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Demonstrations>Accessories:Western European>Gloves

From pattern to hand -

The most difficult part of making gloves is not in the construction. Nor is it in the drafting of the pattern (although there are some surprises there). Nope... the most difficult part of making gloves lies in choosing the proper materials and preparing those materials. I can hear you saying to yourself, "wait a minute... that's always been the easy part!". Well, normally, it is. But not this time. Why, do you ask? Read on, O Adventurous Costumer as we enter the mysterious land of the Glover's Art. Many travelers have been lost here, so stick close!

Brief History -

Gloves are defined in the Columbia Encyclopedia as "covering(s) for the hand with separate sections for the fingers and the thumb, usually extending over the wrist or part of the arm". Linen gloves were found in the tomb of Tutankhamen in Egypt and there are several instances in the archeological record of the Bronze age that indicate that the concept of gloves was understood and practiced. Several extant pieces have separate sheaths for fingers but these are not well fitted.

Gloves as we know them date from approximately the 11th century. Gloves in Europe were often richly jeweled and ornamented and were worn as a badge of distinction by royalty and by church dignitaries. In the 12th century gloves became a definite part of fashionable dress for the wealthy. Scented gloves, a custom that lasted until the 18th century, came into vogue at about this time. The 16th and 17th century saw extravagantly ornamented gloves; made of leather, linen, silk, or lace. They were often jeweled, embroidered, or ornamented with lace, bullion, and fringe. Catherine de Médicis, queen consort of Henry II of France, made gloves for women fashionable. Many portraits of the time show the wealthy with their gloves, either worn or held in hand. In the Great Wardrobe of Robes of Queen Elizabeth I, there are several entries of gifts of gloves to the Queen.

Guilds of glove makers first made their appearance in 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.

The emphasis on gloves during the late 16th century was less on proper fit and more on the item as an ornamental accessory. In some ways this really surprised me but made sense. One of my theories on clothing construction in the late sixteenth century is that the techniques for fitting around such a dynamic portion of the body had not been completely discovered yet. Tailors at this time are still having problems with sleeve heads and understanding as well as using bias. In other words, don't be discouraged if your first set of gloves doesn't fit all that well. Additionally, I would encourage you to buy some yardage of polyester felt or wool felt (which ever you can lay hand to) and make a mockup from that material first, before cutting into your leather/silk/linen. I found it extremely helpful to make a set of gloves from felt (it has stretch and non-stretch properties) and I got a real sense of where trouble spots would occur. It doesn't take all that long to make up a glove - I can make up one in about three hours... completely hand sewn (remember that I loath hand sewing). Speaking of hand sewing... this demo is done entirely by hand. There will be areas that you will probably see opportunity to use a machine; go for it. Do whatever works for you.

Choosing The Materials -

Leather, Silk, Linen or Velvet... Oh, the agony of choice! I made my mockup out of wool felt and it was really fun. It went together like a dream. Felt behaves rather like leather, which was why I choose felt with which to make the mockup. However, when it comes to accessories, I like decadence. And nothing says decadence like velvet... which is what I choose to make the gloves for this demo. Nothing ravels or behaves as badly as velvet either. While I did not ultimately make a set of leather gloves for this demo, I will describe the process - which is a bit different from fabric. I will also describe the thought and work process for various types of fabric. In the end, if you are at all trepidatious, leather is easier to work with. If you're even close to the edge of insanity, go for the velvet! If you're not feeling all that adventurous, go for leather.

When choosing a leather, look for something with a smooth, even grain that is somewhat thin. When choosing a fabric, look for a fabric with a tight, even weave to it. If you are like me, and absolutely must have velvet, choose instead a velveteen that is tightly woven. The expense is really worth it. Gloves don't take a great deal of fabric so don't be tempted to cut corners by getting cheap fabric... you'll regret it.

Preparing The Materials -

Leather requires some working *before* you cut out your gloves. Leather has a grain and the greatest amount of stretch in leather is across this grain. Therefore, the grain line should run parallel with the fingers so that the stretch is across the knuckles, where it is most required. The next most critical step in using leather is to determine if it needs stretching *prior* to use. This is really important. If you have very stretchy leather and make your gloves from it without stretching it out beforehand, you'll end up with gloves that are baggy after being worn for a bit. Stretch is desirable. Controlling that stretch is the trick. The best way to do this is to take the leather in hand and tug at it. Observe how stretchy it is and if it bounces back after you stretch it out or not. If it is particularly stretchy, you'll need to do some prep work with it. Get it wet and then stretch it first with the grain. Stretch until it will not stretch any more. Let it dry. Wet it down again and stretch it this time across the grain but do not stretch it completely out. It does need a bit of stretch here. Let it dry again and proceed with cutting out your glove pattern.

Fabric, especially even weave fabric, has very little stretch to it - either with or across grain. There is very little prep work required here except to pre-wash. It is really important to pre-wash if you intend to ever wash your gloves. Gloves fit tight. Any little bit of shrinkage and your gloves will not fit at all.

Making The Pattern -

This is the part that I found particularly fascinating. I have included a somewhat modified 'period' pattern and a modern pattern. The gloves for this demo are made from a period pattern but my mockup was made using a modern pattern. There is not too much difference between the two but I wanted to get comfortable with a pattern I knew would work before jumping into a pattern that I did not know much about. In this instance, I advise approaching this as I did - start with a modern pattern and then, after one or two sets of gloves, tackle the period pattern. Additionally, and I cannot stress this enough, make at least one mockup of both!

Please pay special attention to the differences in the period thumb pattern and the modern one. It's subtle but it's there. The period thumb is somewhat lopsided and this is done on purpose! My first thumb was symmetrical and when I inserted it, I had an unsightly wrinkle on the top of the thumb where it meats the hand.

If you are using leather, use the size pattern that you have determined is needed. If you are using fabric, go up one size. The reason for this is that you'll be needing a somewhat larger seam allowance for fabric. More on that below.

Finding a good modern pattern can be somewhat difficult. There are a number of places on the internet that can be useful but be careful when choosing a pattern. Make sure that it is a dress glove pattern, not a work glove pattern.

Finding a good period pattern is impossible. Making your own pattern can be fun, however...

The first thing you want to do is put your hand down on a piece of paper as shown above. Trace around it but do not trace tightly. Hold the pencil or pen straight up and down as you trace so that you don't run your tracing line under your fingers or hand. Once this is done, take a ruler or straight edge and true up the lines. Make sure that your finger slits are running exactly parallel with the edge of the paper.

Now make a mirror image of your pattern on another piece of paper and tape the two together. At this point there is no front or back. This piece is called the 'trank'. Once you have done all of the above, take your straight edge or ruler and run a line down the middle of the index finger of one side. On this same side, mark where your wrist line is. Now it is time to measure out where your thumb hole should be.

In the photo to the right, place your hand back down on the pattern and put dots to indicate where your thumb base, web and knuckle are. Notice that the line down the center of the index finger is used at a point of reference. Once you have those three dots, move your and and make a corresponding fourth dot directly across from the knuckle dot.

Draw an oval using the dots as points of reference. Draw in the thumb gusset and make it no longer or shorter than the center of the oval. This gusset is fairly important as it makes it possible for the thumb to have much greater mobility. At this point, your pattern should look similar to the one on the left.

Making the thumb piece pattern is a bit tricky. To start, fold a piece of paper in half and put your thumb on the fold making sure that the fold runs parallel to the side of the index finger and to the wrist. Draw around your thumb. Open up the paper and draw a mirror image of your pattern on the other side. Remember to hold the pencil straight up and down while tracing and give yourself a little bit of room.

Once you've done the above, your pattern should look similar to the photo to the right. Also, please notice that I have shaved off just a little bit on one side of the thumb base. The reason I have done this is that, when I made my mockup, my thumb pattern was symmetrical. When I set it into the hole, there was a bulge of fabric on the top of the hand where the thumb seam joined to it. I determined that the thumb pattern should have just a little less fabric on this edge. After looking at a few period gloves and at the modern pattern, I found that this was also done in both modern and period thumb pieces.

This is where it becomes crucial to make a mockup to test the fit of this thumb piece into the trank of the glove. Mathematically, there is a way to match these up on a paper pattern but I am not mathematically inclined. For me it is much, much easier to simply make a mockup and test the fit on that.

After the thumb piece comes what is known as the 'forechettes' or lengthwise pieces for between the fingers. This piece is pretty easy to make. Fold a piece of paper again and put it between the index finger and middle finger as shown in the photo to the left. It is crucial to make sure that the fold of the paper is riding directly on the webbing between the fingers. Notice the angle that it is sitting on. This is also an important part of making the forechette. Once you have it where it needs to be, simply trace around the index finger and add just a little bit at the top to make the forechette as long as the middle finger. Take a pair of scissors and cut out the pattern while the piece of paper is still folded.

Viola! Your forechette pattern. In looking at the modern pattern, the angle is pretty much the same. Modern forechettes, however, are all cut separately and sewn together on that angle before being sewn into the trank. In looking at period gloves, there appears to be a considerable difference in the shape of forechettes from time period to time period and from country to country.

Now, one last little thing... but it's important!. Going back to your trank pattern, you will notice that your palm side slits for the fingers and the back of the hand slits for the fingers are the same length. Take your forechette and fold it back together. Using the folded angle, measure and lengthen the back of the hand slits for the fingers. This serves to accommodate the knuckle and webbing that we just measured the forechettes to accommodate.

Because I am paranoid, I measured these just a little less than the actual length of the fold. If they are too short, I can always cut them a bit more later, while sewing. If I cut them too long, I will find out during the sewing in of the forechettes and that is a bit too late. Measure out and lengthen all the slits on the back of the hand side of the trank.

Lastly, I found it interesting to compare and contrast a modern pattern with a period one.

Cutting Out -

Here's where you'll get bogged down a bit if you chose fabric instead of leather. In order to prep the fabric so that it will not fray to pieces at the first wearing, you will need to stop that fraying before it starts. In period, this was done through the use of Gum Arabic. I've got some, have used it, and it's good stuff. But it does wash out. So I advise either Fray-Chec or Fray-No-More. Fray-Chec is found at most huge fabric stores. It's a clear liquid and goes on easily. If you can't find Fray-No-More, it's the next best thing but it does make the edges of the fabric 'crunchy' and somewhat unpleasant to have next to the skin. As long as your gloves are not super tight, this should be ok. Fray-No-More can be found at Fred Meyer's (a one-stop shopping store here in the Northwest US). It looks more like a white glue and behaves much more like Gum Arabic. It does not leave the edge of the fabric as 'crunchy' as Fray-Chec.

Once you've got all your pieces cut out, you'll need to run Fray-Chec or Fray-No-More or Gum Arabic around every single edge and let it dry before moving on. I really hated this part; I've got no patience. Also, as a word of caution, whether you are using leather or fabrics - DO NOT cut between the fingers yet. The biggest reason for this is that, as you are sewing along, all those dangly fingers will be hard to work around. If you are using fabric, this gives them a chance to start fraying.

Pay special attention to the method of cutting out forechettes from fabric. Since fabric does not have the stretch qualities across grain that leather does, that stretch has to come from somewhere! I chose to cut my forechettes on the bias, to accommodate this need for stretch. Leather forechettes are cut on grain. To cut the forechettes, the fold of the forechette is placed on the straight of grain if the glove is being made in fabric or leather. This means that the forechettes will be cut on the bias of the fabric which is important for that stretch.

Construction -

I actually enjoyed hand sewing these gloves together. I would advise, however, if you are thinking of embellishing your gloves at all, to do so before you sew them together. This is to facilitate the embellishment by allowing the glove to lay flat and open while you are working on it. The photo to the left shows the trank and thumb piece, already treated with Fray-No-More and ready to be sewn together. The cuff has been lined and the edges bound so that the back of the embroidery won't show.

The first thing to go together is the thumb piece. In modern gloves, the thumb is set into the hole first and then sewn up to the tip. I found this method awkward in a period pattern and chose to sew from the top down and then set the thumb in to the hole. The photo directly below shows the gusset of the trank inserted into the thumb piece.

Once you've got the thumb in, it's time to move on to the fingers. At this point, you can cut out between the index finger and the middle finger - but leave the others for later. Insert the forechette on the palm side first - meaning that you will sew the forechette to the palm side slit first and then to the back side of the trank. Start from the tip of the index finger, sew down along the palm side slit and back up to the tip of the middle finger and then around the back side slit. Once this is accomplished, you can move on to the next slit and so forth, cutting each as needed until you are finished. You may need to cut down the forechettes for the other two sets of fingers because the forechette was made to the measure of your two biggest fingers. What I did was to match the forechette to the slit, starting at the bottom and if it needed clipping, I did that before starting the sewing.

Because I used velvet and decided to have the seams to the inside, I had to turn the fingers. In order to make things easy at the end, I decided to turn each finger as it was completed. With leather, if you decide to have seams on the outside, this is not an issue. If you decide to lap the edges one over the other as is often done with fine modern gloves, this is also not an issue.

If you decided to use a modern pattern, you will need to sew your sets of forechettes together prior to inserting them. With a period pattern, the forechettes are cut as one.

After all the fingers are done, you can sew down the side and finish the glove.

The size of your stitches is pretty important. Make them small and even and make sure to give yourself the required amount of seam allowance so that things done ravel from stress. If you are making these gloves up in leather, you may want to do some practice stitching first to get the length of stitch and evenness of the stitch down. Leather, once punctured, does not heal! Fabric, at least, is a little more forgiving in this regard. The photo to the left shows the stitching on the thumb piece where it has been set into the trank.

Embellishment -

Gloves in period were embellished in the same ways and means as other pieces of clothing. Embroidery, lace, and fringe are all found on period examples. Some of the best examples and close-up pictures of them can be found in Fashion in Detail. I took the embellishment pattern for my velvet gloves straight from a set found in this book. The photo to the right shows the embellishment on my cuff before I started sewing the glove together. For even more ideas on period embellishment, I highly recommend visiting the website of the Costume Museum of Bath. They currently have a collection of gloves on loan from the Worshipful Company of Glovers of London.

Annotated Bibliography -

For further reading and glove making fun I suggest the following:


Threads Magazine, No. 19, Oct./Nov. 1988. "Handmaking Leather Gloves" by Jan Faulkner-Wagoner.
(This is the best article on making modern gloves that I've found so far)

Making Your Own Gloves, by Gwen Emlyn-Jones. Charles Scribner's Sons, NY 1974

The Art of Sewing; Novel Materials, Time-Life Books, 1974 by Franchesca Havas

There you have it. Gloves that fit and match your wardrobe! Happy Accessorizing!

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