Thursday, 12 January 2012

Drapers in the Field

This was the title of a sad photo that was sent to me last year by a gentleman named Robert. But it also has an upbeat message.

The photo is of a Draper loom (an X-2?) rusting quietly away in a field somewhere in the USA. This, and a couple of companions, is one of perhaps 100, 000 shuttle looms in use in the country, which were scrapped or otherwise disposed of, in favour of more efficient projectile looms. Cone, the last surviving US mill producing shuttle denim, decommissioned most of its looms in 1985, but retained a good number of the X-3 version, which produced 42 inch fabric (they were converted to produce 28 inch when brought back into use around 1992).

According to Ralph Tharpe, previously head of technical development at Cone, "The executive in charge of disposing of the looms in 1985 told me they ended up in a field and as far as he knew they were scrapped for the metal." So this sad wreck might well be from Cone, a loom used to produce fabric for some of the most fabled denim of all time. 

Why is there an upbeat message to this sad story? It's contained in Robert's second photo: 

These are two more Drapers, X-3 I believe, which were rescued by Robert. Because there are other companies making selvage fabric in the USA still - but not denim.

Robert works for a high-tech company in New England which produces materials for the aerospace industry. These looms have found a new home weaving kevlar - because they are gentle on the yarn, imposing little tension, and don't chop it at the selvage point, these 70-year old looms are the most efficient technical solution to a very modern technical problem. They also show how, even as old industries disappear, new industries can spring up to replace them.

The fabric woven by these looms could well be life-saving. One of its prime uses is to shroud aircraft engines; if there's a turbine failure the containment ring made up of this fabric is designed to prevent the high-velocity turbine debris from damaging the aircraft.

These looms were made in Hopedale, Massachusetts, by the Draper Corporation, which in itself made a major contribution to sweeping economic changes across the USA - by making more efficient looms, and funding mills in the South, Draper contributed to the move of fabric production out of New England. (One consequence of this was that Levi's changed their denim supplier, from Amoskeag in New Hampshire to Cone in North Carolina). Now, as another result of sweeping economic changes, these looms have come home.

Thanks to Robert for the photos and the story.


  1. that's incredible, well done to robert

  2. Those 2 looms are happily picking away, one was converted to a dobby loom the other is still a cam loom, Yes both are Draper X-3 Cam looms, these came from a Borden Mill in Tennessee.
    They where in a small room that was the training are for technicians so they were in exceptional condition.
    Getting parts for these looms is an ongoing challenge.
    If anyone knows of anyone with Draper X-3 parts feel free to email me at
    Robert (Rob)

  3. I was draper XD, X3, X2 loom fixer for 23 years, after start to fix Dornier, Picanol and Somet. And one month ago after 20 years I returned to fix X3.I love these looms.
    Rodrigo Rave

  4. We have a Draper DSL and DLG , and we need a workshop manual, do you know where we can obtain it ?