Weaving your Way through History
Two Thousand Years of History
Necessity stimulates innovation: From a very early stage mankind has made numerous inventions to protect and decorate himself as well as to keep warm.
The earliest records of linen fabric date from 4000 to 5000 BC, whereas woollen cloth has been made in Northern Europe since about 3500 BC. The earliest examples of woollen cloth in the Osnabrück area were discovered in connection with two moor corpses found 264 to 424 AD at Hunteburg near Bramsche.
The woollen coats of the moor corpses were woven using an upright weighted weaving frame.
Further examples of woollen cloth from the Bramsche area were found 1400 years later, in the 18th century. Clothmakers of the time used to send samples of their best work to the members of government based at Osnabrück, together with numerous petitions asking for favours, such as to be exempt from the duties of travelling as an itinerant journeyman and military service or for the early granting of the title of master of craft for their sons.
In the 19th century the sample book was introduced. The arrival of specialist cloth shops and larger stores created demand for a succession of regularly changing product ranges. From this time onwards a large number of samples were collected and passed on.
Until the 18th century wool and linen where the materials of choice, while the 19th century saw the rise of cotton. In the 20th century cellulose and synthetic fibres were introduced.
The museum visitor is invited to compare the six major fabrics of today: wool, silk, linen, cotton, viscose and polyester.
Are you aware of the following fascinating facts: Protein rich wool can cause allergies, viscose is made from wood, a single silk cocoon provides 1000 meters of silk thread, and nowadays cotton can be grown in colour on the cotton plant?
The Bramsche Clothmakers
The lost world of the Bramsche clothmakers has survived in the museum: Seven cloth makers tell us about their lives and working conditions at the mill site during the last two centuries. Their stories were reconstructed with the help of church records, accounting books, tax records, photographs, letters and stories handed down from generation to generation.
It took 18th century apprentice Johann Heinrich Reffelt many years and numerous petitions to reach the aspired master status.
Picture: Johann Heinrich Reffelt, weaving a traditional pattern from his workshop
Gesche Thöle takes us back to the initial period of the Industrial Revolution. At a young age the woman from the town of Bremen moved to Bramsche to get married and become the dynamic wife of the master at the mill site.
Hermann Thöle tells his tale from the time of the German Empire and paints a vivid picture of his apprenticeship from 1884 to 1887 with nearby clothmaker Surendorff.
Clothmaker Heinrich Storch enthuses about the Franco-German war in 1870/1871. He is a typical example of the hard working, honest craftsmen who struggled to make ends meet with their small scale businesses.
At the turn of the century, along with the work shops at the mill site there was only a single large factory to be found. Working conditions at the factory and poverty were shaping the life of widow and factory worker Auguste Wermer whose dream of a better life in America was to remain unfulfilled.
In the 1920s some of the workshops at Bramsche developed into small factory units. Arnold Surendorf-Wonning stands as an example for the transition from master craftsmen to independent wool mill owner. He left the mill site to set up his own factory at the edge of town.
The 1960s marked the decline of the Bramsche textile industry. Dorothea Landefeld tells us about the company run by her parents and her role as clothmaker apprentice, learning a craft which is already history today.
Guilds and Trade Associations
The Bramsche clothmakers worked at the mill site for four centuries. They initially settled by the river Hase in the middle of the 16th century, using the water of the river for washing and fulling wool as well as for dyeing yarns and fabrics.
There were four other clothmaker guilds to be found in the Osnabrück area. Of those only the Bramsche guild was able to survive the gradual decline during the 18th and 19th century.
According to Justus Möser it managed to survive the 18th century with the help of private and government loans. Some of the masters were temporarily supported through being employed by the guild as publishers.
In the 19th century the mill site suffered from the late arrival of industrialisation. The Free Trade Laws of 1885 put an end to trade restrictions, thereby causing the demise of the guild and even tougher competition. The majority of the guild masters wished to continue to cooperate and enrolled in the new, less restrictive Craftsmens' Association. Only few decided against enrolment and preferred to become independent entrepreneurs instead. Other masters found employment in the new textile industry emerging at Bramsche.
Only after the First World War the decades of transition from manual to industrial manufacturing gradually came to an end. Traditional elements were combined with modern production techniques at the mill site.The majority of the companies made use of the new industrial methods. This did, however, not stop them from remaining within a cooperative craft association. In this way the association was able to give support even to small member firms.
By the end of the 1950s Bramsche was not spared the general fate of decline of the textile industry. This lead to several closures in the area. The last remaining company was forced to close down in 1972, together with the Clothmakers' Association itself. Still today former association members keep in touch. They continue to meet once a year on the historical accounting day known as the "Krogtag", traditionally taking place on Whitsun Monday.
The building complex of the Clothmakers' Guild perfectly illustrates the gradual move from manual to industrial production. Owned by the Osnabrück church authorities, over the centuries the mill site was used for the production of leather, corn, cloth, linen, oil, and wood. In this way it was able to provide for the basic needs of the people.
The bulidings of the mill site existing today were built in the period from the middle of the 18th century to the early 19th century. The Clothmakers' Guild bought the site from the Hanover church authorities in 1849. Later, in 1869, they purchased the imposing classical three storey building where the spinning took place.
To create more building ground half of the large mill pond was filled in, and the production houses were erected on poles. The purchase of the properties, additional building work and the acquisition of fully mechanical machines proved a heavy financial burden for the Bramsche Clothmakers' Guild.
The only further building project was the roofing of the inner court. In the year 1907 the boiler house for the steam engine was placed between the 18th century mill and the 19th century factory buildings.
From this time onwards, apart from a few minor alterations, the complex was to remain unchanged until its final closure in 1972. The clothmakers also placed their equipment in the former corn mill, the millers' private dwellings, the stables, the former beating mill as well as the tanning mill. Due to the rigid organisation of the masters' association and the lack of capital very few further changes occurred. As a result the Museum of Clothmaking at Bramsche is fortunate in being able to present a uniquely preserved historical building complex.
The Driving Forces
The earliest record of a water mill at Bramsche dates from 1240. Like the water powered corn mills it had been put to various uses since the 16th and 17th century. The mill site had become a source of power for a variety of trades. At Bramsche the power generated by the water of the Hase river was used by the corn mill, the oil mill, for handling flax at the beating mill, for grinding oak bark at the tannery, for treating the cloth at the fulling mill as well as by the saw mill.
The oak post by the bridge and the dam signalled whose turn it was to use the water, and the span of time reserved for the work. First came the corn millers, then the farmers handling the flax followed by the clothiers, and finally it was the shoe makers' turn. The water level markers indicated a legal right of possession, which could be claimed at court or even be sold on.
The necessity for such rules at the mill was due to the natural limitations of water power. A mill site can only be expanded within certain boundaries. Therefore the weirs and waterways were regularly improved, the water wheels renewed and additional, parallel running wheels were added. To be able to use the water wheels during the winter months they were covered and heated.
Until 1849 the clothmakers had leased only a single water wheel. Later they took over the whole site and the complete rights of usage. They even acquired the right to the first use of the water, formerly held by the corn miller. At the time six water wheels were turning at the Bramsche mill.
However, this did not suffice to meet the requirements of industrial production. To keep their machines running the clothmakers at Bramsche used power from additional sources such as steam, muscle power from dogs and lever-horses coupled to a driving wheel, and for a long time even human muscle power. In 1917 the building was finally connected to the main electricity grid. When after the First World War all other users had left, last of them the corn miller and the saw miller, the clothmakers replaced the water wheels with turbines.
Until production finally discontinued in 1972 water, steam and electricity were the power sources used to run the machines of the Bramsche clothmakers. Today the museum is using energy from several power stations drawing its power from sources as diverse as coal, nuclear energy and gas.
Industrialisation at Bramsche 1830 to 1870
Industrialisation arrived late at Bramsche. It was only when the authorities in 1833 ordered the inmates of Osnabrück jail to try out a new weaving device kown as the "flying shuttle", that this technique finally arrived at Bramsche. As much as hundred years earlier the english clothier John Kay had invented this method which helped to cut the weaving time by half.
Soon after 1833 the clothmakers integrated the flying shuttle into their looms. This required not more than a piece of wood, some leather and a bit of carpentry. Clothmaking at Bramsche gradually became mechanised. Only 20 years later almost half of the clothmakers were using partly mechanical wooden spinning and weaving machines.
At the museum we have stopped the time to display the technical equipment that was used at Bramsche in 1860. All parts of the production equipment compliment each other: grinder, carding machine, pre-spinning and spinning machines, warp equipment and the wide loom. At the same time clothmakers in England and Saxony were already using fully mechanical machinery and iron looms.
Krempel aus Holz, Foto: Lichtenberg 2002.
The wooden machines cost the clothmakers between 300 and 350 Taler (a contemporary currency unit), which was a lot for a family at the time whose home was worth between 400 and 700 Taler. Anyone who could not afford this sum rapidly fell behind. Employment within the new local wool, linen and cotton industries was an alternative for some of the clothmakers. Others emigrated to South Africa or America. The remaining clotheries were mostly family based.
The equipment was placed in the master buildings which were far too small for the purpose. This forced the clothmakers to build extensions or turn stables into workshops. After a short time, in 1869, together they set up a large spinning factory. The phase of early industrialisation made place for an era of heavy duty iron machines.
Clothmaking from 1890 to 1920
The production process of clothmaking hardly changed throughout the centuries. The end product after the finishing procedures was a dense woollen cloth. It is pleasant to the touch, reminding of soft felt. The yarn used for this cloth is called carded yarn as opposed to worsted yarn which is used for wool with a smoother surface.
While the production procedure remained the same, the working techniques changed profoundly.
The former factory building was turned into the museum. Here the visitor is made familiar with the production methods, the level of mechanisation and the organisation of labour within the Clothmakers' Association at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. From taking the wool from the sheep to the finished cloth as much as eighteen work stages are required, all of which are shown at the museum:
* Sorting and Willowing
* Cleaning of impurities
* Washing and rinsing
* Decatizing (steam drying)
* Folding, laying and measuring
The Finishing Process 1890 to 1930
A process between the spinning and the weaving is frequently neglected: the finishing stage.
At first sight this department at the museum seems to present nothing but a sequence of winding and unwinding yarn. But what appears simple is in fact a complex task done by unimposing machines that do their work meticulously, with little noise or movement. During the finishing warp yarn, weft yarn and rope yarn are processed, using bobbins made of wood, cardboard, plastic or metal.
These are the base for the rope yarns which are stored in warehouses or sold as knitting wool, yarn kept on cross-wound bobbins for the dyeing plant, weft thread for the weaving shafts and warp thread for the loom. All these required twisting, during which two or more threads were joined together.
The finishing was one of the most important stages of the whole clothmaking process. A well made cloth required accurately wound warp yarn and weft yarn. The weft yarn had to be easily parted, stretched out evenly and must not break. Bobbins were to contain no knots or loops and must not unroll easily.
At Bramsche the finishing was usually done in the private homes, involving all family members. In the factories it were mainly women who operated the finishing machines.
The Weaving Process 1900-1950
The looms were owned by the clothmaker families. They stood in the homes and production rooms of the workshops and small factories. In contrast the spinning and carding machines were jointly owned by the members of the Bramsche Clothmakers' Guild.
The weaving of the cloth makes up only half of the process of clothmaking. At this stage the fabric still lies open and unmatted like a rough canvas. The colour is an impure, dirty white. The fabric contains knots and yarn breaks, and it is still much wider and longer than the finished cloth.
This was the stage when the raw material had to be nopped, which meant checking it for impurities. All knots in the warp made by the weaver to mend broken threads had to be removed. Loose patches and small holes had to be patched up or mended by moving adjoining threads. Dirt and other vegetable matter were removed, as were stains, using a detergent.
The nopping was carried out at home by the women: mothers, daughters and mothers-in-law. Kitchen or living room tables were used as working surfaces by simply tilting them and holding them in position with small wooden blocks. Only the larger factories offered facilities for the nopping work.
The Fulling Process
During the fulling process the wet unfinished cloth was dried. It required the material to be moist and was done with the use of liquid soap, heat and friction. Of all textile fibres only wool can be matted in this way.
The fulling mill at Bramsche was built by the river Hase around 1580 and remained in use until 1972.
The museum presents two fulling mills at the technical level of the 19th century. A crank handle operated fulling device was moving the hammers which weighed between 50 and 75 kilogramms. It was pounding the cloth 120 times a minute, using a pushing and pressing rather than a stamping movement. Depending on the material, the fulling process took between two and thirty hours. This all but gentle method was changed in the middle of the 19th century, when the cylinder fulling machine was introduced. This machine did the fulling in much shorter time. The fulling liquid consisted of water, liquid soap or acids. Until the end of the 19th century even stale urine was used, preferably taken from men who had drunk beer and eaten greasy meat.
Together with the blending of the wool the fulling is an important step of the clothmaking process. Initially a respectable craft which even was organised in seperate guilds, the status of the fulling dwindled to that of trained labour. This happened inspite of the fact that the fuller carried substantial responsibility, as most deficiencies became apparent only at the fulling stage. It was the fuller's task to correct any faults - whether the colour of the wool was of inferior quality, or other kinds of fibres had been added.
Part of the history of fulling were the quarrels about water power. As from 1849 onwards the Bramsche Clothmakers' Guild owned the full rights to the water power they managed to keep competition at bay. As late as 1860 the guild was able to prohibit the use of their fulling machine for any material produced in factories. But this ban had no lasting effect, as the competitors took to run their crank and cylinder fulling machines with steam power, independent from access to the mill site.
The Dry Finishing 1890-1930
The matting achieved during the fulling process did not always result in the expected evenness of the material. Therefore an additional treatment became necessary, using hand operated teasels equipped with card-thistles.
Initially introduced to remove impurities, in the 17th century this method led to the introduction of the production of fine cloth requiring a specific procedure: the dressing. This method was used to refine the quality of the cloth.
The dresser was given the cloth material after the fulling, washing and drying. The dressing treatment continued with steaming, surface raising, brushing and shearing. Pilot-cloth blankets where fully finished after this process.
Fabrics with a smooth surface, as those used for garments, were treated differently, by steaming, brushing, shearing, pressing and decatizing. This treatment was improving the quality and "feel" of the fine cloth.
Before industrialisation the dressing was done by the clothdresser (dressing and shearing) and the clothfinisher (refining). The clothdresser did the harder part of the work and accordingly was paid per hour from an early stage, whereas the clothdresser received piece-wages. Both of them were initially employed by cloth merchants or taylors.
The Bramsche clothmakers mainly produced simple red and blue cloth. Therefore clothdressers and clothfinishers did not arrive to work at Bramsche before the 19th century. When the Clothmakers' Guild modernised the production process from 1850 onwards they set up their own dressing facilities. This enabled them to produce fine cloth as well as the coarser fabrics.
The Dyeing Process
In the 18th century Bramsche was the home of both, a dyer in light colours as well as a dyer in dark colours. The scarlet red known as "Bramsche Red" introduced by the dyer M.A. Wolf (1709-1781), who had come to Bramsche from Thuringia, gained fame by being used for womens' skirts and army uniforms for England and Hanover. Yet in 1873 even at this dyeing plant the red colour was replaced by Prussian blue.
The bright red colour was the result of a madder dye which could only be achieved using a tin kettle. For the blue colour also kettles made of copper or iron could be used. "Red kettle", standing for light colours, and "black kettle", standing for dark colours, were terms commonly used by the clothmakers.
In 1829 the Clothmakers' Guild took over the dyeing process. This was met with protest by the trade associations, as the capital and skills required stretched many small and medium scale companies to the limit.
The growing demand of dyes in the wake of the 19th century could not be met by natural colours alone. During the 1860s and 1870s the synthetic colour was introduced.
At the same time chemical methods facilitated the dyeing process. Since the 1920s all members of the guild were able to dye their wool, yarn and finished cloth themselves. Dark, plain colours such as black, blue, and grey were the most popular choices. Only few of the cloth factories had their own dyeing plant.
The Washing and Rinsing Process
The clothmakers got by far the largest part of their wool from a wool carding plant at Bremen (Bremer Wollkämmerei AG) which had been established in 1884. The wool they distributed had already been washed.
In contrast raw wool which could be bought in the surrounding area or swapped from the farmers against knitting yarn required at least one wash.
Raw wool contains a lot of wool grease, dust, dirt, burrs, straw and other impurities. The finer the fibre, the more grease it contains. During the wash the wool looses up to 60 per cent of its weight. This shrinkage during the wash was a major argument during the bargaining between clothiers and farmers when buying raw wool.
The clothiers at Bramsche bought the first mechanical rinsing vessel in 1883. A fork rake kept the wool moving continuously, as if being washed in a river. At the time some of the clothmakers still washed and rinsed their wool in the Hase river, using soap detergents.
The wool was dried in different ways. In some companies it was spread out on the ground or on latticed screens placed above the boilers. When the sun was shining it was spread out on the roofs of the spinning sheds or in the meadows. Children uliked to collect any pieces of wool left behind in the meadows. They hoped for a reward from the adults who believed in the old saying "a piece of wool a day makes a skirt a year".
Structural Changes in the Textile Industry
"As long as the babies are born naked the Bramsche Clothmakers' Guild will continue to exist". This was the confident motto of the guild displayed on their show wagon during a parade celebrating 'Craftmens' Day' at Osnabrück in 1926.
The babies are still born naked today, but clothmaking has discontinued at Bramsche. Between 1960 and 1972 all textile companies, with the exception of a single large company specialising in ticking, had to close down. The resulting "industrial wasteland" in the town was restored, particularly the mill site area. The building complex of the Clothmakers' Guild was turned into the Bramsche Museum of Clothmaking.
The decline of clothmaking at Bramsche must be seen in the context of the structural changes in the textile industry as a whole and some local issues:
* Orders by the armed forces had been a traditional mainstay for the Bramsche cloth industry. With the forming of the German Federal Armed Forces in 1955 this business discontinued.
* Production techniques developed rapidly and required major investment.
* Organisational structures such as guilds and small business associations became outdated.
*Consumer habits changed, and demand for durable heavy woollen garments dropped. Only few of the Bramsche clothmakers added modern fabrics to their product ranges.
*With the opening of customs borders within the European Economic Community a broad range of foreign products became avialable. These imports played a major role in the decline of the cloth industry at Bramsche. Products from Italy which were fashionable and of high quality sold especially well.
Today, almost 30 years later, we are witnessing new structural changes. With the World Textile Agreement it was attempted to protect western economies against cheap imports from developing countries and industrial parts of Asia. The lifting of bans in the world textile markets in 2005 has prompted a new global fight for market shares.
In the ranking of fibres used as raw material wool takes final position with a share of only 5 per cent. Whether it stands a chance to compete in the long run will depend chiefly on the extent to which other materials, especially synthetic fibres, will offer the consumer equivalent qualities. Wool still has all chances to maintain its role as a highly useful natural material. Who knows - completely new uses for wool in the future we haven't even thought of may yet be discovered.
We would like to invite you to the Museum of Clothmaking at Bramsche. The texts and photos are all displayed at the museum. They describe and depict the living and working conditions of the clothmakers at Bramsche.
The museum staff would like to thank you for your visit.
Bramsche 1998 Susanne Meyer
Copyright: Texts and Illustrations from the Museum of Clothmaking at Bramsche
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