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Klompenmakerij - traditional clogmaking in Europe

Posted on | By Thornton Kay
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Cumbria, UK - In Britain clogs tend to be associated with the Dutch because they kept their clog (or klompen) heritage alive during the 1950s-90s as part of the tourist trade but clogs could be found throughout Europe including Britain - indeed Clive and Pam Wilson of Wilson's in Cumbria remembers wearing clogs to school with leather uppers and wooden soles ironclad with a horseshoe-shaped 'coker' around the heel.

There is a trend developing across north-western Europe for clog-making and wearing revival. Jeremy Atkinson who gets orders from far and wide including US customers is England's only master clogmaker and reckons he only has five year's left in his hands.

"The seed banks around the world keep different things alive which we might need in the future. You could say the same thing about crafts because you don't know what's coming up. Is it of any worth? Well once it's gone it's gone," he said. He makes a poor living and would like the government to top up the pay of people who keep an old craft going.

Clogs dates from at least the medieval times when they were the best footwear for wet conditions - possibly why clog dancing is still popular in the Lake District - the wettest region of England. Clogs are best suited to dry or stoney ground, not wet clay. The expression to 'clog up' comes from wet clay sticking to wooden clogs which makes them very heavy and unwieldy.

Jeremy's website includes links to old film of clogmaking. He taught Geraint Parfitt the only hand carver in Wales. The English tended to use alder, birch and willow, while the Welsh used alder, birch, plane, beech and sycamore which lasts better in muddy conditions.

Koos Vreeswijk is one of five remaining clogmakers left in Holland (see video link below).

Last month the Flemish Minister of Culture Sven Gatz added clogs to the Flanders inventory for Intangible Cultural Heritage. Flanders exported large amounts of clogs to Holland for millers, farmers, fishermen and many factory workers also wore clogs like protective footwear. Clogs are still a worthy alternative to footwear in leather or plastic. In the Waasland, folklore group De Klomp De Klinge vzw keeps the craft alive. The MOT in Grimbergen and the Openlucht Museum Bokrijk, also have wood collections. Since 2013, the heritage community around the lumber culture in Flanders meets at regular intervals, under the inspiration of ETWIE, the Expertise Center for Technical, Scientific and Industrial Heritage. The group is concerned with all aspects of the sponsorship of the craft: strengthening of the network, transfer of knowledge and skills, collective valuation and re-destination.

A contemporary relevance of clogs can be found both in the product and in the process. For the product, for example, clogs are now made as souvenirs, as garden footwear. Some contemporary designers also take on many aspects of their designs. In addition, clogs also have an orthopedic value. More interesting for the heritage community are the possibilities in the process. Handworking is gaining popularity and in addition, clogs are very fulfilling and sensory (smell of wood, feeling like wearing wood).

"Clogs are no longer seen by the community as folklore, but as a form of living, intangible heritage," says Steven De Waele of the MOT in Grimbergen. "Large-scale production may never come back to Belgium, but that does not mean that no-one is interested in learning and passing on the technology. Of course, production is limited, often simply demonstrations, but these contribute to the knowledge and support of craft techniques. "

Museum Voor De Oudere Technieken Salvo Directory 14 Nov 2012

Jeremy Atkinson Traditional Clogs
YouTube: Making clogs by Koos Vreeswijk

Story Type: Feature