Arts and Culture
The Chinese drawloom is not one loom but a group of related looms. The defining features of these looms are complex patterning systems that enable designs to be recorded and re-used at will. Drawlooms were probably the most complex pre-modern technology and were the basis for a celebrated silk weaving tradition. This weaving tradition was the wrapping and adornment for imperial authority and diplomacy in pre-revolutionary China. Drawlooms were also the first devices capable of reproducing detailed designs in full colour, their capabilities greatly exceeding those of early printing presses.
In this talk I review the origins of these looms, and show that their technologies are an amalgamation of design features from pre-existing looms. In particular I will discuss the importance of patterning systems on Tai looms in southwest China, a contribution to drawloom technology that has previously been overlooked. Both technical and historical considerations suggest that the expertise in polychrome supplementary weft decoration possessed by minority groups in southwest China were key to the development of the Han Chinese silk weaving tradition after the Tang dynasty.