This section is from the "A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods" book, by George S. Cole. Also available from Amazon: A complete dictionary of dry goods and history of silk, cotton, linen, wool and other fibrous substances,: Including a full explanation of the modern processes ... together with various useful tables.
Glove. The antiquity of gloves is very great. They have been known and worn from the remote age of the world, and doubtless antedate history, for the earliest literature alludes to them. Gloves were, in 1416, often set with precious stones, and sufficiently valuable to be left as legacies. They have ever been an accessory to the dress of royalty, and ornamented with pearls and precious stones are yet deemed fitting ensigns of imperial dignities. In times past they were so intimately connected with kingly power that monarchs were invested with authority by the delivery of a a glove. At the coronation of English sovereigns the ceremony of challenging by a glove is still observed. When Henry IV was crowned, a knight armed for the wager of battle, threw down his glove to any man who should dare to maintain that King Henry was not a lawful sovereign. Later the King's champion has been accustomed to make this challenge with a glove at each coronation, as was the case at the crowning of Queen Victoria. It was formerly a proverb that for a glove to be good, and well made, three kingdoms must contribute to it. Spain to dress the leather, France to cut it and England to sew it. But of late, in the manufacture of ladies' and gents kid gloves especially, France has appropriated the functions of the other two - they now having the advantage in point of dressing and sewing, as much as of cutting. The greatest manufacturing center in the world for kid gloves is Grenoble, in the south of France, where many thousand persons are engaged in the factories. This town has become thus famous owing to the especial qualities of the water for the dyeing; and also to its proximity to those countries which produce an abundance of goats. About 1,200,000 dozen pairs, (equal to 28,800,000 single gloves) are made annually at Grenoble, to accomplish which 25,000 persons are employed - 4,000 men and 21,000 women and children. Of the skins furnished 95 per cent are said to be kid and 5 per cent. lamb, and 9,600,000 kids are required for the factory at Grenoble every year. The kids are so small that but three gloves can be cut, on an average, from one skin. It is stated that any first-class factory at Grenoble can supply 300 different tints in gloves; and that from the gory fingers of the slaughterer to the more or less dainty fist of the purchaser, the glove passes through something like 200 hands. The process a kid glove undergoes is not only interesting reading, but is necessary knowledge for a salesman. The first thing to do is, of course, to remove the hair from the raw skins as they are received by the factory. For this purpose lime is used, they being immersed from a fortnight three weeks in pits containing water and lime. The skins are' constantly turned and shifted about by workmen armed with long iron tongs and when taken out it is found that the lime has loosened the cuticle of the skin, thus rendering the removal of the hair a more easy matter. From the lime-pits the skins are taken to the unhairing room, from where they are stretched on a sort of wooden block, and are scraped with a blunt two-handled knife. This removes the hair. They are now taken in hand by the "flesher," who cuts off the tail, the headpiece, and such portions of adipose matter as may still adhere to the skin. This waste is useful for the manufacture of glue and gelatine, for which purpose it is employed. The skins now pass on to the "scudder," who removes any hair that may may have hitherto escaped the knives of the previous operators. They are next left to soak in clear water to remove all traces of the lime, and from thence they are placed in a mixture of warm water and wheat-bran, which not only removes any fleshy impurity from the skins, but also renders them soft and supple. Kid skins are not tanned like ordinary leather, such as is used for making boots and harness, by means of oak-bark, but are immersed in a revolving "drum," which contains a mixture composed of yolk of eggs, wheaten flour, alum and salt; and so enormous is the consumption of the former ingredients that at one factory in France no fewer than 4 000 eggs are needed every day. The skins are allowed to remain in this costly paste for rather more than an hour, the "drum" being kept revolving by means of machinery. They are next taken out, and removed to the cellars for the night, and from thence are conveyed on the following day to the drying room, where they are subjected to a temperature varying from 140 to 160 degrees. The attendants in this room are clad in a garb similar to that of the peasantry of India, so intense is the heat; but they manage, nevertheless to enjoy good health, and sometimes even to increase in weight. Each skin is hung separately on hooks, and thus they dry very quickly. This process leaves them somewhat hard, and they are next "seasoned" or "sammied" with cold water, and then stretched backwards and forwards over upright knives, shaped like a half-moon. After being wetted again, they are "shaved," a process requiring great dexterity. This is accomplished by means of specially-constructed knives which remove the under-flesh. The skins are now coated with a composition of flour, oil and the yolk of eggs, which renders them soft and pliable. The skin in this operation requires the most careful handling, for it has now become a soft, white membrane, very fine and silky. They are then conveyed to the dye-house, being by this time ready for the preliminary operations of dyeing. Before being dyed the skins are trodden under the soft bare feet of boys for several hours in water. This process throws out of them anything which would be opposed to the action of the dye. Having been rinsed, the skins are now moistered with more yolk of eggs, and are allowed to rest a day before they are dyed by the workmen, who taking a brush dipped in ammonia, spread it over the skins, and then apply several coatings of the dye. This he softly pats into the grain, adding a touch here and a touch there until the requisite amount is laid on. One secret of the dyer's art is what constitutes just the right amount of dye to put on, as it must cover the skin and produce a clear color, yet not soak to the inside. The skins which have been tanned and dyed, are now subjected to a process known as "grounding," the object of which is to remove all roughness, and render them thinner and more supple. They are next sorted according to their quality and size, and are passed on to the cutters, who cut them into the several detached parts of gloves. This operation may seem to the unskilled very easy, but it is not. It requires great judgment, for the workman has to allow for the natural "stretch" of different parts of the skin. The finished skins having been selected and mapped out by the sorters, and pieced out by the cutters, are put over a frame looking like a deformed or skeleton glove. These frames are so made that they represent the whole glove laid out unsewn. The gloves, with the thumbs duly fitted and put together, are placed in a press, after which they are sent to be punched out by means of machinery. The cuttings left by the punching machine are picked up with scissors by girls who are employed making the four-chettes, or side-pieces of the fingers, which are also cut out by the machine-punch. It is of course necessary that the side-pieces should match exactly with the other parts, and for this the most skilled girls are employed to choose them. The seams are sewed together with perfect regularity by placing the edges to be united between the jaws of a vice, the holding edge of which terminates in fine brass saw-teeth, one-twelfth of an inch long, between each of which the needle is passed in successive stitches, by hand, and in this way a neat, uniform stitch is secured. It requires one hour to cut and examine a pair of gloves and one hour to sew them, thus making two hours the length of time necessary for the actual making of a pair of 4-button kid gloves. In France the work of stitching gloves is done chiefly by hand, one firm alone employing 4,500 women and girls for this branch of the work. Machine-stitching, however, is to a small extent utilized in the manufacture of heavy gloves, and can be recognized on account of its always being the regulation "button-hole" stitch. When the sewing is completed, kid gloves are placed in moist linen cloths and beaten, by which they are rendered softer and more flexible, after which they are pressed and ironed. They are then arranged in dozens, and being enveloped in paper bands, are packed in card-board boxes ready to be despatched from the factory. Of ordinary kid gloves there are ten different sizes for ladies - 6 1/4 to 8; fourteen different sizes for gentlemen - 6 3/4 to 10; for misses the sizes range from 5 1/4 to 6 1/2 ; and for boys, the cadet sizes range from 5 1/2 to 7 1/4 . These latter have shorter fingers than the corresponding numbers in men's sizes. An old French glove-maker aptly asserts that "a perfect glove is as soft as a baby's cheek, finer than silk, and as elastic as rubber." Kid gloves are finished either "glace" or "suede." By glace is meant the bright polished finish which has long been in vogue. Suede, or "undressed" signifies gloves finished by removing the thin, almost transparent outer layer of the skin, by simply peeling or shaving it off, leaving the glove undressed and lusterless in appearance.
The raising of kids for their skins is a leading industry among the French, Spanish and Italian mountaineers. Softness, delicacy of texture and freedom from blemish are the principal factors in the value of kid skins, and to secure these great pains are taken. As soon as the young goat begins to eat grass the value of his skin begins to decline, for with a grass diet his skin becomes harder in texture, and its chief merit vanishes. It is, therefore, from the hour of its birth kept closely penned, not only to prevent it from eating grass, but also to secure the skin from accidental injury from scratches and bruises. When the kids have reached a certain age at which the skins are in the best condition for the use of the glover, they are killed, and the hides sold to travelling hawkers, through whom they reach the great center of the glove industry of France.
The superior quality of these French skins, due to climatic causes, is what has given France her supremacy in the manufacture of the finest grades of real kid gloves in the world; a supremacy that will doubtless be long maintained, inasmuch as foreign factories are obliged to rest content with the second and third-rate skins. It will hardly be necessary to inform the reader that the term "kid," as applied to low grades of ladies gloves is a misnomer. If all the animals which contribute their skins to the manufacture of the cheap qualities of kid gloves could be re-incarnated, it would be the most remarkable menagerie ever exhibited, and few known animals would be missing. Even the water has been searched and an attempt made to use eel skins. Rat skins have been experimented with. Colt skins from Buenas Ayres, sheepskins from the Cape of Good Hope, ox hides from Calcutta, antelope skins from the Rocky Mountains, and Mocha sheepskins from Aden on the Red sea, are perhaps the staples; but moose, musk ox, llama, kangaroo, monkey, peccary, water hog and many others lose their identity when fashioned into the glove retailed at one dollar per pair. When what is called a "kid glove "feels unusally stout, it may be considered highly probable that it is only an imitation. It must consequently be understood that all good kid is reasonably thin, extremely elastic, and incomparably finer in texture (grain) than any other leather which can be lain alongside of it.
Fabric Gloves are made in cashmere, all-silk, taffeta (silk and linen), lisle and cotton (Berlin). The greater part of fabric gloves are made of a knitted fabric generally about 70 inches wide. The machinery employed in the manufacture is very ingenious, the different parts being put together by machines made for the purpose, similar to the methods adopted for the making of kid gloves. In cutting, a number of folds of the material are placed one upon another and a knife or punch at one cut takes out of the cloth a piece of the shape requirrd, which of course includes the fingers as well as the part which covers the hand. These punches are made of sizes to correspond to the usual glove numbers. These pieces are then put together and sewn on a machine designed especially for this work. Previous to sewing together, the "points," as the silk strips down the back are called are embroidered in by another kind of machine. The glove is then ready, for the dyer, if it has been made in the white, and after receiving the requisite coloring it is sent to the finishers to be dressed, banded, and boxed, after which it is ready for shipment. Gloves made and finished in this manner are what are known in trade as "town-made." There is, however, another mode of manufacturing fabric gloves on a machine similar to that used for producing circular hose, and these are known in trade as "frame-made." Frame gloves, which are seamless, are not very largely used, except in the best grades of spun silk and lisle. Fabric gloves are now woven with double finger-tips, which consists merely of an extra thread in the cloth that renders the glove three-fold at the tips. It is an English patent, and has been introduced into Germany and the United States. At one time when very cheap skins were used in making so-called kid gloves, the use of fabric gloves fell off somewhat, but as these cheap skins wore very badly and gave poor results, a reversion of sentiment occurred, and at present there is no demand for kid gloves below a certain grade. Experience having proven that fabric gloves can be made much cheaper and look and wear much better, they have crowded them out of the market. Chemnitz, Germany, is the center of the fabric glove manufacture. America takes the greatest amount. England once made the greatest number of such gloves, but has been distanced by Germany, on account of the lower price of labor, yet the English silk Milanese gloves still hold preeminence as the best made and are principally used for fine trade only. In Germany whole districts are given up to fabric glove making, and it ranks next in point of magnitude to that of hosiery. The industry is an attractive employment for women, as it is light, clean work, good pay, and can be taken to the home, thus enabling housekeepers to use their spare time to advantage, often earning as much as the man of the house. The manufacture of fabric gloves in this country with the exception of silk and taffeta mitts, is not very large. In mitts, the American makers control the market. [See Mitts]
Heavy Gloves. The leather employed by glovers in the manufacture of heavy grades of gloves is mainly prepared from the skins of the sheep, deer, goat and calf. Great progress has been made in recent years in tanning sheep and lamb skins, they being now rendered so elegant and so durable as to be practically indistinguishable from goat leather in looks or wear. Buckskin gloves are prepared from the skins of deer, by the process of "chamoying." [See Leather] It is the closest grained and consequently the strongest and best wearing glove that is made. Its elasticity, though trifling, is sufficient. Plymouth buck, which signifies buckskin which is tanned and colored, originated at Plymouth as did also the pattern of gloves called Plymouth, with seams up the back. Saranac tanned skins originated in Littleton, N. H. Gloves bearing this title are made of various leathers, buck, goat, calf sheep, mocha, or in fact almost any skin tanned yellow with the grain on. Nappa gloves are made at Nappa, California, from the skins of the mountain goat. Castor gloves have had quite a history. The word indicates the skin of the beaver, but the best French castor gloves were formerly made of thin deer skin, and were soft, durable, and expensive. Latterly shaved sheepskin was used, but the goods were unsatisfactory. These were in turn displaced by American castors, made of antelope skins from our western plains. Mocha castor gloves are made from both mocha leather and lambskin. Mocha is the name of an animal found in a wild state in Spain and Egypt. It is a cross-breed between a sheep and a goat. In preparing skins for the manufacture of castor gloves, the grain is first removed, then tanned and dyed in assorted colors, after which they are finished on a swift running emery wheel to make them smooth and velvety. Suede or undressed kid is made from mocha or lamb skins, and tanned on the wrong or flesh side of the skin. Dogskin gloves exist more in name than reality, as they never, except in rare instances, are made of the real canine cuticle. Most driving gloves are advertised, labeled, and sold as dogskin, but they are made of skins that no intelligent dog would ever recognize as belonging to one of his kind. It is impossible to properly tan the skin of a dog and remove the animal grease without producing a dry, ill feeling leather, which is suitable only for the coarsest of cartmen's gloves. This difficulty in dressing has never yet been overcome. Most gloves sent out as dogskin are made from lambskin, though the poorer qualities are shaved sheepskin. Schmaschen is a name that importers use to designate the different imported gloves that are shipped to this country. They are for the most part made of slunk lambskin or Italian lambskin shaved down sufficiently thin to answer for ladies' gloves. They are of inferior quality, being dry and papery, and often break. In the city of Gloversville, New York, there are 140 separate glove factories which manufacture about two thirds of the entire product of men's heavy gloves in the United States. Their annual output amounts to over $20,000,000. Johnstown, New York is the next city of importance in the manufacture of gloves, the amount of business done being $10,-000,000 annually.