On Sunday 5 April, Gillian Vogelsang writes about a number of historical wooden forms or stretchers (called a mal in Dutch) for socks and stockings, from a Leiden-based firm.
In January 2020 the TRC in Leiden was contacted by Erfgoed Leiden en Omstreken, a government-sponsored organisation dealing with cultural heritage from Leiden and beyond. They offered a set of some wooden stocking forms (or stretchers). At the time, Erfgoed was processing their documentation about a company called P. en J. van Poot en Co., Leidsche Breifabriek, which had been based at Lammermarkt 63 in Leiden (see the photographs). Because the wooden forms did not fit within their own collection, Erfgoed wondered if the TRC would be interested in having them? We said yes, and these items can now be found in the TRC Collection online, under TRC 2020.0138 to TRC 2020.0166.
One of the reasons we accepted the forms was because they link up with a now finished TRC research programme, namely the Texel Silk Stocking Project. This programme was based on a pair of hand knitted silk stockings dating to the mid-17th century, found some years ago just off the coast of the island of Texel, in the north of the country. In the context of this programme, the project leader, Chrystel Brandenburg, made a number of stocking forms to help with the project. She had found them very helpful in order to shape modern, silk reconstructions of these 17th century garments and we were curious about the continued use of such forms by 19th and 20th century firms. We also had questions about the people making these forms. Was it the knitters themselves or did they buy them in?
Although the new forms do not answer the historical questions, they do shed some light on 20th century practices. Equally interestingly, the items reflect and reveal a part of Leiden’s economic and social history and especially its long-standing textile and garment production history. They also help to illustrate the role of girls, women and men played in producing a wide range of textiles and related goods.
Poot en Co.
The company of P. en J. van Poot en Co., Leidsche Breifabriek, was set up in 1880 by J(oost) and P(ieter) van Poot. It later became known as ‘De N.V. Leidsche Breifabriek'. Initially they produced woollen blankets and some knitted items, but quickly went over to just machine knitted items. In 1891 the company moved to Lammermarkt 63, Leiden, a 17th century building (see photographs) that has seen many uses over the centuries. Based on its high doors it is likely that the building originally served as a warehouse or as a coach house. It is still extant and until recently was used as a warehouse for antiques, etc.
By the 1890’s the company was producing a range of machine knitted socks, stockings, gloves and caps. Most of the machine knitting was carried out by girls and young women of good reputation ("fatsoenlijke, nette meisjes", according to the Leidsch Dagblad of 11 augustus 1891).
By the 1920’s the company employed between 20 and 50 women. They were all unmarried, and it was made very clear that if and when they got married they had to stop working. In 1942 the company moved to new premises at Langegracht 8 (now demolished). The company finally closed its doors in 2002.
Among the many items that form the company’s historical archives that were given to Erfgoed Leiden were twenty-eight wooden forms (or stretchers) for shaping machine knitted stockings and socks. They came in a variety of different sizes and shapes. In general, those for socks had a bulge just above the ankles, while those for stockings were leg shaped.
These forms were deliberately made in these shapes. A newly made and washed sock or stocking was pulled onto the form, while the garment was still damp, and then quickly dried. The new sock or stocking would then keep the required shape created by the wooden form. At least part of the work with the forms appears to have been carried out by men, as can be seen by a photograph now in the archive of Erfgoed Leiden (see photograph). It shows two men at work with piles of the wooden forms and a hot, bed press (man to the left, pressing socks) and a smaller, block iron (man to the right, pressing stockings).
E. Holt & Son, Leicester