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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