Early 16th Cen­tury Low Shoe

This is a pair of shoes I made for a friend in exchange for some clothes.


The fin­ished shoes

They are a style I have been inter­ested in mak­ing since I read Dr Rein­er Atzbach’s Report on Medi­ev­al and Postme­di­ev­al Turn­shoes from Kempten (Allgäu), Ger­many [Inter­net Archive Link, ori­gin­al now off­line] which I strongly recom­mend read­ing. I would note though that there are a couple of errors on that page, most prom­in­ently the state­ment that the open­ing of this style of shoe was covered by a tounge; some­thing the art of the peri­od clearly shows not to be the case so this may well be a trans­la­tion error.

A draw­ing of a sur­viv­ing pair of this style from that art­icle is below. The ori­gin­al can be found at http://web.uni-bamberg.de/~ba5am1/info/abb8.htm.

This style is ubi­quit­ous to 16th cen­tury Europe across in a vari­ety of coun­tries and social con­texts. They are super­fi­cially sim­il­ar to the very low kuh­malschuhe com­monly asso­ci­ated with land­sknecht but high­er sided and less ornate and with a round­er toe.

A shoe of this style can be quite clearly seen in Pieter Brue­gel the Elder’s 1568 paint­ing A Peas­ant Dance. This is a fairly late rep­res­ent­a­tion but the style can be seen earli­er.

A Peas­ant Dance”

A ran­dom inter­est­ing point about the above pic­ture is that the man’s shoe that is also in the pic­ture is clearly a single-soled turn­shoe, even though right-side out wel­ted con­struc­tion had been in use for sev­er­al dec­ades. Archae­olo­gic­al records almost con­tem­por­ary with this paint­ing show right-side out las­ted con­struc­tion with wel­ted soles and built up heels, nearly all of the com­pon­ents of mod­ern hand-made shoes bar the shank. You can find details in Step­ping Through Time which the Dav­id Brown book com­pany has just brought back into print in paper­back.

Details of the con­struc­tion from http://web.uni-bamberg.de/~ba5am1/info/abb13.htm.

The con­struc­tion of the shoes shown on Dr Atzbach’s art­icle is com­plex for a turned shoe, with a double-lay­er heel stiffen­er and side-lin­ings as well as a welt and out­er sole. I did not incor­por­ate the rein­force­ments on the heel and toe of the kempten example because I think they are later repairs not a part of the ori­gin­al con­struc­tion.

My attempts to build a shoe using this exact con­struc­tion were a fail­ure. Because of the thick­ness the rein­force­ment pieces in the last­ing mar­gin at the heel and the side lin­ings the shoe lost a great deal more height than I expec­ted it to. Com­bined with a minor pat­tern­ing error this res­ul­ted in more dis­tor­tion than I could cor­rect by put­ting it back on the last and try­ing to ham­mer everything into shape while wet. There is just too much “dip” in the topline in the middle of the shoe.

Failed attempt at a turned ver­sion of this style of shoe as per the kempten example.

In the pho­to­graph below you can see the inside of the failed shoe and get some idea of the amount of height the side lin­ings lost when I turned it. The stitch­ing should be black but I haven’t got­ten any pitch yet so I’m still using post-peri­od blond wax.

Dis­tor­ted shoe inside

After this fail­ure I decided to make them right-side out wel­ted con­struc­tion. There is a draw­ing of this style of shoe con­struc­ted right side out with a wel­ted out­sole in Step­ping Through Time that I decided to base my recon­struc­tion on. The con­struc­tion steps for this type of shoe are identic­al to those of the turned ver­sion with the excep­tion of actu­ally turn­ing it. The welt is obvi­ously on the out­side of the upper instead of caught in between the upper and the sole, but that doesn’t really affect the build order of the shoe.

Right side out ver­sion from Step­ping Through Time

One of my shoes from approx­im­ately the same per­spect­ive.

I think there is a lot wrong with the ones I made, but they came out Ok for my first pair of wel­ted shoes. The two biggest issues I have with them are that the topline isn’t quite right, it is too straight and I think in ret­ro­spect it should be more level at the sides and angle up at the quar­ters instead of being a straight angle all the way back. The welt also sticks out around the shoe more than I would have liked but I’m not sure how I could fix that, the insole already being sig­ni­fic­antly smal­ler than the out­sole.

It is pos­sible that I used too heavy a leath­er for thsese but I don’t think so, I used 2.5mm veg tanned cow shoulders. It is pos­sible that’s just what the ori­gin­als looked like but that draw­ing above from Step­ping Through Time doesn’t look like it. It is also prob­ably that the last I made to build these on is com­pletely the wrong shape, I’ve nev­er seen a pic­ture of such a last and I was just try­ing to ima­gine the shape of the inside of the shoe when I made it.

Tech­nic­ally the most chal­len­ging part of build­ing these shoes was attach­ing the top band. It is made from a fol­ded piece of 1mm thick veg tanned leath­er and is but­ted onto the top edge of the upper with a whip stitch. The stitch is flesh-edge on the upper, edge-flesh on the out­er lay­er of the fol­ded top band and flesh grain on the inner lay­er of the fol­ded top band. It was extremely tricky get­ting the stitches through the thin top band leath­er and being able to pull them tight enough without blow­ing it all out.

Here you can see the inside con­struc­tion details show­ing the edge of the insole, the clos­ing seam, the front of the heel stiffen­er and the top band attach­ment. I’m start­ing to get reas­on­ably happy with my clos­ing seams now.

Here are some more pic­tures and some notes on oth­er aspects of the con­struc­tion. Start­ing with a couple of side views. The strap will be trimmed once it’s been tried on the owner’s foot.

In the front and back views you can see the sticky-out welt more clearly. The upper at the heel is per­haps a touch wide. It needs to be very nar­row so the shoe “hangs” on the heel and doesn’t slip down when you walk.


Lastly, here is a pic­ture of the inside of the buckle attach­ment. Goubitz describes this as being done with a thong, which I take to mean leath­er, but I used a scrap of inseam­ing thread because I didn’t have any fine enough thong­ing. There are four holes two above and two below the bar of the buckle and the thread wraps around the bar on each side. This makes for a sur­pris­ingly strong attach­ment that still allows the buckle to be removed or replaced eas­ily.

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