Activities

How Cotton cloth was made at the Yard Works in Preston

Introduction

There are many stages that cotton goes through before cloth is finally made.

In the Yard Works buildings were set aside for each of these stages.

The text is structured in three parts. Brief introduction to process, image and description of the process with reference to that image. Each section relates to the cotton process diagram. Click on each of the stages of the diagram to reveal a detailed description of that process.

Teacher Notes for the activities.

Cotton is imported

Cotton plant

Cotton is soft white fibre produced by a plant.

The cotton plant was grown on large plantations in America, India and Egypt. When the cotton was ready it was harvested, sieved and packed on the plantations. It was then transported to Britain. The cotton was then bought by cotton spinners and cotton manufacturers like Horrockses to make yarn and cloth.

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Balebreaking and mixing

When the cotton arrived at the Yard Works it was wrapped tightly in bales. The cotton bales needed to be opened and mixed.

  Balebreaking and mixing

Balebreaking at the Yard Works, 1950s.
Black and white print, produced by Eltons photographers for Horrockses,
Crewdson and Company, Preston.

The picture shows a man at the Yard Works opening the bales and feeding the cotton into the machine. Notice how he has several bales open at once.

 

Why do you think he does this?

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Scutching and willowing

When the raw cotton had been mixed it was still quite stiff and contained some sand, seeds and leaves. These were separated from the softer cotton wool using two processes called scutching and willowing.

  Scutching and Willowing

Scutching and lap making at the Yard Works, 1950s
Black and white print, produced by Elton's photographers for Horrockses,

Crewdson and Company, Preston.

The man in the picture is operating a scutching machine. The cotton is placed on a wire frame in the machine and beaten with parallel blades. This process opens the fibres of the cotton and separates the fine 'cotton wool' from the waste, which falls through the wire beneath. Willowing was a similar process done in a machine with a revolving drum, which used air to separate the fine cotton wool from the waste. The cotton wool then formed a sheet, which is rolled to produce what is known as a lap. The lap is shown in the picture being removed from the front of the machine.

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Carding

Carding

Carding machine
made by Platt Brothers and Company Limited Oldham, dated 1893.
Black and white print. Factory and photographer unknown.

Once the scutching or willowing was finished the sheets of cotton wool needed to be made into long lengths of cotton called slivers. This process was called carding.

Carding was originally done by hand using brushes (or cards) that had stiff wires instead of bristles. In the machine, the cotton lap is turned in a large revolving cylinder studded with stiff wires.

The picture shows the cotton lap being fed in at one end of the carding machine. As the drum turns it straightens the cotton fibres. The cotton is then drawn together and passed through a funnel and some rollers to produce a sliver (or card end) of cotton, which is like a thick, loose knit rope. The slivers come out of the machine and are collected in tall cylinders.

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Cotton Drawing and roving


After carding the slivers needed to be stretched, thinned and made more solid. This was done by drawing and roving.

Drawing and roving 

Draw frames and speed frames at Hartford Mill, Preston, c.1950.

Black and white print, taken by Rudeni Photography,
Preston, for the William Birtwhistle Group. who owned several mills in Preston.

This picture shows the cylinders containing the cotton slivers being fed through a machine called a draw frame. The draw frame pulls the sliver between rollers. Each roller pulls the cotton through faster than the one before it. This stretches the cotton and makes it thinner and thinner. Once this is done the cotton is twisted to make it stronger. Then the cotton is then wound onto a bobbin.

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Cotton Spinning


Spinning turned the cotton slivers into yarn. Yarn is the name given to the thin lengths of cotton thread used in the weaving process. Yarns of different thicknesses' were used to make cloth of different qualities.

  Cotton Spinning

Mule spinning at the Yard Works, c.1950.
Black and white print, produced by Elton's
photographers for Horrockses,

Crewdson and Company, Preston.

The man in the picture is known as a mule spinner. He is operating a mule spinning machine. The spinning took place in a hot and humid room, which required light clothing. The floor was covered in machine oil and spinners worked barefoot. Three men worked a pair of mules. The machine moved back and forward pullling and twisting the cotton. This action stretched the cotton into thin threads called yarn. The finest yarn was the thinnest. It was also the most expensive as it took longer to make. Once the required yarn was made it was then wound onto a cop. The cops are shown in the picture running along the front of the machine.

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Cotton Winding


Winding
was the process that prepared the yarn for weaving. The yarn which was used as warp threads was wound onto cones. Yarn to be used as weft threads was wound on to smaller cops, which were used in shuttles during weaving.

Cotton Winding

Winding at Aqueduct Mill, Preston, early 1900s.
Photographic postcard

This picture shows a woman operating a winding machine in Aqueduct Mill in Preston. The machine is winding the yarn from large bobbins onto cops. Once the Yarn has been wound onto the cops they are taken off the machine by the woman and stacked on top of the machine.

Imagine how quickly she has to work to change the cops and keep the machine going.

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Warping and sizing


Warping was the process that wound the yarn onto beams so that each warp thread ran straight and an equal distance apart. Warp threads are the threads that run along the length of a piece of cotton cloth.

  Warping

Warping machine at the Yard Works, 1950s.
Black and white print, produced by Elton's photographers for Horrockses,
Crewdson and Company, Preston.

The picture shows a warping machine in the Yard Works. The frame holds the number of cones needed for the number of warp threads in the cloth. The machine pulls the yarn from the cones and passes them over and under a set of cylinders so each thread is aligned horizontally onto a beam. The beam is shown at the front of the machine. Up to 500 warp yarns could be wound onto the beam. The beams were then taken off the machine and treated with starch. This was called sizing. Starch is a chemical solution, which was used to make the warp threads stronger during weaving.

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Drawing in


The last stage in preparing the warp threads for weaving was drawing in. This was when the ends of the cotton yarn were threaded through needles on the loom, which act as guides keeping the threads in the right order. This was especially important if there was a pattern to the cloth.

Drawing in 

Drawing in at the Yard Works, 1950's.

Black and white print, produced by Elton's photographers for Horrockses,
Crewdson and Company, Preston.

Drawing in was originally done by hand using a reed hook. This picture shows a machine in the Yard Works which mechanically threaded the cotton yarn into the loom.

 

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Weaving


was the process which made cloth. During weaving the wefthreads are woven through alternative warp threads. Until 1830 most weaving was done by hand on a wooden loom, where the handloom weaver moved the warp threads using pedals. After 1830 the power loom was used in factories to weave cloth.

Weaving

Weaving at an unknown mill, early 1900's

Photographic postcard.

This picture shows the power loom which was used in factories after 1830. The loom raised and lowered the warp threads so that the shuttle carrying the weft thread was batted back and forth through the warp threads. Weavers shown in the picture had to look after the looms and renew the yarn in the shuttles. Weavers were mostly women and young girls. A weaving shed was the most dangerous working enviroment in a cotton factory. The yarn sometimes broke sending the shuttles flying in any direction.

How old do you think the girls are in the picture?

Most of the children shown in this picture were probably half-timers. These were children who worked 6 and a half hours a day and went to school for up to 3 hours each day. Children between 8 and 14 worked in the Yard Works until the 1920's.

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Finishing


A lot of cotton cloth made in Preston was taken elsewhere to be finished. Finishing processes included dyeing, bleaching and printing. Some cotton goods were made by cotton manufacturers themselves.

Finishing

Stitching Room at the Yard Works, 1950's.
Black and white print, produced by Elton's photographers for Horrockses,
Crewdson and Company, Preston.

Horrockses finished some of the cloth they produced. This picture shows women in the stitching room at the Yard Works. Here the women stitched the hems of a variety of products like sheets and towels.

 

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Despatch


Once the cloth was finished it was wrapped, packed and labelled. The cloth made in Preston's cotton factories was sold all over Britain and around the world.

This picture shows the warehouse at the Yard Works with stacks of Horrockses sheets ready for despatch. This warehouse was once the Old Yard Weaving Shed. Before the Second World War Horrockses used to distribute their products from a warehouse in Manchester.

Look at the shipping crates and list the places where the cloth was destined to go?

  Despatch

Interior of the Warehouse at the Yard Works, 1950's.
Black and white print, produced by Elton's photographers for Horrockses,
Crewdson and Company, Preston

This picture shows men packing crates in the Export Packing Department at the Yard Works. Horrockses cloth and the products that they made from it were sold all over Britain and the world. The cloth was used to make clothing like shirts and dresses. People used to buy cloth and make up clothing themselves. Later factories began to produce ready-made clothing.

 

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cotton imported

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