The balotil

This “balotil” was donated to the museum on 6 January 1928 and is the first registered donation. In 1589, the first mention is made of a knitting machine, developed by watching women knit and then improved by an English pastor, William Lee, from Calverton near Nottingham. It is not known when the first machine arrived in Tournai. The name “balotil” comes from the contraction of bas à outil” (or tool stockings, stockings made with a tool). This name applies to the craft itself as well as to the craftsman.  The balotil worked at home and generally with the family as a whole: it was not uncommon to find two or three machines in the same house. The children started working at a very young age. They made stockings, but also shawls, shell jackets and waistcoats (espincers).  The women sewed the items. In 1850, 50% of women were stocking sewers! Hanging from the loom, the light globe (a glass ball filled with water) acted as a magnifying glass, amplifying the light coming from a spit placed at the back. In the vicinity, a finch cage (almost completely covered because the less the finch sees clearly, the more it sings). The finch accompanied the balotil worker with its song. Next to the loom, a reel (turnstile) and a “babenner coach” on which the “babennes” (reels) needed for the balotil were prepared.