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So, What is a Temple Anyway?

You may have heard that the town of Hopedale originally became famous for the temples produced in the Little Red Shop. But what is a temple, and why were they so important?

Look up the parts of a loom and you’re not likely to see temples listed on any diagram. Temples are a critical part of weaving anything much wider than a dishtowel, but they’re often considered an add-on, or another tool, rather than part of the loom itself.

On a loom, a large number of threads, called the warp, are woven together with a single thread, called the weft, that passes back and forth through the warp threads. As the weft thread changes direction, it creates an edge, called the selvage. The tension of the weft pulling on the selvage tends to pull the warp threads together, so, instead of nice straight cloth, you get fabric that continually decreases in width, or puckers at the edges. The temple solves this problem by putting opposing tension on the cloth, keeping the warp threads spread out.

The traditional temple, used for centuries, is a wooden stick with a series of tiny points on each end. The points grab the cloth near the selvage edges and keep it from bunching up. This is called a spreader temple. A 14th century depiction of a spreader temple can be found in one of the stained-glass windows of Chartres Cathedral in France.  Another type of temple is called a weighted temple: This is simply a hook on a string with a weight at the other end. The weaver places a hook into the selvage on each side and hangs the weight over a convenient point on the loom, causing the hooks to pull at the fabric. (Hand weavers today sometimes make this kind of temple out of a paper-clip, some string, and a steel nut.)
In either case, as the cloth gets wound around the roller, the temples follow it. Since the temples can only do their job close to where the weaving is taking place, they periodically have to be removed and repositioned. In hand weaving, this is an occasional interruption. Try doing this on a power loom, though. You would have to stop every minute or so to reposition the temple.

That’s where the Draper temple comes in, and why it was so important to early industrial textile manufacturing. On June 7th, 1816, Ira Draper was awarded patent number 2,608. The patent was for a new type of hand loom, but it also included the first “self-acting” (or rotary) temple. Instead of a stretcher bar that followed the cloth, the self-acting temples were mounted to the loom, one on either side of the cloth. The Draper temple was essentially a metal wheel with pins sticking out of the edge. The pins would grab the selvedge of the cloth and hold it between the wheel and the metal frame of the temple. 

Draper’s self-acting temple was one of the first products produced in the Little Red Shop. Textile manufacturers, who were converting from hand looms to faster power looms, needed Draper’s temples to get the maximum efficiency out of their looms. It was the popularity of this product that kept the Hopedale Utopian community afloat during the years from 1842 to 1856.

If you look at the roller of a Dutcher temple, you’ll see that the pins are arranged in a spiral, similar to the threads of a screw. As the cloth moves across the roller, the roller spins. The spiral arrangement causes each new pin to penetrate the cloth a little closer to the center than the last one. Because the cloth enters the temple at a slight angle, this pulls the cloth straight. Modern temples use this same principle.

In 1850, the Dutcher brothers, Warren and Elihu, of Vermont invented a new kind of temple. While it worked in a similar way, the pins were attached to a wooden cylinder rather than a metal wheel. The Drapers bought the Dutcher patent in 1856, and Warren Dutcher began working for the Drapers that same year. With the superior Dutcher design and the Drapers’ well-known name and distribution channels, manufacturing in Hopedale skyrocketed.

Without the temple, there could be no fully automatic looms, but why is it called a temple in the first place? Researching loom temples on the Internet is hard enough, what with having to wade through all the references to religious temples. Throw in the words “ancient” or “history” and it becomes near impossible. That’s my excuse for why I haven’t been able to find a definitive answer for the name “temple,” but I suspect its for one of two reasons: The simplest answer would be that the temples sit at either side of the “face” of the cloth being woven, just like your temples are on either side of your face.

The more complex possibility is that the origin of the word is related to the origin of the word for the temples on your head, just a bit farther back: In Latin, the word for the side of the forehead is tempus, a word that also means time. It is believed that tempus was part of a longer phrase, referring to a “timely space,” which could have been derived from another phrase referring to the stretching of the skin over the temple area. This notion of stretching fits right in with the action of the temples used in weaving, and just might be why these important little components have such an unusual name.

Written by Bryan Sullo, July 6, 2013