Mills Glossary

BATTERY - a device attached to an automatic loom that feeds full bobbins as they are needed into the shuttle during the weaving process. A battery hand fills the battery with full bobbins.

BEAM - a large wooden cylinder several feet long on which lengths of warp threads are wound in parallel rows before the process of slashing, after which the beam is fitted into the back of the loom.

BOBBIN - a hard wood core of various kinds with a hole drilled up the center on which yarns are wound. Bobbins are put on spindles in spinning machines of all types.

BOBBIN-BOY - someone who delivers full bobbins and collects and cleans the empty bobbins from the spinning and weaving machines.

CARDING - a process that cleans the cotton or wool lap, separates the fiber, and produces a soft, tubular roll or sliver, which is coiled into a can. A card tender or carder feeds laps into the machine, keeps it clean, and removes full cans of sliver.

CHANGE-OVER MAN - a cotton mill worker who removes an empty warp beam from the loom and inserts a full beam.

CLEANING - removing the fly lint and loose bunches of cotton from a spinning frame to avoid breakage or defects (called slubs) in the yarn.

CLOTH BOY - a person who removes the roll of cloth from the loom after the weaving process.

COMBING - a straightening process that removes short fibers and dirt or specks in a cotton or wool sliver by recombining several slivers through a mechanism with fine teeth (combs or pins). The result is a combed sliver with long parallel fibers. A comber tender or comber - operates the machine.

COUNT - the numerical designation of the weight of yarn or sliver that changes according to product specifications.

CREELS - frameworks that hold spools wound with warp yarn. They are used in the warping process to assemble the yarn on the warp beam.

CROMPTON & KNOWLES LOOM - a heavily constructed woolen or silk loom, more sturdy than a cotton loom. It has a dobby head, which gives it the capacity to operate many harnesses and produce fancy weaves.

DOBBY HEAD - a mechanism attached to a loom to operate multiple harnesses for complicated weaving patterns.

DOFFING - removing bobbins spun full of yarn from a machine and replacing them with empty ones. The job is done by a doffer.

DRAPER LOOMS - looms whose key feature is a filling bobbin changer or battery, which discharges an empty bobbin and replaces it automatically with a full one without stopping the loom. It may operate the harnesses through the action of cams or with a dobby head.

DRAWING-IN- threading the warp yarn from the warp beam through the eyes of the heddles and the openings or dents in the reed. This was skilled work that required excellent eyesight and was done by drawing-in girls. These workers were replaced by drawing-in and knot-tying machine operators.

DROP WIRES - sensors through which the warp yarn passes that stop the loom immediately if there is breakage.

FIXER - general term for a skilled mechanic in the mills who repairs and overhauls textile machinery.

GREIGE or GRAY CLOTH - fabric as it emerges from the loom. It is sold before it undergoes any bleaching, dyeing, printing, or finishing process.

HANDER-IN - someone, usually a learner, who helps a drawing-in girl by sitting on the opposite side of the harnesses and handing each end of the yarn to be pulled through the heddles.

HARNESS - a metal frame on a loom that contains the heddles carrying the warp yarns during weaving. By lifting or lowering the harnesses in the loom, the shed is formed.

JACQUARD LOOM - a weaving machine that uses programmed instructions from punch cards to manipulate the warp yarns, one by one, to produce intricate and highly stylized patterns in cloth.

JIG - a cauldron used to dye or bleach cloth in steam-heated water.

JIGGSIE - the operator of a jig; a jig tender.

KNOT-TYING MACHINE - a mechanism that ties knots to connect the warp yarn ends in a full beam to those in a nearly empty warp beam. Once tied, the knots are pulled through the harnesses and reed in preparation for weaving. This eliminates drawing-in work.

LAP - a continuous, loosely compressed sheet of cotton fibre, about an inch thick and either twenty or forty inches wide, wound into a cylindrical roll, ready to be fed into the carding machines.

LOOM FIXER - a skilled mechanic assigned responsibility for preparing the looms for operation and keeping them functioning property in one section of the mill.

MENDING - skilled women’s work that reconstructs the pattern in defective or damaged woolen or worsted cloth.


MULE SPINNING - a process of producing fine filling yarn from a large complicated spinning machine that moves back and forth along tracks in the mill floor. The mule spinner manipulates the machine to meet specifications for the yarn. He draws out and twists a length of yarn and then winds it up, repeating the cycle several times each minute. The operator must piece-up broken ends, piece-in new roving, and doff the full bobbins. Mule spinning requires more skill than ring spinning.

PICK - a single sideways movement of a shuttle across the shed formed in the loom by movements in the harnesses. A pick is also one thread of the filling in weaving.

PICK-COUNTER or PICK CLOCK - a device mounted on looms that records the amount of production by registering each movement of the shuttle during one shift.

PICKER-STICK - a wooden arm in a loom that propels the shuttle from one shuttle box into the opposite shuttle box across the shed made in the warp yard.

PICKING - a general process of cleaning and opening matted raw cotton that produces a continuous lap ready for use on a card.

PIECING-UP - joining two ends of sliver, roving, or yarn with a twist or roll of the fingers. For many operations, piecing-up can be done while the machine is running.

REED - a comblike device on a loom that battens or bangs the filling yarn hard against the woven cloth after each movement of the shuttle to tighten the weave.

ROVING - a process that reduces sliver produced by carding and drawing to a suitable size for spinning.

SCOURING - degreasing raw wool with solvents in preparation for carding.

SECOND HAND - foreman or second person in charge of a room in a mill.

SHED - an opening made by movement in the harnesses of the loom for the shuttle to pass through carrying the filling yarn.

SHORT HOURS - in the 1920s and 1930s, young mill workers between the ages of fourteen and sixteen were limited by law to working forty hours per week with one afternoon of school. At sixteen they could work "long hours" or the full forty-eight-hour week.

SHUTTLE - the boat-shaped device in the loom that carries the filling bobbin through the shed opening made in the warp. It is made of hard wood and has pointed metal ends.

SIDE-CAM - a simple loom with two to seven harnesses for basic or simple weaving. The harnesses are controlled by cams located at one end of the loom.

SLASHING - the application by a slasher of starch or size to a sheet of warp yarn produced in the warping process to protect the warp yarn during the weaving process.

SLIVER - a ropelike strand of soft cotton about the diameter of a broom stick. In cotton production, "sliver" is pronounced with a long "i"; in worsted production, with a short "i."

SMASH-PIECING - the intricate, painstaking work, done by a smash-piecer, of repairing damaged warp yarns and piecing them up while they are still in the loom.

SPAREHAND - a learner or temporary worker. Sometimes called a tender.

SPOOLING - a winding process that transfers long lengths of warp yarn from spinning bobbins to a spool that is used in the warping process. The person who does this job is a spooler.

STRETCH-OUT - To assign additional work or more machines without increasing the work force.

SWEEPER - an unskilled worker who collects and cleans up the excess line and dirt under machines and throughout the mill buildings.

TOP MILL- a mill that specializes in cleaning and carding wool and selling it off as slivers or "top" to yarn mills that specialize in spinning.

TRAVELER - a small piece of hardened steel or bronze wire designed to travel on the flanged track of the spinning ring to impart twist to the yarn.

TWILL - a diagonal weave that produces a strong, durable fabric.

TWISTING - a process of combining two or more parallel yarns into a ply yarn or cord for greater strength and smoothness, carried out by a twister.

UNIFILL MACHINE - a mechanism that replaced the automatic bobbin changer or battery and the battery hand. It winds its own bobbins while the loom runs and replaces the empty ones without stopping.

WARPING - the assembly of hundreds of parallel warp yarns on to the warp beam in preparation for slashing. The process is done by a warper.

WEAVER'S KNOT - a small, quickly tied knot that becomes tighter the more it is pulled and slips easily through the heddles and reed in a loom.

WEFT YARN - filling yarn that runs across the width of the warp yarns and comprises the crosswise system of yarns in woven fabric.

WORSTED - Yarn made of combed wool and spun by the worsted process that gives a harder twist than "woolen," producing worsted fabric with more resiliency, a smoother finish, and a clearer surface than woolen fabric.

WINDING - the mechanical transfer of yarn from one size or form of package to another, such as from bobbins to cones or tubes. The process is done by a winder.

Source:  The Lowell Offering

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