HAND-CRAFTED LEATHER GOODS
Making a pair of gloves
When you take up glove making as a craft you are joining a company which has a long and honourable history, going back through the centuries. Nobody quite knows when gloves were first worn generally, by both men and women, either as a means of keeping warm, or as an indispensable part of their costume. We do know that strong leather gloves were worn for hawking as far back as the 12th century. The first recorded instance of glove maker was in Perth, Scotland, around 1165, although it is highly likely that other glove makers existed elsewhere and probably earlier. A guild of glove makers was incorporated in France in 1190, and one in London around 1600.
Over time elaborately decorated gloves were worn on ceremonial occasions by the clergy and nobility alike. Antique gloves which have survived are naturally those which belonged to the most important people of their time. There is little or no information as to what ordinary people wore. In Elizabethan times gloves were made from the finest leather, silks and satins, often elaborately embroidered with gold and gemstones. Many examples can be seen in museums up and down the country.In the 15th century glove makers banded together in guilds, powerful enough to enforce their own very high standards. Gloves which did not reach the standard were seized and burned. This pride in good workmanship has survived to the present day.
Historical records detail the existence and use of gloves back to pre-historic times, yet it wasn't until the 19th century that a method for sizing gloves was devised.
In 1834 a man named Zavier Jouvin from Grenoble established a system of
sizing gloves by measuring the hand around its widest part, the knuckles. Finger
lengths varied and hands were grouped by comparing their widths. Jouvin's
measurement system is called "Pied de Roe", or "King's Foot" and is about ¾"
longer than the English foot measurement.
This system of measuring hands required the development of a special measuring tape, which is still used today for glove sizing. Glove sizes have, therefore, not been affected by metrication, and are usually sized from 4 - 10, plus quarter sizes. The hand that is used the most is measured, as it tends to be slightly larger. Usually this is the hand that the person writes with. The size of the glove is the number shown on the measuring tape. (see Glove sizes).
Gloves, nowadays, are much simpler, though the elaborate embroidery which once adorned their backs still survives in the form of the "points" with which even the simplest gloves are decorated and are a normal part of our ordinary attire. Women’s gloves, more so than men’s, can vary with changing fashions.
Traditionally glove-making has been carried on with "outworkers" – makers and cutters working in their own homes. This makes sound economic sense, as the sale of gloves is seasonal and depends a lot on cold weather. This custom is still in use today.
During the 17th and early 18th century gloves were cut out in factories and sent out to nearby villages. There they would be sewn together by hand with the aid of a piece of apparatus called a ''Glover's Donkey'' The completed gloves were then returned to the factory for distribution. The princely sum of 5/- for one dozen pairs was paid for the great deal of sewing involved – each glove taking three hours to make.
Factory-made gloves are nearly always sewn on special machines. Working in their own homes modern-day glove makers without doubt make gloves almost entirely by hand. The hand worker normally has only an ordinary sewing machine available so finds it much easier to sew seams by hand. With the exception of the points and wrist edges which are often better if they are stitched by machine. Making gloves by hand means each pair can be made to fit the wearer for whom it is intended.
Leather gloves are of course the most hard-wearing of all. They keep their shape well and are warm and comfortable.
Materials:-Leather for making gloves must be supple, fairly thin and attractive to the eye, and to touch. Suede can be obtained in a variety of colours. Chamois normally is a pale yellow but can be dyed an infinity of attractive colours, while doeskin is an almost white, cream, though it too can be almost any colour Skins suitable for making gloves are: buckskin, cabretta, calf, cape, chamois, deer, doe, goat, mocha, kid and pigskin.
The average size of a skin is from 4' – 8' square. Check each skin avoiding any and note whether there are many thin places. If there are, do not buy it. In particular check the edges and pull gently between the fingers. If the skin appears likely to tear and looks papery, don’t buy it.
Suede is the perfect material for making formal gloves, but care must be taken with cutting out due to the "pile" which must all go the same way. Suede doesn’t wear quite so well as other leathers as it tends to go shiny, and cleaning them can prove difficult.
Sheepskin and lamb's wool, too, can be used for gloves and the woolly side can be inside or outside according to the taste of the wearer and the purpose for which the gloves are required.
Preparing the skin:-Roll the skin tightly, lengthwise, flesh-side out and place in a moist cloth (not soaking), and wind the cloth tightly around it, and leave for a couple of hours. Do not allow the grain side of the leather to get wet.
Stretching the Skin:-After removing the skin from the cloth begin to stretch it along the edge of, for example, a table. This process must be thorough and requires some muscle. Letting more and more of the skin hang over the side of the table, pull it evenly, and strongly, downwards. Do this several times but only lengthwise. Do not stretch along its width.
Other Materials:-Although leather is the best material of all for gloves, for the ladies there are several others which can be pressed into service: lace, felt, velvet, silk, jersey or matching cloth from a costume. These are, however, more difficult to handle than leather since they usually require neatening, and in any case have no place in these pages.
Tools:-The tools required for glove making are extremely simple and easy to obtain. Ordinary sewing needles are used for the finer types of leather, while for the thicker and tougher kinds you can buy three-sided gloving needles in various sizes, glove needles, size no’s 6, 7, and 8. Size 6 is heavy and used for men's and women's gloves made of heavier leather. Size 7 is used for nearly all kinds of leather and size 8 for the thinnest and finest skins, such as kid, doe, etc. Any thread can be used. Certain parts of a glove can be sewn by machine and for this purpose a no. 16 or 18 needle is recommended.
The thread you use will depend on the leather it is to sew. You can buy special gloving thread in several thicknesses and this is obtainable in most of the colours you are likely to need. Buttonhole twist can also be used (Glossary of Thread terms). The chief thing to remember is that the thread, like the needle, must be thin enough to pass easily through the leather without dragging and must be strong enough to stand a good deal of wear without breaking.
In addition to needles and thread you will need a pair of very sharp scissors. These should be small enough to get round corners easily, but large enough to give smooth, even cuts. If you intend to make any fur or sheepskin gloves you will also need a razor blade or a really sharp leather knife, as fur must never be cut with scissors. When cutting out gloves it is usual to lay the pattern on the leather and draw all round it with a sharp pencil. Use a soft drawing pencil on light coloured leathers and a white or red chinagraph pencil on leathers on which the mark will not show.
A tool for inserting press studs is useful, but not essential. These tools cost little and the press studs can be obtained in various sizes and colours for a few pence per ten. If the leather is thin, it is wise to place a small extra piece of leather under each half of the stud, in order to give added strength.
It is important to hold your leather flat, especially after it has been cut, avoiding unnecessary stretching.
Some gloves are decorated very attractively with thonging (lacing), and if you wish to use this method you will need a leather punch for making the holes. Punches are not expensive. The thonging (lacing) can be bought by the metre or you can, of course, cut your own. As the amount required is usually small this is not a big job. The lengths should be cut carefully and as long as possible and should be about ¹/8" wide.