Source: "Shakespeare in 100 Objects"
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
William Shakespeare’s father, John, was a master glover and whittawer (leatherworker) by trade in Stratford-upon-Avon. He would have begun his career as an apprentice to a master for seven years before starting his own business. The soft white leather used for the gloves that John made came from the hides of horses, deer, hounds, goats and sheep. Unfortunately, there was no glover’s guild (or tradesmen’s company) in Stratford until 1606, five years after John Shakespeare died.
At this time in Tudor England, everyone wore some sort of glove, but not all wore the same kinds. Servants in the fields would have worn heavy leather gloves to protect their hands from cuts and scratches. In contrast, wealthier people would have worn the goat kid gloves that John Shakespeare was making. These would be worn at court, to local events, to church, and to town. They were a sign of wealth and showed that the wearer had enough leisure to treat their hands well. Even wealthy men wore fine gloves. They were also used as presents during Tudor times.
The kid gloves worn by the rich would have been highly-adorned and decorated and, thus, expensive. Before debts got him into trouble, John would have been a well-off middle-class tradesman able to provide for his large family quite comfortably. William himself probably worked with his father and learned the glove-making trade. Shakespeare makes numerous references to gloves in his plays. Gloves would have been worn not only in daily society, but by the costumed actors in Shakespeare’s plays.
The gloves shown above are 17th century kid (goat’s leather) gloves on display at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. These ultra-soft gloves are adorned with silver bullion (a piece of highly-concentrated silver) braid and a pink silk lining. Gloves were worn not only on the hands, but also tucked into a hat band or belt. You will see gloves in many portraits of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods.
Make your own pair of decorated gloves:
Here is your chance to be a costume designer! You can decorate a pair of leather (with your parents' permission to use them!), cotton, wool or lace gloves or make a pair out of paper and decorated those.
You will need:
*A measuring tape
*1 yard of wide lace
*A pair of gloves
*A filled water bottle (small)
*Glue (hot glue gun - with help from parents, or white glue)
*Optional: decorative braiding, buttons, beads, gems, etc.
How to decorate your fabric gloves:
Measure your wrist and add a couple of inches to that number. Cut your lace to that size length.
Put our glove over the top of the water bottle so that you can work with both hands.
Wrap the lace around your glove, and secure it in place with your masking tape.
Work your way around the glove with your glue, pulling back the edge a bit at a time in order to glue it into place.
When you are finished with your lace, you can add any other embellishments that you fancy!
How to decorate your paper gloves:
Trace each of your hands onto a piece of paper of your choosing. It can be construction paper, craft paper, wrapping paper or even newspaper!
Cut out your tracings.
Measure a piece of lace to cover the length of the wrist end of each glove on the top side. Glue this lace into place.
Add paper, beads, yarn, thread, buttons, gems or fabric embellishments to your gloves with glue to make them truly elegant!
*Share pictures of your projects in the comments section here. We would love to see what you have done!
Project adapted from Shakespeare for Kids: His Life and Times, 21 Activities by Colleen agesen and Margie Blumberg, 1999.