For seven centuries, the identity of the city of Leiden was determined by the production of woollen cloth fabric. Eighty percent of this famous cloth fabric was destined to be exported through Amsterdam; later, the attached cloth hallmarks have surfaced on all continents. In its heyday, Leiden manufactured over 180 different types of fabric. In 1977, Krantz was the last cloth manufacturer in Leiden to close down. As such, an age-long tradition ended. The history of Leiden cloth faded from public memory when the city had to find a new economic driver.

cloth noun (pl. cloths) : 1. [mass noun] a woollen fabric that is first woven and next fulled, which renders it warmer than woven fabric, but stronger than felt. Cloth fabric is used to manufacture clothes, but also for upholstery of furniture and walls.

the Laecken-Halle

In this lavishly decorated city palace by architect Arent van ’s-Gravesande, cloth fabric was inspected under strict supervision and marketed. Upon the rise of industrialisation in the 19th century, the traditional function of the cloth hall changed. After some decades, the building was permanently occupied as Stedelijk Museum van Oudheden (Municipal Museum of Antiquities) on 1 May 1874, and later renamed Museum De Lakenhal.


The textile industry was the main industry in the Netherlands for many centuries. For a brief spell in the fifteenth century, Leiden even developed into the second largest city of the province of Holland, after Amsterdam. In the seventeenth century, Leiden was the most modern and important cloth centre of the world. Thousands of textile workers from the Southern Netherlands, England, Germany and France, who had had to leave their countries on political or religious grounds, found employment in Leiden and contributed to its success.


In the seventeenth century, Leiden cloth found its way onto the world market through Amsterdam. In the same way, raw materials such as wool, cotton, silk and colorants arrived in Leiden from South Europe, Asia and North and South America. Thousands of men, women and children manufactured the famous Leiden cloth in a home industry system. In order to guarantee the quality, the city's administration founded seven inspection halls for various types of fabric. The Laecken-Halle (Cloth Hall) that was founded in 1641, was the most significant hall.


In the course of the eighteenth century, the international market was flooded with cheaper fabric, mainly from France. As of that time, Leiden's cloth industry focussed on the national market and the Dutch colonies. A lot changed at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Due to the introduction of steam engines, workers started to work in large mills on powered spinning frames and looms. After a flourishing economic period, Leiden failed to keep up with the competition. One textile mill after another had to close down in the second half of the twentieth century. Also Krantz, the largest cloth manufacturer of our country left the city for the province of Limburg in 1977 – and a year later, the factory went bankrupt after all. As such, cloth had left Leiden once and for all after seven centuries.

Fotoseries at the cloth factory of J.J. Krantz & Son, 1895 Leiden
Fotoseries at the cloth factory of J.J. Krantz & Son, 1895 Leiden Leiden Archives


The Lucas van Leyden Mecenaat (LvL Patronage) of Museum De Lakenhal owes the names of its donation circles to three characteristic titles: Draper, syndic and governor. Who were these people?

  • Draper: Textile entrepreneur that bought raw wool to have it manufactured into cloth by workers, at a piece rate. The draper owned the product all along the process. Next, he sold the cloth fabric to merchants.

  • Syndic: Often dry croppers or cloth preparers by profession. As syndics of the Lakenhal they were responsible for the inspection of the dyed fabric. They would cut out a small strip (“staal”) of the fabric to check if the paint had penetrated well enough and would boil the black samples to check for colour fastness. This inspection was highly important, since the reputation of Leiden cloth depended mainly on the quality of its colours.


Since 2011, Atelier Van Lieshout (AVL) has worked on the project New Tribal Labyrinth, which focusses on craftsmanship of agriculture and industrialisation. In the scope of this project, AVL has realised a tribal farm (Hagioscoop, 2012), a blast-furnace (Blast Furnace, 2013) and a cheese diary (Saw Mill/Cheese Maker, 2013), to name but a few. This reinterpretation of the 19th-century industrial revolution also comprises looms. The collection of Museum De Lakenhal features looms and other objects that are linked to the unremitting labour and the struggle for life by Leiden's mill workers. This part of the collection provided the source of inspiration for a new statue by AVL, which has been included in the permanent collection of Museum De Lakenhal.

ATELIER VAN LIESHOUT, VOORUIT (2014) Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden. Photo: Atelier Van Lieshout


A series of paintings by painter Isaac Claesz. van Swanenburg, a painter from Leiden, that was created for the board room of the Saaihal plays an important part in the collection display of 'Zeven eeuwen Leids laken' (Seven Centuries of Leiden Cloth) in the museum. In the series, he depicted the manufacturing process of the fabric 'saai' (serge), which is closely related to that of cloth fabric. The former Saaihal was the peer institution of the Lakenhal and was used for the insprection and trade of this light and relatively cheap fabric.

Isaac Claesz. van Swanenburg, Self Portrait (1568)
Isaac Claesz. van Swanenburg, Self Portrait (1568) Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden


Since the 13th century, in Leiden, woollen cloth was inspected and a lead hallmark was attached. The most common type of hallmarks consisted of two lead disks that were linked by a clip. After inspection, these disks were wrapped around the edge of the fabric. The hallmark master would engrave hallmarks in the lead by means of stamps and anvil, press or tongs. Usually, he would leave the town arms of the town of origin on one side. For Leiden, these are two keys or a climbing lion. On the other side, information in respect of quality, colour and size of the fabric was stamped. In 2012, the typical cloth hallmark from Leiden became the emblem for the new corporate identity of Museum De Lakenhal, which was designed by Robin Stam.

Cloth hallmarks
Cloth hallmarks Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden
Corporate Style Museum De Lakenhal
Corporate Style Museum De Lakenhal Design: Robin Stam (2012)


Off-the-peg clothes that are manufactured cheaply in mass production are a rather contemporary feature. Before, most clothes were sewn at home. Those that could afford to do so, had a wardrobe fitted. The customer would buy fabric directly at a merchant's. Cloth fabric was used for the same purpose. Gentlemen would visit a tailor, ladies would have a cloth dressmaker visit their homes. It was labour-intensive and expensive, but such garments were intended to last a lifetime. For ages, it was even common to leave used garments to family members, friends or staff members by last will and testament.

Museum De Lakenhal injects new life into the history of seven centuries of ‘Leids Laken’ (Leiden Cloth). The museum commissions new fabric and products that will bear the ancient hallmark ’Leids Laken’. This project is part of a wider aim to restore the identity and image of historic fabric town to the city of Leiden.

Meta Knol, Director of Museum De Lakenhal


Crafts and sustainability have recently reached top rank in civil society. Old techniques and fabric have achieved new esteem. To link up to this trend, Museum De Lakenhal will revive the history of Leiden Cloth. A new line of fabric will be manufactured, and it will bear the old quality hallmark ‘Leids Laken’ (Leiden Cloth).

In the period of 2013-2017, a series of five assignments will be commissioned to contemporary designers. Based on craft techniques, motifs and patterns, archive sources, documents and objects from the museum, all of which were passed down the ages, they will develop new, contemporary fabric and products that will be on sale in the museum shop as from 2019.

Christie van der Haak

The first designer on this commission is Christie van der Haak, an artist from The Hague. She was originally a painter who worked in a pattern-painting style. For some years now, she has focussed on designing fabric in a style that is related to her paintings and in which patterns and motifs from nature are combined in colourful scenes.

Logo New Leiden Cloth
Logo New Leiden Cloth officially registered as hallmark since 2014
Fabric Design Christie van der Haak
Fabric Design Christie van der Haak for series New Leiden Cloth, commissioned by Museum De Lakenhal


From the series of test fabrics two favourites were chosen together with the public. These fabrics, a supple grey-pink and a more rigid multicolour one, were manufactured and presented to the publik during the Wool Week 2014 in Amsterdam.

New Leiden Cloth #1 (two-tone, 2014)
New Leiden Cloth #1 (two-tone, 2014) Christie van der Haak commissioned by Museum De Lakenhal
New Leiden Cloth #1 (multicolour, 2014)
New Leiden Cloth #1 (multicolour, 2014) Christie van der Haak i.o.v. Museum De Lakenhal

ouborg Award 2015

In November 2015, Christie van der Haak was granted with the Ouborg Award for her complete works. On the occasion her richly illustrated book 'Sproken / Fairy Tales' was presented, as well as an exhibition of the same name in the Gemeentemuseum The Hague (27 November 2015 til 31 January 2015).
More on the Ouborg price

[...] it are precisely those desigsn, the quality of the oeuvre and its local and (inter)national relevance that make artists from The Hague deserve the Ouborg Award. Those qualities are to be found in Van der Haak's work and as such convince the jury of the fact that she deserves the Ouborg Award 2015. This is only affirmed by the appreciation for her enormously inspiring and stimulating influence on generations of visual artists as a teacher at the Royal Academy of Visual Arts.

Head of jury Arno van Roosmalen

Christie van der Haak, Forma Natura 10 (1986)
Christie van der Haak, Forma Natura 10 (1986)


Together with The Campaign For Wool, Museum De Lakenhal opened up an Open Call for the second design in the series New Leiden Cloth, aimed at young design talent.The winner is the design which best succeeds in connecting to the museum's identity. Just like the Cloth fabrics of the pas, the fabric will have to be of the highest quality concerning material, technique and artistic expression. Also, the fabric must consist of a minimum of 80% wool. In their designs, artists are invited to develop a modern interpretation of those fabrics that matches the identity of Museum De Lakenhal: classical and stylish, but at the same time contemporary and daring. After the project finishes in 2017, the complete series of fabrics will be made available per meter in the museum’s gift shop.

more on the open call

shortlist open call

On 3 March 2015, the professional jury announced the three designs for the shortlist. In random order: Mae Engelgeer, Remi Veldhoven and Thomas Eurlings.

The judge based their judgement on paper designs. The nominees thereafter executed their design in textile. Starting with the Texitile Festival (13 - 16 May 2015), those test fabrics are presented in the museum until November 2015, when the winner is announced.

A short introduction of the three designers:

Mae Engelgeer (1982)

Archive as fabric | fabric as archive was inspired by the pieces of wool test fabric in the exhibition Seven centuries of Leiden Cloth. In the archiving, use of colour, ordering of the squares and weave technique, she noticed visual simmilarities with her own graphic textile designs. She graphicly translated a piece of archive into fabric; the new fabric became a piece of archive. The pattern and use of different weaving techniques created subtle differences in height and are inspired by the labels of historical test fabrics.

Mae Engelgeer (1982) studied at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute (AMFI) and the Sandberg Institute. With her strong yet refined graphic signature style, she managed to find herself a broad and international audience. In October 2015, Studio Mae Engelgeer took part in the Tokyo Design Week and in April 2016, she will be represented at the prestigious Salone del Mobile in Milan for the second time.
more about Mae Engelgeer

Studio Mae Engelgeer
Studio Mae Engelgeer ontwerpschets Nieuw Leids Laken II (2015)

Remi Veldhoven (1988)

Not only the design is important in her manufacturing process, so is the production of the material. How is a material made and how do you design with production processes? Her design consists of a jacquard woven fabric with an equally prominent blue and red side. The pattern is build up out of 40 ongoing lines in the lenght of the fabric, symbolizing the 40 people needed for the production of wool cloth in the 17th Century.

Remi Veldhoven studied Textile Design at the KABK, The Hague and is a teacher at the Willem de Kooning Academy, Rotterdam.
more about Remi Veldhoven

Remi Veldhoven
Remi Veldhoven ontwerpschets Nieuw Leids Laken II (2015)

Thomas Eurlings (1983)

The key, accidentally also the symbol of his birthplace Leiden, has been a regular feature in Thomas Eurlings' designs in the pas few years. His design for New Leiden Cloth falls back on the keys on typically Leiden leaden seals and actual keys in Museum De Lakenhal's collection. The pattern is embroided on a blue felted (cloth) fabric. The yarn refers to the colour of the lead seals.

Thomas Eurlings studied Man & Identity at the Design Academy, Eindhoven. He worked at ORSON + BODIL / Alexander van Slobbe, he designs for Ulf Moritz and is a teacher at Artemis Styling Academy.
More about Thomas Eurlings

Thomas Eurlings
Thomas Eurlings Ontwerpschets Nieuw Leids Laken II (2015)

Mae Engelgeer winner New Leiden Cloth #2

Studio Mae Engelgeer has emerged as the winner of the open call for New Leiden Cloth #2, Museum De Lakenhal in Leiden just announced. The geometric textile design called ‘Archive as fabric/fabric as archive’ is currently on display in Museum De Lakenhal and will be taken into production over the coming years.

More than any of the other entries, Mae Engelgeer was able to combine the history of Leiden Cloth, which spans seven centuries, with the fresh approach of Dutch Design. The combination of the concept, the graphic persuasion power and a strong material awareness made this design a clear winner

Curator Nicole Roepers

Mae Engelgeer, Archive as fabric | fabric as archive (2015)
Mae Engelgeer, Archive as fabric | fabric as archive (2015)