The third Glove Network seminar was originally planned to be hosted by Pittards, in Yeovil, Somerset, the internationally renowned brand and recognised producer of world class leather. However, on this occasion, 14 participants joined the virtual meeting due to the Covid-19 pandemic regulations, but it was no less informative or valuable for being online.
The number of the participants in each Glove Network seminar has grown since it first began, and it has been a pleasure to gather such a knowledgeable range of experts in all aspects of English leather gloves, from industry, museums, conservationists, and academics.
Debbie Burton, Director of Marketing, guided us through a virtual tour of Pittards which provided a fascinating insight into the leather making and leather manufacturing processes which uses the most up to date modern technology, as well as some labour intensive artisan skills. We learned that if leather didn’t exist today, it would need to be invented! Leather is an incredible product that cannot only be recycled but is sustainably sourced as a by-product of the meat, wool and milk industries. Pittards was originally established in 1826 and its tannery in Somerset produces gloving leather amongst as well as other specialist types of leather for other product areas.
We learned that dress glove leather is produced using a very natural process, with very little being done to the leather (thereby retaining its purest form) apart from dyeing, finishing and polishing by hand. The dress glove leather is washable, which is such a huge benefit to wearers today.
We were introduced to the significant differences between dress glove leather and the treatments and processes required to produce performance leather. The performance leather market is a significant part of Pittards international sales, where use in sporting activities such as golf or cycling, requires the leather to have additional technical performance benefits, such as resistance to water, resistance to perspiration, abrasion resistance, anti- microbial benefits and tactile qualities.
Dr Mike Redwood then shared his extensive knowledge of the leather industry, having been involved in it for most of his life, having originally studied the subject at University, and then joining Pittards as the Commercial Director of the gloving leather tannery in Yeovil, where he oversaw the buying of raw materials, sorting and grading of leathers as well as the sales and marketing. As a consultant to the leather and associated industries, specialist in marketing strategies, technology management and innovation, Mike talked to the group about his first hand international experience and far reaching expertise in the leather industry and production of leather today, including insight into the sourcing of raw materials. We learned that the leather business is a mixture of modern technology and highly skilled craft processes. Please see the article provided by Mike on this site.
Dr Liza Foley shared with the Network group some of the details of her fascinating research into the ‘Economy and Ecology in Eighteenth- Century Glove Making’ as well as the colouring of leather at that time. It was intriguing to hear about her research process and we learned that, often with historic gloves, there is very little or no provenance and so it is often very difficult to precisely date historic gloves. Her experience of researching historic records of varying sources was enlightening for the group, as it will be to many enthusiastic researchers and included conservation records, museum databases, parliamentary record, order books and newspaper advertisements.
Dr Liza Foley's presentation synopsis - ‘Economy and Ecology in Eighteenth-Century Leather Glove Making’
This talk reflected on the significance of leather quality in eighteenth-century glove making by bringing into focus the position of leather as a former animal skin and highlighting the various manufacturing challenges it presented to contemporary leather dressers and glovers. Drawing on a combination of artefact and archival sources (for example, glover business records), it argued that procuring good quality skins formed a key concern for eighteenth-century glove makers and furthermore, that issues of leather quality caused from ante- and post-mortem defects potentially impacted not only the types of gloves produced (for example, style, colour, et cetera) but the grade or standard of glove also. The talk also briefly considered some of the archaeological and scientific methods that are currently being used to study ancient organic materials including leather, and how the broader application of these methods to extant eighteenth-century gloves might help resolve some of the many unanswered questions that currently exist regarding their age, provenance and material origin.