Glove Story of the Week - Seventeenth Century Purple Ecclesiastical Gloves | The Fashion Museum

Glove Story of the Week - Seventeenth Century Purple Ecclesiastical Gloves

Welcome to Week 11 of our series showcasing the world-class Glove Collection of the Worshipful Company of the Glovers of London, cared for and housed here in Bath at the Fashion Museum.

19 April 2019

Today is Good Friday, a Christian holiday observed during Holy Week on the Friday before Easter Sunday. The liturgical colours of the Anglican Church at this time of year have guided us in our choice of the Glove Story of the Week. Purple is associated with Lent, and red with Good Friday. Our gloves this week are purple; but because of the way that the dye has faded in the 300 years since the gloves were originally made, in certain lights the gloves look red.  

The purple/red gloves are knitted in stocking stitch in fine silk thread, with a design of stylised bird and bush motifs worked in intarsia patterning in silver gilt threads. They date from ca.1680-1700 and would have been knitted by hand, using four or more needles. 

Two types of gold-coloured thread were used to knit the pattern. There is a fine gilt wire, and also a slightly thicker thread of silver gilt with a yellow silk core. Holes were deliberately worked into the thumbs, first and second fingers of both gloves.

The silk thread from which these gloves are knitted would have been dyed by hand, most probably using madder or cochineal. Madder was used as a dye in Indus civilisations ca. 3000BC; it was made from the root of an herbaceous perennial plant called Rubia tinctorum. Cochineal was obtained from the dried bodies of a female insect called Coccus cacti. It was not used in Europe until after the ‘discovery’ of the Americas in the 1500s, and was sometimes called the ‘American dye’.

These knitted gloves have always been noted as Italian ecclesiastical gloves, and Florence was well-established as a centre of the dyeing industry by the early medieval period. Later on, by the 14th century, expertise and production moved to the Italian cities of Genoa, Lucca and Venice.

It seems likely therefore that while the silk from which these gloves are made would have been imported from the east, perhaps all other elements of their production – spinning and dyeing the threads, drawing up the design and then knitting the gloves took place in Italy.

We would love to learn more about 17th century knitted ecclesiastical Italian garments. Do you know of comparable examples, or descriptions or imagery that would help us to tell the story? 

If so, please do get in touch at [email protected] – we’d love to hear from you.

Glove Stories is on display at the Fashion Museum Bath until 1 March 2020. To celebrate we are highlighting one fabulous pair of gloves, or a single glove, from this wonderful collection every week.

Glove images Courtesy of the Worshipful Company of Glovers of London.