarn as it’s called in the textile industry. For my job as
    a blender, I would mix batches of wool and synthetic (nylon-rayon-dacron) and
    processed it through a machine that blew the wool through tubes to the card room. I would also bale
    mixtures for other uses.

    In the card room, they processed my wool blends into “roving,” a very weak and fluffy “yarn” – The
    machines were Davis & Furber carding machines made in North Andover. From there the yarn was
    put on spools and sent the spinning department where several ply of the yarn would be sent through
    spinning rings and put on to bobbins. The “spinning frame?”  Made by Whitin Machine works! Now at
    this point the threads were sent to “rewinding” which was prepping for the weaving department. You
    may recall in General Draper’s book how patent law suits were the bane of his career. I think I
    remember one that involved spinning rings and how fast the Draper rings could spin without a
    vibration. Every department had its own sound. When you walked through the spinning department, it
    was like the whoosh of the wind. The yarn was being taken for individual weak yarns into strong
    multi-ply “threads.”

    Some of the threads (actually still called yarn) was either put onto small bobbins or were wound like
    you would wind rope around your elbow and thumb/index finger area of your hand. These two types
    of rewind were for the two different types of shuttles that were used in the weave room. These were
    referred to as “filling yarns”.

    The other rewind was putting the yarn on to the “beam”. This would become the “warp yarn." It was
    therefore called the warp beam. Some of these terms may sound familiar and when we get to the
    weaving room will become clear.

    From rewinding department the yarn was steamed. This was to relax the yarn so it would not
    produce knots during the weave. Now the yarn, either on the beam or on bobbins, was sent to the
    weave room.

    Now I did mention that both these companies had the word “Felt” in their names. We were not
    making the felt most people know – like for hats or pool tables or the stuff on the base of your lamps.
    That’s a “pressed” felt - - at both plants, the main business was manufacturing custom made
    “papermakers” felts (and this is a fascinating procedure).

    Albany Felt specialized in “dryer” felts while Huyck specialized in “pickup” felts. But both companies
    would make both. Huyck Felt had another product line making the green and gray fuzzy tennis ball
    covers – That will be where Diamond D will come in to my story.

    Down in the weave room, the “beams” arrived – these were large round metal tubes that had gears
    on either end and depending on the size there might be one in the middle. The beam with very long
    and continuous yarn is installed onto the back of the loom.  The process of setting the loom up in
    itself was fascinating.

    This is where a team of ladies jump into the framework of the loom. What an amazing bunch of
    women. Their job was to draw the yarn from the beam through the eyelets of the heddle. The heddle
    has a wooden frame with thousands of thin wires with eyelets. The frames are suspended by
    leather straps that are hitched cables going through pulleys on the top of the loom’s frame. The
    cables were attached to cams. The cams would raise and lower the heddles in certain orders and
    would ultimately determine the actual weaving pattern. Now depending on the design of the weave
    there could be anywhere from two to six heddles. Now the ladies worked in pairs. One would have a
    crochet hook and put the hook through the eyelet and the other would loop the yarn around the hook.
    The lady with the hook would pull or “draw” the yarn through the eyelet and that’s how they got their
    job description of “drawing in”. They couldn’t cross any of the yarn. So you can imagine how complex
    a job this could be. And they worked lightning fast. The final step for the Drawing In phase was to
    draw the yarn through a “reed”. The reed is a piece of the loom that looks basically like teeth of comb
    framed on all sides.

    Next was the guy called the warp dresser. His job was to finish setting the loom up and making it
    ready for the weaver. This step involved changing cams for the heddles, and gears on the warp
    beam and adjusting the tension of the “take-up” roll. Where the warp beam was on the back with
    individual yarns being fed into the loom, the Take-up roll was the same type of roll, but it was on the
    front of the loom and was rolling up the woven fabric. Once the loom was set up, the “filling yarn”
    would be delivered to the loom in large canvas baskets like at the post office. These would be used
    by the weaver to fill the “shuttle”. Once the machine was set up and a few feet of fabric was woven,
    then the process was turned over to the weaver.

    As I had mentioned earlier, the primary process was the making of papermaker’s felt. Now this
    fabric is custom designed to fit onto a machine in a paper mill. It’s job it to either pick up pulp or dry
    (or wring out the water from pulp) and finish the paper. As such we were weaving huge pieces of
    fabric. The felt could be 25 feet wide and hundreds of feet long. We are not talking tee shirt weaving
    here.

    So it was not a little Draper loom I was operating. The manufacturer of these very long looms was
    Compton and Knolls out of Worcester.

    As a weaver, it was my job to run anywhere from two to four looms and make sure the shuttles did
    not run out of yarn. Now the shuttle is like a double pointed torpedo. The center is hollow and
    depending on the design, it would have a small metal rod which a bobbin would slide over. If
    completely hollow, then that yarn that I described as being wound like a rope around your elbow and
    hand was used.

    The shuttles are shot back and forth over a “shuttle runway” on either end of the runway were two
    “shuttle boxes” that would catch and shoot the shuttles. So now all in unison the heddles are moving
    up and down to arrange the warp yarns in different up and down patterns, making a small canopy for
    the shuttle to traverse back and forth with filling yarn and the reed moves forward and back pushing
    the filling yarn into the last filling yarn.
    I was required to keep the machines running by anticipating when a shuttle would run out of yarn.
    The trip switch was an electric eye. The shuttles had a little reflective dot in them. When the yarn ran
    low, the loom would shut down. In addition to reloading the shuttles, I had to inspect the weave and
    make sure there were no machine malfunctions.

    When my weave was done, it would go to burling and joining where defects were repaired and the
    fabric was joined into one continuous “belt”. This was done by a roomful of Ukrainian women who
    were extremely talented with a crochet hook.

    From there it went to the needle room which had yet different looms called you guessed it, “needle
    looms.” These looms were monsters! All of these machines were manufactured in Germany.

    There was a bottom metal “bed plate” with holes and a top plate called a “needle board” with
    needles made by The Torrington Needle Co in Torrington, Connecticut. There are three basic types
    of needle looms. They are: 1) the felting loom 2) the structuring loom and 3) the random velour loom.

    At this juncture for felting, the woven base fabric is installed on the loom between the bed plate and
    needle board. A light fluffy web fabric will be placed onto the woven base. The fabric is then run
    through the needle loom while the needle boards go up and down needling or punching the web
    into the base fabric. Once finished here, it was trimmed, washed and shipped.

    It was at Huyck felt that Hopedale History and I met. I was assigned to a special weave room that
    was not making papermaker felts but tennis ball covers. For this, the monster looms were not
    required.

    This weaving was quite different than that for the felts. In the felt manufacturing, each felt was a
    customized order worth several thousands of dollars in 1970’s dollars. The further along in the
    process you were, the more costly the mistake. So while the work pace was brisk, quality and zero
    mistakes were the order of the day.

    In tennis ball cover department, we had about 100 small, automatic looms. About 2/3s were Draper
    looms while the other 1/3 were Compton & Knolls. Instead of two to four looms I had ten to fifteen,
    and I just kept loading the bobbin drums. And I kept those Diamond “Ds” running. We didn’t need to
    worry that much about short term mistakes in the weave since the area of a tennis ball was not that
    big.

    Sometimes I have to smile about how ironic it is that my family made a living making Draper looms
    and I grew up to make a living running them. Maybe I’m the only person from Hopedale to run them
    in a full production environment.

    Alas, just like Drapers both Huyck and Albany Felt are gone. Outside of some carpet mills in Georgia
    and South Carolina, all of the textile Industry is gone as are the textile machine companies and the
    steel mills. Soon the car companies…. About the only thing we make in American now are excuses.

    P.S    Couldn’t find a good Huyck Felt link. But an interesting piece of trivia - they had a mill in
    Aliceville, Alabama where there was a big German POW camp during WWII.

                                                                
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