This month I’ve been to two collections to see and study the gloves they have. These dates have to be arranged months in advance as the appointments get booked up so I went to Bath in early November to the Fashion Museum there and last week to the V& A Clothworker’s Centre.
In Bath, the Fashion and Costume Museum
houses the early part of the collection which belongs to the Worshipful Company of Glovers.
They have a great on line catalogue and from that I was able to see that they have about a dozen, perhaps more, knitted gloves from the 16th and 17th centuries, most of which are, or were, ecclesiastical. These gloves are beautifully stored and conserved, each pair, or sometimes a single glove, has its own archival box and is wrapped in calico within that. The gloves have a hand shaped support inside them that extends from the wrist so the whole thing can be lifted from the box and turned over.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the quality and fineness of the work. The gauge that I was able to measure seemed to be about 10 sts = 1cm, or 25 sts to the inch. Bear in mind that all the yarn was hand spun and dyed without the aid of chemical dyes. The amount of work and skill needed to make these is unbelievable.
Wrapped in calico
The gloves themselves
The earliest examples are certainly hand knitted but later ones are frame knitted and shaped by cutting and piecing the fabric. Many are embellished with hand embroidery in metallic thread, either silver or gold.
A couple of interesting points: some later gloves were made as fashion items but in ecclesiastical workshops while two pairs from the 17th century, one ecclesiastical and one ‘fashion’ are very similar.
At the V& A I visited the relatively recently opened Clothworkers’ centre which is in a huge Victorian building just by the Olympia trade exhibition centre. They only have 3 pairs of early knitted gloves so the two hours I had with them allowed me to examine them very closely.
There will be more about these in a later post.