Working in a silk factory

Nalder & Hardisty, the owners of the Darshill, Bowlish and Coombe Lane, called themselves ‘silk throwsters’.

So, what’s involved in ‘throwing’ silk?

Silk throwing is the industrial process where silk that has been reeled into skeins is cleaned, receives a twist and is wound onto bobbins. Silk had to be thrown to make it strong enough to be used and three sorts of yarn were commonly produced: no-twist which was suitable for weft; tram that had received a slight twist making it easier to handle; and organizine which had a greater twist and was suitable for use as warp.

1843 Illustration

Silk throwing was originally a hand process relying on a turning a wheel (the gate) that twisted four threads while a helper, who would be a child, ran the length of a shade, hooked the threads on stationary pins (the cross)and ran back to start the process again. The shade would be a between 23 and 32m long. The process was described in detail to Lord Shaftesbury’s Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Employment of Children in 1841:

‘For twisting it is necessary to have what are designated shades which are buildings of at least 30 or 35 yards in length, of two or more rooms, rented separately by one, two or four men having one gate and a boy called a helper… the upper storey is generally occupied by children, young persons or grown women as ‘piecers’, ‘winders’ and ‘doublers’ attending to their reels and bobbins, driven by the exertions of one man… He (the boy) takes first a rod containing four bobbins of silk from the twister who stands at his gate or wheel, and having fastened the ends, runs to the ‘cross’ at the extreme end of the room, round which he passes the threads of each bobbin and returns to the ‘gate’. He is despatched on a second expedition of the same kind, and returns as before, he then runs up to the cross and detaches the threads and comes to the roller. Supposing the master to make twelve rolls a day, the boy necessarily runs fourteen miles, and this is barefooted.’

By 1820, machinery had been invented whereby throwing was done using rectangular frames, manufactured from cast iron, and powered by belts from line shafts driven either by steam engines or water wheels.

The illustrations are from 1834:

Mechanised silk reeling
Mechanised silk throwing

The skeins were placed into bales and taken to the mill for processing. Reeling is the process where the silk that has been wound into skeins, is cleaned, receives a twist and is wound onto bobbins. Silk throwing is the process where the filament from the bobbins is given its full twist. The process where filaments or threads from three or more bobbins are wound together is called doubling. The last two processes can occur more than once and in any order. Tram was wound, thrown and doubled, organzine was wound, doubled then thrown and doubled again. Sewing silk could receive further doubling and throwing. No-twist was often three single filaments doubled together. Many other combinations were possible.

Colloquially, silk throwing can be used to refer to the whole process: reeling, throwing and doubling, and silk throwsters would speak of throwing as twisting or spinning.

Doubling by hand

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