Thompson, A.

SUBJECT AREA: Textiles
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fl. c. 1801 London, England
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English patentee of one of the first significant machines for heckling flax.
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The flax plant passes through many stages before its fibres are prepared for spinning. The woody pith surrounding the fibres is first softened by rotting or "retting", and is then removed by beating or "scutching". This leaves the fibres in a tight bunch, as they have grown to form the stem of the plant. Hackling or heckling, the next process, separates the fibres from each other. In hand processes this was done by pulling the fibres across a board of steel spikes, or sometimes a form of comb was pulled through them.
In 1795 Sellers and Standage patented a method of heckling in which the flax was pulled by hand through stationary vertical teeth, but much more significant was the patent of 1801 of A.Thompson of London. The length of the fibres in a bundle of flax will vary considerably, therefore the distance between the point where the fibres pass out to be combed and the point where they can be put through another roller or gripper must be greater than the longest fibres, requiring some method of support in between. Thompson used a pair of chain gills for this purpose. These consist of rows of teeth mounted on a continuous chain or belt which moves around while the fibres pass through the teeth in the vertical position. The longer fibres are pulled through the teeth by the drawing rollers at the front, while the shorter ones are held steady by the teeth and presented to the rollers later; thus the teeth both support the fibres and heckle them at the same time. Following this process the fibres can be drawn and spun.
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Bibliography
1801, British patent no. 2,533 (flax-heckling machine).
Further Reading
W.English, 1969, The Textile Industry, London (describes Thompson's machine, with an illustration).
L.J.Mills (ed.), 1927, The Textile Educator, London (includes a description of later flax-heckling machines).
RLH

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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