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A Labor of Glove

    Herein lies the photo-journal & research for the Renaissance-style glove given to Belphoebe de Givet on the occasion of her elevation to the Order of the Laurel.

    The inspiration: a pair of late 16th century gloves.

    Lady Sheringtonn's Glove
    Lady Sherington's Gloves.

    There is no creative force in the universe more powerful than a SCAdian without a project. 
    Do you ever have one of those days where you wake up and look around your home, and say, hey, I need to find a project to suck up all my free time and energy for the next, oh, say, month?  And then give the results away as a gift? 

    For a while I’d been hankering to make gloves, and finally I found a worthy cause: an embroidered glove as a gift for Baroness Belphoebe on the occasion of her elevation to the Order of the Laurel.  Since it’s a surprise, and I couldn’t sneak hand measurements, this glove will be a fashion statement to wear on her belt, or give her husband as a favor.  So it’s ok if the glove doesn’t fit like a … um… never mind.

    The Inspiration
    Fortunately, a handful of late 16th / early 17th century gloves survive.  You can see some at the V&A website; others are pictured in Royal Gloves.  Some features:

    • Most have exaggerated long, slender fingers to meet the fashionable ideals of the period.   Those with “average” fingers tend to be functional, work gloves.
    • The thumb is cut different from a modern thumb, both in terms of the hole, as well as the gusset which provides the thumb full range of motion. The quasi-trapezoidal shape of the modern bolton is right out.
    • Embellishments on the trank or fingers are largely restricted to the back of the hand and outside of the thumb, where the decoration would not suffer as much wear.
    • Gloves may be turned so the seams are inside, or left unturned.   While I haven’t done a formal survey, turned gloves appear to be in the minority.
    • The fourchettes (the part between the fingers) are cut as V-shapes.  Modern fourchettes are usually cut in two pieces with a seam at the bottom, because it conserves leather; or in three pieces, with a “quirk” at the bottom of the fourchettes to allow for full range of movement. 
    • Some gloves feature cuffs which are embellished leather cut in one piece with the trank (the hand part of the glove).  Other cuffs attach at the wrist.
    • The cuffs which are cut as one with the trank frequently open on the outside of the hand from the wrist to the end.  Sometimes the gloves have ribbons connecting the two sides of the opening.
    • The edges of the cuffs are trimmed in fringe or lace.

    The design
    I opted for black leather – I happened to have a doeskin which I purchased from a local leather store which Belphoebe had in fact recommended to me.  Black is one of the colors in her heraldry, so it was a natural fit.  The long, elegant fingers seemed best suited to our subject (who’s motto is “It is a terrible insult to anyone to kill them when you are badly dressed.”) , with a gauntlet cut in one with the trank, embroidered with her arms, baronial coronets, and laurel wreaths.  No ribbons connecting the two sides of the cuff (we’re going for “elegant” here, not prissy).  The glove will be unturned, so every stitch has to be perfect.  (No pressure!) The fourchette seams on the back of the hand will be sewn in yellow, with an oversewn stitch, to add to the dramatic effect.

    Because of the vast differences between the modern glove and the late period glove, I had two options:

    The steps in “Drafting” are based on an 18th century text, but drafting an original based off hand measurements and a tracing struck me as a more authentic approach than a paper pattern.    (Although the sheer quantities of gloves purchased ready-made may indicate that standardized glove patterns were used as far back as the 16th century. See Anderson, for instance.)  The fingers, fourchettes, and thumb were the major areas I modified, based on additional input from pictures, "Duello," which uses Le Gant as its primary source, and the Renaissance Tailor’s article on drafting gloves.

    The main body of the glove was fairly straight forward.  I lengthened each finger by an extra half-inch.

    Trank Draft

    Note: In retrospect, the slender, quasi-skeletal effect would have been enhanced if the finger pieces narrowed towards the tip rather than maintaining the same width along their length.
    The fourchettes and the thumbs provided the biggest challenge in fitting.  The dramatically long fingers are exaggerated further by how far the fourchette extends down the back of the hand.  The fourchettes in “Drafting” were decidedly modern.  "Duello" and "Renaissance Tailor" both recommended drafting fourchettes by placing folded paper between the fingers and tracing their shapes.  The resulting V, however, is squat and wide – wholly inadequate for achieving the late 16th century look.  So I tinkered with the V, retracing and retracing until the bottom of the V measured three inches tall, a height representing the difference in cut finger length between the palm and the back of the hand.   I then added an extra inch to the arms, to make sure they would be long enough.  The final patterns more closely resembled "Duello"’s redrawing of the pattern pieces from Le Gant.

    Fourchette Patterns

    Test thumb
    Well, the thumb looked pretty unlikely to me so I cut a test pattern – thumb and hole.  The thumb hole looked too big for the base of the thumb, and indeed, there was a small gap created by the difference in size.

    Test Thumb

    At this point I also discovered that the thumb-piece was too narrow for my thumb as well.  It looked like a small, black blood sausage.  (Yes, I know I said it wouldn’t actually get worn…work with me, here!)  I adjusted the size of the thumb and the thumb hole accordingly.   With the thumb and the thumb hole complete, the pattern was done. 

    Thumb Pattern  Final Pattern

    Note for next time: Mistress Ts'vee'a bas Tseepora Levi pointed out that to achieve a more period look, the thumb hole should be larger, flatter (oblong rather than round), and further towards the back of the hand.

    Once the pattern was done, the leather could be cut. I traced the pattern on the flesh side, using a white gel pen. I used a sharp pair of sheers to cut the basic outline of the glove; the finger tips, fingers, and thumb hole don't get cut until right before you sew to make sure the flimsy bits don't get accidentally twisted or tangled. (See the picture below.)

    Note for next time: The leather should be stretched before cutting. Some of the glove-making references mentioned the stretching process but none really explained why. And one of my less positive traits is that I skip steps I don't understand. (Which could be why I'm a research laurel rather than an A&S laurel!) Anyway, Mistress Ts'vee'a explained that - much like when sewing - it's important to get the stretch out before cutting, or the final product may change sizes after construction. (Yet again, the "fashion" over "function" decision served me well!)

    Further note! Mistress Ts'vee'a has graciousy provided the following directions, adapted from Hummel, Edith M., You Can Make Your Own Gloves, 2nd ed., Fairchild Publications, NY 1950, Chapter IV, page 15:

    "The first step is to dampen the leather to prepare it for stretching. A wet cloth or towel should be wrung out to remove as much moisture as possible. Fold the skin so that the skin side (right side) of the leather does not come into contact with the wet cloth. Then lay the skin, flesh side (wrong side) out, onto the cloth and fold the cloth around the skin. Use a second cloth if needed to cover the skin completely.
    Roll the skin and damp cloth tightly to allow the dampness to penetrate the leather. Check the leather every ~15 minutes, taking it out of the towel when it has become damp but not wet. Getting it too wet will ruin the skin by causing it to crease badly rather than stretch, permanently damaging the leather. If the leather accidentally gets wet enough to darken from the moisture, let it dry and try again. The thinner the leather, the less time needed to dampen it.
    Flesh side down, lay the skin lengthwise on a table. Lengthwise along the spine of the animal. Leather stretches more lengthwise than widthwise, which is why gloves are cut so that the lengthwise stretch goes around the hand.
    Pull the skin slowly over the end of the table, using the edge to apply pressure to the leather. You will have one hand on the neck end and one on the tail end. Pull carefully so that the skin stays straight along the lengthwise grain and not on the bias. For larger skins, it may be difficult to put pressure on the skin. Pull the skin all the way along the edge of the table so that the entire skin experiences an even pressure.
    Repeat the stretching by moving your hands a little way along the skin with each pass, each time pulling the entire length of the skin along the edge of the table. Repeat from the beginning until no lengthwise stretch is left in the skin. The leather will show creases, but as long as the surface of the skin is unmarked, they are not a problem.
    When the skin will not stretch farther, lay the skin down on the cutting surface and smooth out the creases in a lengthwise motion. Then it is ready for cutting.
    The point of this exercise is breaking down the fibers inside the skin. There is still enough elasticity that the glove will fit, but it won't stretch out of shape after you spend hours sewing."

    Before any of the actual glove construction could take place, however, the embroidery had to be done. The cuff needed to remain flat for this process.


    Those of you who know me well know that I do not hand embroider.  I have been graced with a few talents, and lamentably needlework is not one of them.  That’s why I have an embroidery machine.  (Or as I like to refer to her at SCA events, “my Viking slave, Husqvarna”!)

    I used traditional SCA motifs (Bel’s heraldry, plus those associated with her various awards) and colors (bright, very bright) to build up the piece, rather than more authentic design elements. 

    Embroidery Design

    I had never embroidered on leather before, so it took several test runs to build my confidence enough to embroider on the real glove.  Tips for embroidering on leather: the stitches should be fairly open – dense areas of stitching will make the leather stretch and pucker.  Also, use water soluble interfacing on both the bottom and top of the piece. Cut-away or tear-away interfacing will make the embroidery too stiff for the leather. The layer on top helps prevent the stitches from sinking into the leather. Trim as much of the interfacing as possible before soaking the piece to remove the rest.  Be careful not to twist or bend the leather during this process, and dry it perfectly flat. (I sandwiched it between multiple layers of paper towel with a heavy weight on top.) 

    Embroidered Gauntlet

    If you like the Tudor Rose design, you can download it for free here.

    Silk Binding/Lining
    Lo, these many years ago, I spent wayyyyy too much money on some silk suiting for a late-15th century Spanish saya.  Just enough silk survived to make a new bodice based on some different ideas for approaching the cut and construction.  However, in the intervening years I have whittled away the fabric with scraps for more immediate cuff linings! 

    I wasn’t really sure how best to apply the silk, as some glove descriptions identified a “lining” and others a “binding”, and I wanted to do both.  The lining helps protect and hide the back side of the machine embroidery, and wrapping it around the edges of the gauntlet provided a beautiful finished edge.  This same edge will support the fringe… if I successfully come up with a solution for the fringe…

    Silk Lining

    Fringe Benefits
    I lost two days in pursuit of fringe.  At first I tried getting Husqvarna to do it but her work is so delicate, it didn’t capture the look and feel of the extant pieces.  (Read: machine embroidery thread is too fine for a truly period look.)  I could have worked with her on thread selection and techniques of course, but it seemed to me that my time would be better spent perfecting an approach to making woven fringe.  

    While the original fringe would have been silk, I didn’t have enough selection on hand to weave a complete band, so I settled on black cotton. A tabby woven narrow band with weft left long one side – perhaps using a shed stick to provide a constant depth for the extra weft. (Miguel, being the crazy talented woodworker that he is, whipped up a beautiful, smooth shed stick of ebony for me, the width of which dictated the depth of the fringe.) It worked. 


    First Fringe Test

    I had to find the right balance between the size of the warp and weft yarns.  After several different trials (on a tinkle loom, natch, to save yarn), I settled on a warp that was slightly heavier than thread, and a weft that was #5 or #3 DMC cotton yarn. But the test patterns also revealed a bigger problem.  Since the weft wasn’t packed against the warp on the right – because of the extra length to make the fringe – the band fell apart on that side!  A supplemental weft of black thread solved that problem, but then I couldn’t pack the weaving tight enough to get that characteristic soft zigzag seen in the original. 

    Subsequent Tests

    The solution: instead of a supplemental weft, I used a needle and thread to sew the warp threads in place as I was weaving.  Definitely not the quickest method, but it produced the desired results! Some day I want to learn more about fringe techniques, and try a few examples in silk.  Along with everything else on my to-do list. 

    At this point in construction, time was running out.  (Why don’t we ever budget enough time to finish our projects without panicking?)  With two weeks left to go, I decided to focus on sewing the glove, and weaving and applying the fringe if any time remained.

    Gimme Some Skin!
    Big thoughts: sewing leather is not the same as sewing fabric. I know that should be obvious, and yet there it is. 

    If you put the needle through where you didn’t mean to, the hole left behind doesn’t go away. 

    If you didn’t cut your edges perfectly smooth, it shows. 

    The seam allowances are miniscule. 

    You can’t use a plethora of pins to hold the pieces together while sewing (see early note on holes).  I used tailor tacks instead, which slowed the process down more than I expected. 

    You can’t just push the needle through – trust me, I lost count of the number of times I cavalierly tried to apply just a little more force and got the EYE end of the needle stuck deep in my flesh.  It took a thimble pushing from one side, and a pair of needle-nosed pliers pulling from the other side.  (A thinner leather probably would have been more accommodating.)

    I followed the basic approach in Glove Making to put the gloves together.  Thumb first (using a lapped seam), then the fourchettes to the back of the hand. These were sewn with cotton embroidery floss with an oversewn stitch to produce dramatic details on the fingers.  I would have liked to use silk but didn’t have any on hand which was heavy enough for achieve the same look.  I stopped sewing near the end of the finger where the fourchette was to be trimmed to shape.  (In the originals, the fourchettes stop well short of the finger tips, unlike most modern gloves.)

    Halfway There!

    The fronts of the fourchettes were sewn with a regular running stitch; the tops of the fingers were sewn together with the same oversewn technique as the backs.  The glove was closed with a running stitch that ended at the top of the cuff.  With two days to spare!

    Close Glove - Palm Closed Glove - Back

    On to the fringe!  Needless to say, I finished weaving with barely a minute to spare, and spent the whole trip to Chesapeake sewing the fringe into place.

    Applied Fringe

    The Final Glove:

    Finished Glove 

    Anderson, Ruth Matilda. Hispanic Costume 1480-1530. New York: Hispanic Society of America, 1979. <back>

    Duello gloves, (rapier/fencing gloves). Franchesca V. Havas .<back>

    Emlyn-Jones, Gwen. Glove Making: The Art & the Craft. Berkley, Calif: Lacis Publications, 2003. <back>

    Le Reste, Fanche. Le gant. Archives pour une histoire de la mode. Paris: J. Damase, 1984. <back>

    Redfern, W. B. Royal and Historic Gloves and Shoes. London: Methuen & Co, 1904. <back>

    The Renaissance Tailor, Gloves. Tammie L. Dupuis. <back>

    Trump, R. W. Drafting a Simple Pair of Gloves in the Style of the Renaissance. 1990. <back>

    Victoria & Albert Museum, items: T.145&A-1931, 1506&A-1882, 711&A-1875 <back>

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