Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Gloves of Doom: Part 1, Design

gloves in the collection of the Victoria and Albert museum
ca 1603-1625
In my earlier post about glove making I talked about the seed of an idea that was born while trying to figure out how to make fencing gloves for the Husbeast. In a nutshell I discovered the totally over the top confection that is Elizabethan embroidered gloves. These creations of silk, gilt threads, pearls, lace and spangles, are the ultimate gesture of wealth and power. Totally impractical, completely dramatic: pieces of wearable art. I was instantly fascinated, but  I couldn't see Husbeast actually wearing anything so.... frilly... no matter what period men would have thought about it.

Gloves from the collection of the
Livrustkammaren  ca 1620
But as soon as I saw this incredible (and understated by period standards) pair from the collection of the Livrustkammaren museum, I knew I could design something for the Husbeast. Clearly his life was not going to be complete without these gloves. Unfortunately this pair is likely from the early 1600's, when the the embroidered glove fashion was really gaining steam. But there were several pairs attributed to Queen Elizabeth I, so all hope of placing this style within period for SCA purposes (pre 1600) and within reason for my husband (who's somewhere between 1550-80 for style) was not lost. I went on a research rampage: I looked at every single pair of gloves I could find, and consulted the good gentles in the Elizabethan costuming group, and the historic embroidery group, who are always helpful at pointing out good resources.

There's a good deal of difficulty, of course, in dating some of these items. Unless we know exactly whom it belonged to, or have pictorial or document evidence tying it directly to a date and person, the best that can be done, even by experienced professional curators, is to pin a date range on the item. Fashion trends, portraiture, style of embroidery, materials used, oral or documented history attached to an item, can all point to a probable date. Without expert knowledge, or access to the actual items, I rely on the dating of the museums where these gloves are housed.

The earliest embroidered gloves I could find were this gents embroidered glove, dated 1580-1600, housed in the Museum of Leathercraft.

And this gentleman's gauntlet, dated 1575-1625 housed in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

There are also several pairs attributed to that Maven of fashion: Queen Elizabeth I, including this lovely pair she is supposed to have worn at her coronation.

In my mind, this makes the the embroidered gauntlet glove definite pre 1600, even though the height of the fashion, and the really extreme examples of opulence come much later. I consider it plausible for 1560-80. and therefore an in for my husband.

Gloves in the collection of the Museum of Fine
Arts, Boston, showing a hunt scene. 
A perusal of every pair of extant glove I could find, and exhaustive discussion about embroidery styles with the historical embroidery group, as well as more experienced SCA members, lead me to the conclusion that the earlier pairs relied more heavily on couching and satin stitch and less on the surface stitches: detached buttonhole, Elizabethan chain stitch, and their like.  The earlier examples, as a group, also seem to be slightly less, encrusted, in design than those at the height of the fashion. At the height of the fashion it seemed to be the goal to use all of the possible design elements at once: pearls, spangles, gold lace, silk ruffles, and embroidery, and in the largest volume possible for ultimate opulence.

 Elizabethan embroideries relied on source materials from both life and, as books became more easily available, a plethora of printed materials. Exotic floral patterns were popular, as were humbler native flowers, and all sorts of fauna both realistic and exotic. Even fruits and veggies can be found in exuberant Elizabethan embroidered scenes. (1)

pair of gloves CA 1620 in the collection of the MET
Certain design elements seem to be popular across the board: the scalloped edge is seen on most of the gloves with applied cuffs, and lace or fringed edging on almost all the examples. in gloves with attached gauntlets, some sort of decorative covering for the seam attaching the gauntlet to the glove proper was typically used: Whether it be a small goldwork stitch, or a silken ruffle edged with lace and spangles in the more opulent examples. Pattern elements were often enclosed in decorative vinework, or goldwork, and then open spaces filled with smaller motifs, with interspersed knots, beads, or frequently spangles. Negative space seems to have been the enemy of the Elizabethan embroiderer. This is more true on those gloves with an applied cuff rather than an integral leather cuff. The integral cuff examples as a group feature less embroidery, and more visible ground than the applied cuff group.

In about half of the 102 surviving gloves I lookedat the embroidery was done on a cloth cuff, most typically of silk backed  with linen (2) (although some linen and canvas examples exist 3) or sometimes stiffened with paper (the victoria and albert museum has a pair like this). Not all the collections list what materials are used under the embroidered satin, but from experience with gloves, fabric, and embroidery, I consider it likely that all the satin cuffed gloves had some sort of strength layer underneath to make the cuff hold the desired shape. In addition, the majority of the gloves were lined, or partially lined, with only a few examples being listed as unlined.

Although the scalloped edge is the most popular, there are smooth edged gauntlets surviving:
L: National Armory, Stockholm, Sweden. ca 1620  R: the MET, 16th century
A number of the earlier pairs feature embroidery around the thumb, as well as the attached gauntlet.(this is my favorite pair again. So fabulous.) later in the period, towards the end of the 16th century, the embroidery started moving down the glove and onto the hand, but this is not seen on any of the earlier examples.

from the collection of the Worshipful Order of Glovers, 
After looking at so many gloves my eyes were starting to blur, I decided on a theme of mythical beasts, (which was not as popular as floral designs, but was a thing. There's a fabulous pair with phoenix's on them 4) with a lozenge pattern inspired by the amazing gloves from the  Livrustkammaren and an equally incredible pair from the collection of the Worshipful Order of Glovers collection. I took the the cuff pattern for my husband's gauntlet, traced it into my sketchbook, and using heraldry books (5) and pictures of extant gloves as source material, started drawing. I eventually came up with this

Right glove, top to bottom: Wyvvern, Griffin, Antelope, and Sea lion.
Left glove, top to bottom: sea unicorn, phoenix, calygreyhound, and basilisk.
my signature mouse, sitting on a stalk of lavender, is on the bottom of the left glove. I plan to work the mouse in my own hair (which was a thing in the Elizabethan period as well as the Victorian 6)

They will be worked with silk, gold, and spangles onto chocolate brown silk over linen (silk colored to match the gloves was common according to the collection of the Worshipful Order of Glovers) on brown suede gloves (white or beige was the most common in collections, but brown was the next most popular color, and darker colors did exist. it was about 50/50 between grain and suede side out leather in the gloves I looked at.)

1) English embroidery of the late tudor and stewart eras. Article from the MET. Melinda Watt, 2010
2) Detailed descriptions from the victoria and albert museums collection.
3) The worshipful company of glovers collection of 75 gloves of this type has 2 with a linen ground, and 3 with a canvas ground, which is most probably also linen.
4) Worshipful company of glovers collection, accession number 23342
5) The Heraldic Imagination, Rodney Dennys,  Clarkson Potter, 1976, ISBN-10: 0517526298
6) Elizabethan Stitches: a guide to Historic English Needlework, Jaqui Carey, Carey Company 2012, ISBN-10: 0952322587, Page 13

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