Monday 5 October 2020

Mittens in the Early Modern

Leather, early 17th century. Met Museum

 Mittens, having a single undivided section for the fingers, usually with a separate part for the thumb,

 appear in archaeological survivals in Europe from as early as the 6th century. (Willemsen, 2015) This looks at some of the survivals from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, mainly in England.

The earliest mention of the making of mittens in England is a reference to Robertus le Mitenmaker in 1287 Norwich. There are occasional literary references, Piers Plowman, written c.1380, had “twey [two] mytenes, as mete”. Mete in this sense meaning normal or apportioned out. From about the same date Chaucer also mentions mittens in the Pardoner’s Tale, “He that his hand wol putte in this mitayn, He shal haue multiplyyng of his grayn.”

The list of survivals below starts with a 15th century example in the Museum of London, there are at least a dozen of these leather mittens that survive in archaeological finds in Holland.

Adult mittens -leather

15th century – Working man’s leather mitten

16th century – Working man’s leather mitten - V&A Museum

1540s – Two left handed leather mittens were found on the Mary Rose.

Early 1600s – Leather – Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Adult mittens - nålbindning

1500-1650 - The Åsle mitten, dated using carbon dating. It is made of wool using nålbindning, the remains of the fringe appear to have been in red white and green stripes. and

The Åsle mitten


Adult mittens - cloth

1600 – Black silk velvet mittens, trimmed with black silk fringe and lined with black silk plush, the gauntlets interlined with wool. – V&A Museum

1600 Crimson velvet mittens with white satin gauntlets, embroidered with silver and silver-gilt thread and coloured silks in a design incorporating flowers, insects, pillars, etc.  – V&A Museum

1600  Crimson silk velvet mittens with an embroidered gauntlet, National Trust, Dunham Massey-


Children’s and babies’ mittens

16th century – Child’s mitten – knitted wool with a pattern at the wrist. Museum of London

16th/17th century – Child’s mitten – knitted wool. Norfolk Museums Accession number: NWHCM : 1961.74.6, not currently on display and no image.!/?q=mitten

17th century – Baby’s mitten – V&A Museum – no image available

17th century – Baby’s mittens – V&A Museum

1650-1699 Baby’s mittens, fingerless – V&A Museum

1670-1699 Baby’s mittens, fingerless – V&A Museum

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