John Kay: The Man Behind Your Reed

John Kay changed the face of weaving during the industrial revolution with his patents. Kay is perhaps best known (by the people who know of him) as the inventor of the flying shuttle. If you’ve ever seen a video of a mechanized loom, you’ve seen a flying shuttle. Kay’s design was a shuttle with wheels on the bottom, so it could “fly” through the shed quickly and easily. At the time Kay called his shuttle the “wheeled shuttle,” but others started calling it the flying shuttle because the shuttles moved so fast they appeared to be flying. While most handweavers don’t use a flying shuttle, many of us benefit from another of his designs. While a young man, Kay apprenticed with a reed maker. During that time reeds were made from natural materials such as reeds (hence the name) or cane. After his apprenticeship, Kay changed reeds forever by designing one that used flattened metal wires. Today, of course, most weavers reap the benefits of his design as we fit our looms with stainless steel reeds that are still very similar to the design created by John Kay nearly 200 years ago. 


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