Site Visit: Burfield’s Gloves Ltd


Burfield’s by Rapha

The supplier I have been partnered with for the project is Burfield’s a third generation glove makers. Deirdre and I visited the workshop, tucked away in the village of Martock. We were made very welcome by director Matthew Burfield who showed us around the factory; an abundance of tools, leather and extraordinary glove making. Piles of hair sheep skins crowded the shelves waiting to be assessed and sorted, stretched and cut, tools such as customised pattern cutters or glove irons hold a fascination apart from function. Engineers provide custom made additional components to adapt existing tools, many of which have been used since to opening of the business in 1944.

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The main suede and leather used for the glove making is an African Hairsheep. Known as hairsheep because it doesn’t have to be woolly in a hot climate, the skins mostly come from Ethiopia. One of Burfield’s main suppliers is the tannery Pittards in nearby Yeovil.

Pittard’s Leather

In my own leatherwork I work predominantly with bookbinding leathers; fine vegetable-tanned goatskin. The hairsheep is a softer with a less grainy texture. Burfield’s gave me a bag of scraps of hairsheep to experiment with; vibrant colours provide interesting detailing, paring through the leather making a cross section reveals beautiful patterning of dye and hair follicles. All this is on a minute scale, the thickness of the leather is 1mm maximum, as you will see minute detail is a major aspect of my work.

Hairsheep scraps pared to reveal hair follicle and dye patterns

Initial Thoughts

I was very struck by the intuitive knowledge of material and process which the makers seem to possess, only achieved through hours and years of practice. Although many of the glove making processses seem laborious and repetitive it is obvious these skills cannot be learnt theoretically. I am interested in this process in my own work as it forms the basis of all my experiments in making with leather, although relative to some of the people at Burfield’s my experience is short lived! I would like to reference this quiet, patient making and learning  which underlies the more extravagant product or art work.