Sunday 9 December 2012

Knitted gloves

Top of a nalbinded sock date c.300-500 AD - Egyptian

When looking at early modern period gloves the tendency is to look at the wonderful surviving leather gloves decorated with embroidery in gold, silver and silk threads, but knitted gloves were also around at the time. Knitting is a late comer to the textile crafts, with true knitting starting somewhere around the 10th or 11th centuries in the Middle East.(Rutt 1987)(Turnau 1991)  Items dated earlier than this are usually, on closer inspection, nalbinding, which looks like a twisted knit stitch, see the close ups of a c.300-500AD nalbinded sock and a 16th century knitted silk glove and see if you can see the difference. One point in nalbinding favour is that, although it is difficult to do, it does not unravel as knitting does.

Close up of 16th century knitted silk glove
The earliest surviving knitted gloves in Europe are fragmentary, from burials, and the earliest date probably from the late 13th century.(Cardon 1997)(Lyffland 2005) (Rowe 1969). Moving into the 16th century we have survivals of silk knitted bishops’ gloves such as those belonging to New College, Oxford, and associated with William Warham (c. 1450–1532). Bishop Nicholaus Shimer’s gloves of c.1510 also survive. The V&A museum have two possibly Spanish gloves from this century both knitted in red silk with patterns in yellow silk, and some silver. One has a design incorporating crosses, hearts and croziers, and is knitted at 23 stitches and 20 rows to the inch. (Carbonell 2007) Carbonell’s article is available online here. The other pair in the V&A has the IHS in a medallion on the back of the hand. There are several similar liturgical gloves in the collection of the Worshipful Company of Glovers of London.
Silk knitted gloves were also worn by the gentry, the best known example is probably the Sture glove which belonged to Sten Svantesson Sture, who died aged 25 in 1565, and whose clothes were placed in Uppsala Cathedral, Sweden. The glove is beige and has patterns and lines of red, green, yellow and brown, there are three rings in gold around the bottom of the fingers and the name Frevchen Sophia knitted into the palm. It was attached to his hat band, so it was presumably being worn as a favour.  The Glovers’ Collection has a two pair of ladies elbow length Italian knitted gloves from the second half of the 17th century. One is in pink with bands of florets in silver and gold around the arm, and tendrils extending up the fingers. The other is purple and has stylised animals and flowers.

Knitting in the round
The evidence for working class gloves is less extensive, as the wool from which they were made does not survive as well. The Museum of London has a 16th century child’s woollen mitten, found at Finsbury, in a beige/light brown colour with a simple brown/black pattern around the wrist. From the end of the seventeenth century we have a pair of gloves found in a burial at Gunnister in the Shetland Islands. The original publication of the finds by Henshall (1951-2)  can be found here, but recently the Shetland Museum has undertaken a reconstruction of the complete set of clothes and their leaflet on this can be found here. The gloves are worked in two ply wool at 17 stitches to the inch, and like all the gloves discussed so far are worked in the round. The cuff has a pattern of bands produced by using garter stitch (one round plain knit, one round purl), stocking stitch (all plain knit) and all purl rounds. The backs of the hands have three arrows worked in purl on the stocking stitch. Patterns have been created by various people for reconstructing these gloves just google -Gunnister gloves pattern - and you will find several. If you are an experienced knitted you may be able to work it out from the description in Henshall. The excavations at Copenhagen have also produced a selection of knitted gloves dating from the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Lise Warburg (1989) decribes some of these gloves in detail. The “dandy’s” gloves, found in a moat that was filled in before 1668, is the one with five rows of fringe knitted into the border, and is 18 inches long, elbow length. There are also women’s gloves; one dating to the 1620s has a tight wrist section, but a wide cuff, while another slightly later in date has a cuff covered in sewn on fringe, and Warburg has a pattern created by Ingid Plum based on this glove.

Carbonell, Silvia. “Guantes episcopales con mensaje :Episcopal gloves with a message.” Datatextil, December 2007.
Cardon, Dominique. “French liturgical gloves (unpublished paper).” Unravelling the Evidence: Joint meeting of the Early Knitting History Group, and the Medieval Dress and Textile Society , 1997.

Henshall, A. and Maxwell, S. “Clothing and other articles from a late 17th century grave at Gunnister, Shetland.” Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 1951-2.

Lyffland, Anneke. “A study of a 13th century votic knit fragment.” 2005.
Rowe, Margaret. “Fragments from the tomb of an unknown bishop of Sant Denis, Paris.” Bulletin of the Needle and Bobbin Club, 1969: 27-33.

Rutt, R. A history of handknitting. London: Batsford, 1987.
Turnau, Irena. History of Knitting Before Mass Production . Warsaw: Akcent, 1991.

Warburg, Lise. Knitted gloves from 17th century Copenhagen. Danish Handcraft Guild, 1989.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.