Foundations Of Cognitive Science

Jacquard's Loom

A drawloom is a machine for weaving designs into fabrics.  It holds a set of horizontal silk threads – the warp – so that they do not tangle.  It permits a set of vertical threads – the weft – to be interlaced with the warp.  Individual warp threads are raised to be added to the pattern, or lowered to not be included.  A shuttle passes through to weave the raised warp and the weft together, one row at a time.  This process permits extremely elaborate patterns to be produced, but is extremely laborious to do by hand.  Joseph-Marie Jaquard (1752-1834) invented a loom that automated the manipulation of the warp, dramatically increasing the production of patterned silk (Essinger, 2004).  Jacquard developed a method by which a belt of punch cards served as a program that determined which warp threads would be raised (and included in the pattern) with each pass of the shuttle.  By changing the set of punch cards, the same loom could be used to automatically create different patterns.  Jacquard’s loom inspired the notion of using a program to control the manipulation of symbols.  Charles Babbage was famously inspired by Jacquard’s work, and the punch card loom can also be seen as the inspiration for the program used to control the universal Turing machine.


  1. Essinger, J. (2004). Jacquard's Web: How A Hand Loom Led To The Birth Of The Information Age. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press

(Added November 2010)