A com­pletely worn out pair of shoes

These are the sad remains of my second pair of shoes. They’ve been up on my oth­er web­site for a while but not since they died com­pletely.

The shoes were fin­ished at 3am before 12th night in Caid when I was vis­it­ing Catalina in LA before we got mar­ried. I think that was the trip we got engaged, which would make it 2004.

They were sewn togeth­er with “speedy stitch­er” poly­es­ter thread and har­ness needles, which was the shoe­mak­ing tech­no­logy I had when I built them. The stitch­ing las­ted Ok, bet­ter than the leath­er in some places, but hav­ing learned bet­ter ways of doing things I wouldn’t go back to poly thread and needles. I will write up thread-build­ing and bristle-attach­ment here soon, I’m just hav­ing trouble get­ting decent pic­tures.

They were made from 3mm veg tanned deer­skin I got from the Lyell Deer Farm in Queens­land when I was vis­it­ing Llewe­leyn just after he got laurelled.

The lack of fin­ish­ing details like rein­for­cing cords and heel stiffen­ers con­trib­uted sig­ni­fic­antly to the even­tu­al col­lapse of these shoes. Most of the wear on them has happened at a couple of camp­ing events where they were worn for days at a time and, since I didn’t have any pat­tens, and only had one pair of shoes, they got wet and didn’t have a chance to dry prop­erly. In com­bin­a­tion with the iron-based black dye this did the leath­er no good at all.

I really should have ditched them long before I did, but I was going through an unmo­tiv­ated phase when they wore out. It wasn’t until after they com­pletely dis­in­teg­rated on me at Can­ter­bury Faire in Feb­rur­ary this year and I had to patch them up on site that I made anoth­er pair of shoes for myself.

Dam­age from hav­ing no heel stiffen­er

These shoes didn’t have heel stiffen­ers. It wasn’t until my 3rd pair that I put heel stiffen­ers in a shoe and in this photo you can see the res­ult. The back of the heel has col­lapsed and the bot­tom of the back­part of the upper has become part of the tread sur­face and got­ten very worn. In the photo above the curved white line is the thread of the sole seam that is show­ing through the worn leath­er of the upper and the sole.

Heel patch out­side

Heel patch inside

The even­tu­al con­sequence of the wear at the heel was that I walked right through the upper on one of them and had to put a patch in at the event. The only leath­er I had on me of a usable weight was red. I turned the shoe inside out and put this in as though it were a heel stiffen­er. It worked Ok for the rest of the event.

Destruc­tion of the grain lay­er caused by iron salts

An inter­est­ing thing that happened to these shoes is that the grain sur­face of the leath­er dis­in­teg­rated very badly. I ori­gin­ally put this down to the nature of the deer­skin because a purse I made from the same stuff suffered the same grain dam­age on sur­faces where it wore.

I have since learned that this was prob­ably due to the iron oxide in the dye I used. The dye was a simple solu­tion of steel wool dis­solved in vin­eg­ar. Iron salts react with tan­nins and turn black, giv­ing the pig­ment, but in the pro­cess they strip tan­nins out of the sur­face of the leath­er leav­ing it brittle, even­tu­ally res­ult­ing in the dam­age you see above. Since I learned about this prob­lem a few months ago I’ve noticed that oth­er things I dyed with the same dye have also gone very brittle. One set of straps for a sword scab­bard needs to be com­pletely replaced because the leath­er just tore away.

This prob­lem can be solved by adding tan­nins to the dye to pro­duce the black before it is applied to the leath­er. This has the added advant­age of mak­ing a deep­er black as well. Since learn­ing about this prob­lem I added some very strong (an entire pack­et simmered in a small pot of water for some time) tea because it was the easi­est source of tan­nins I could think of. It seems to do the trick in terms of pro­du­cing a good black but only time will tell how safe it is for the leath­er. I really need some log­wood extract (tra­di­tion­al post peri­od), oak galls (peri­od), or syn­thet­ic tan­nins (mod­ern) for future black dyes to make them really safe.

Blown out side seam

In addi­tion to caus­ing excess­ive wear, the col­lapse of the heel put too much strain on the side seam of one of the shoes which in com­bin­a­tion with the dam­age from iron-salts and my hyper-acid­ic shoe-dis­solv­ing foot sweat (much bet­ter since I stopped smoking) and gen­er­al dis­repair of the leath­er caused the stitches to tear com­pletely out of the leath­er on on side. The leath­er was so wrecked that I couldn’t patch this up so I just whipped some stitches over the top of the seam and dealt with little stones in my shoe for a day.

I’ll try and dig out some pic­tures of these shoes before they died and edit this post to include them.

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