The Jacquard Loom and the Binary Code

Rudimentary “weaving” dates back almost 12,000 years to the Neolithic era when man intertwined branches and twigs to create shelter from the elements. The first loom was simply a frame of branches where warp yarns were hung and stretched taught. The filling yarns were interlaced by hand.

 Photo: One of the first “real” jacquard looms created by Joseph Jacquard

Photo: One of the first “real” jacquard looms created by Joseph Jacquard

From the primitive origin of weaving, you may wonder how weaving on looms can possibly relate to computers and the binary code. In 1801, Joseph Jacquard patented the jacquard loom which used a series of perforated cards to control the movement of parts similar to the paper roll used in a player piano. Each paper roll for a player piano plays a different tune just like each set of cards creates a different repeating pattern. Each card with the various holes punched out corresponds to one row in a design. The longer the chain of cards the larger the pattern. The perforation (a cut) or the lack of a punched hole (a miss) controls a sequence of operations which is binary in nature. 

 Photo: The punch cards used in a jacquard loom

Photo: The punch cards used in a jacquard loom

The binary code based on Boolean algebra are denoted by a 0 or a 1. In 1944, IBM computers received program instructions from a paper tape similar to punched cards. The use of punched cards remained in operation in some computers until the 1980’s. Because of this operation, the jacquard loom was the first computer because it produced an output in accordance with a program (the cards).

 In modern jacquard weaving factories, punch cards have been replaced with electronic loom files. The basis of the loom file is still a cut or a miss. Notice the picture of the red and white design file; the red is a cut where the warp is on the face or a white which is a miss where the warp is on the back with the filling to the face.

 Above: Graphic of designing a jacquard pattern

Above: Graphic of designing a jacquard pattern

 Above: An electronic weave file

Above: An electronic weave file

 Above: The final product! A Revolution jacquard

Above: The final product! A Revolution jacquard