Leather, silk, gilt metal


Follow the thread


The richly embroidered gauntlet cuffs of these early 17th-century gloves feature a medley of floral motifs, which would have been instantly recognisable and meaningful to their owner. At the centre is a large rose (rosa rubiginosa) in a vase, flanked by speedwell and heartsease. Below them and to either side are tulips and dianthus pinks.


The hands and long tapered fingers of the gloves are probably kidskin; a fine leather, sought after for both softness against the skin and elasticity. Thin, tight-fitting kidskin creates a smoother appearance than heavier weight leather and is unsuited to practical use. Its combination with silk gauntlets, gilt lace and embroidery shows that these gloves are intentionally luxurious.

Social Culture

In the early 17th century, gloves were used as social gestures. They were given as political and romantic gifts, as wedding presents, as tokens for remembrance and for Valentine’s Day. In the Netherlands, a glove could signify a binding agreement. Not all gloves used in these ways were embroidered, but the embellishment on these gloves signifies a potentially romantic use. 

Densely-embroidered floral motifs were a consciously British fashion in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Elizabeth I’s portraits are particularly associated with a language of flowers, both in her dress and as trimmings. This ‘language’ persisted in popular culture and although scholars suggest there is no specific meaning for each flower, general associations would have created a picture of understanding for contemporary viewers.

The ‘Wanstead’ or ‘Welbeck’ portrait (c.1580-1585)

Elizabeth’s black silk veil is embroidered with red flowers. The white silk is worked with different sprigs of embroidered flowers, including roses, pansies and borage.


The rose rosa rubiginosa was particularly associated with Elizabeth I, but can generally signify love. Tulips, also associated with love, were famously the subject of a Dutch investment craze that reached its height in 1637 to 1638. Speedwell is associated with fidelity, and dianthus pinks might be associated with aversion. Heartsease might suggest a desire to be remembered or to receive a gift.

Craft Skills

Embroidery designs were often copied and learned from books and stitched samplers. Designs could be drawn freehand onto a fabric or pounced, using a dusting of charcoal through pin-pricked designs on paper. This embroidery is worked on white silk, probably stiffened by paper. Trimmed at the edges with silver-gilt bobbin lace and spangles, the variety of stitches creates visual texture.

spangled thread.jpg

The floral motifs are mainly in silk satin stitches with highlights in metal threads and details in cut purl stitches. Silver gilt and metal threads with a silk core have been couched to create the outlines and curling motifs, while couched folded gilt plate thread and spangles add richness.


For further information on clothing in the 17th century, see Susan Vincent’s Dressing the elite: Clothes in Early Modern England (Oxford, 2003).

With many thanks to Chris Berry. Chris is an independent scholar in embroidery and lives in Glasgow.