We awoke to a rainy Saturday morning.
With the mountains barely visible, this could mean only one thing.
A trip to the Norsk Knitting Museum (Norsk Trikotasjemuseum).
Situated in Salhus at an abaondeoned textile factory, the museum is 20km from Bergen. Access is via a typically windy, narrow, bus-scraping journey, which we’ve now come accustomed to, and even includes a stop at the Rolls Royce engine factory.
In 1859 a chap by the name of Philip Clausen decided to start a textile factory. Why he decided on settling in Salhus was unclear. This may have been covered by our tour guide. However, she spoke Norwegian, and our comprehension remains at level 1, so we probably missed that part.
Founded during the industrial revolution, the factory soon flourished, specialising in selling prized underwear throughout Norway, and as far as America and Indonesia.
“Today, underwear is just not the same”, we were told. “It doesn’t last, the Krone Maco brand produced here would last several years if not for a lifetime”. There were used undies on display to prove the point.
In 1909, the second generation of the Clausen family, Emil Clausen, took over the factory and continued to run it with the same enigmatic Jobs-like success as his father. The factory was a dominating force in the Norwegian textile industry, growing with each decade. During its glory days in the 60s Clausen had around 300 employees, and co-built a local school and church.
The village, Salhus, was there because of him.
Emil Clausen continued to run the factory until his death, in 1967. He was 93.
Upon his death, his grandson took over running the business.
This was the start of the end.
Whether it was related to the grandson or other economic factors, we are unsure. However, from the late 60s onwards the factory slipped into a steady decline, unable to compete with the emerging textile operations in the east. The factory finally closed its doors for good in 1989. They would remain closed for another 12 years, before reopening again as a museum in 2001.
Today, the museum is recognized as a Norwegian cultural heritage site.
Following our crash course on the history of Norwegian textiles, we began our journey through the old factory. Little appears to have changed since it closed its doors over two decades ago. The machinery is still in place and operational. Stamp cards and grimy pencils remain on desks, alongside wooden filing cabinets, and shelves of parts all sitting there untouched likely as they were left.
The production line started at the very beginning, with bales of wool. Steam powered carding machines, later replaced with electric motors, teased the wool, and began the first step onto the path to underwear, socks, or woolly outerwear.
From there it was on to the spinning machines, and knitting machines.
Our lack of Norwegian comprehension did not matter, as our guide chatted and proceeded to turn on the various, and often scary, and unchild-friendly looking machines, for live demonstrations.
For the most part the factory appears to still be fully operational, and able to be reopened any time. Just as soon as the economic conditions come right again. Any day now.
But for now, interspersed with some of their earlier machines, it remains a museum.
I didn’t imagine a museum of knitting machines could be so exciting.
There were underwear knitting machines, and outerwear knitting machines.
But most impressive of all, were the line of sock knitting machines.
That’s all they did.
They knitted socks.
Blue socks, black socks, big socks, small socks. There was a long string of them lying on the floor. Abandoned. Reminiscent of a spooky Frankenstein horror scene, where the machines come alive when nobody is watching.
As mesmerising as the sock machines were, we continued on to the next level, past a factory line of assorted Singer sewing machines, before finally ending the tour some hours later.
What we had just seen was a fascinating insight into the textile industry, and an understanding into what goes on behind the scenes when I buy that $5 T-shirt*.
Rain is so much fun.
Warning: industrial textile porn follows below.
* A lot of exploitation no doubt. As far as I know there have been no ground breaking advances in textile production. The mechanics are the same. It remains an incredibly complex, and tedious process, requiring many long hours of manual labour.