Late 14th Cen­tury Low Shoe

I real­ised the oth­er day while I was look­ing over AdW’s shoulder as she looked for some­thing on here that I haven’t pos­ted any­thing about this pair of shoes yet. There has been a post about them sit­ting in draft for ages, I’ve just nev­er fin­ished it. This is a major omis­sion because this is a very sig­ni­fic­ant pair in my devel­op­ment as a shoe­maker, being the pair that marks the tech­nic­al turn­ing point in my shoe­mak­ing from using the dia­mond awls and unsup­por­ted work that caused such prob­lems on my split pull­strap shoes to using smal­ler round awls, a board and wedge last, and a clos­ing block, stir­rup and foot­ing block to hold the work. It was also a sig­ni­fic­ant pair in that I had some very import­ant learn­ing exper­i­ences about the mech­an­ics of how the fit of this and sim­il­ar styles of shoes works and how the rela­tion­ship between the shape of the last and the shape of the foot works to aid that fit but those are best saved for a sep­ar­ate post.

This was my next pair after the split-pull­strap shoes, mak­ing them my fifth pair. I spent the inter­ven­ing time build­ing bet­ter tools and learn­ing how to use them as well as build­ing small prac­tice pieces with round-closed seams and top-bands and I think these are far super­i­or both tech­nic­ally and aes­thet­ic­ally because of those bet­ter tools and the learn­ings from doing those test pieces.

I made these in mid-2007 to go with an out­fit based on the effigy of Wal­ter de Hely­on, which I still don’t have a decent photo of. It’s what I’m wear­ing in my avatar photo though. The shoes are of type 40 accord­ing to Goubitz’ typo­logy, being a low shoe with a buckled instep fasten­ing. Styl­ist­ic­ally they are an extremely com­mon type in the late 14th/early 15th cen­tury.

The leath­er is 2.5 mm veg-tanned bovine shoulder dyed with an iron-oxide dye. The top band is left un-dyed for a bit of inter­est­ing con­trast. I’m not sure exactly what thick­ness the top-band leath­er is, I think around 1 mm. The buckles in the pho­tos are tem­por­ary place­hold­ers that have since been replaced with peri­od pew­ter buckles.


The major pieces laid out, vamp, quar­ters and heel stiffen­er. Not shown are the latchets, the sole, the welt or the top band.


The scal­loped edge on the instep open­ing was done with a punch I made by cut­ting a dam­aged hole­punch in half and resharpen­ing it. I used the same punch to cut the roun­ded ends of the open­ing slot. It worked very well and I now have a couple of dif­fer­ent sizes.


The sole of the right shoe, note the very nar­row was­ited pro­file, this is what makes the fit work and provide arch sup­port by pulling the upper in under the foot.


You can see the fit under the arch of the foot here. The shoe is not fastened in this pic­ture. This sole was com­pletely flat when it was on the last.


The vamp before it got all wrinkly from being worn.


The fit on the lat­er­al side. Even without a fasten­ing these stay on just fine.

Con­struc­tion pho­tos


The ends of whip stitch­ing fol­ded back and over­sewn to hold them down. Far less lumpy than knots. One of these it the end of a line of stitches and the oth­er is the start.


Ran­dom scale pho­to­graph of the rein­for­cing cord


How not to fin­ish the ends of a rein­for­cing cord. Knots are lumpy and uncom­fort­able. With the amount of over­lap here they prob­ably aren’t even neces­sary. I did this dif­fer­ently on the second shoe


Start­ing a new whip-stitch­ing thread. I cut off the old thread flush and over­stitched a couple of stitches with the new one. This has held up fine.


The end of the top band. Not a very good pho­to­graph but it should show how the top band was skvied and fol­ded back on itself so as not to present any raw edges at the ends


Top of the heel stiffen­er and the top band and rein­for­cing cord. I’ve heard people say you don’t need a rein­for­cing cord if you also have a top band, which may well be true but I’m not 100% con­vinced and since it’s all held down with the same whip stitch it’s very min­im­al effort to add.


Top band and rein­for­cing cord going on. There are three threads in this photo. From right to left: the thread attach­ing the top band to the upper with a grain-flesh-edge-grain whip stitch; the rein­for­cing cord thread; and the thread whip-stitch­ing the inner edge of the top band down with a grain-flesh-flesh-flesh whip stitch through the top band and upper. The curvy thread off to the top left is more rein­for­cing cord.



Clos­ing the upper under the stir­rup and over the clos­ing block. These days I don’t both­er to pre-hole the left side of the seam because it takes more time than it saves. Clos­ing seams should start at the top and run down into the sole seam, that way you don’t have to worry about fin­ish­ing them because the sole seam will over­sew the ends and hold it all togeth­er. The clos­ing block is actu­ally a cork sand­ing block I had lying around because I hadn’t got­ten around to mak­ing a prop­er one back then. It worked Ok, but was a bit square. Now I have nice half-roundish ones made from ash.


Heel stiffen­er on, one side closed and one latchet attached. The heel stiffen­er was pas­ted in place with starch glue made from toasted corn­flour. It wasn’t ter­ribly adhes­ive but it did impart really good stiff­ness to the fin­ished shoe.


The short seam attach­ing the latchet. Note the bul­ging on the left. I was able to trim this back but I hadn’t anti­cip­ated it. It is caused by the addi­tion­al thick­ness of thread in a very short seam. This seam is only about 1.5 cm long.


More seams. The dif­fer­ence between these and the seams on the split-pull­strap shoes should be evid­ent, though it is a lot more obvi­ous in per­son than in pho­to­graphs. These stitches are about half the size and the seam is much much tight­er.



I couldn’t quite get the to to “pop” all the way through. I think a slightly more roun­ded end (only 5 mm or so) to the sole would help here without mak­ing the end of the to obvi­ously roun­ded, in fact by allow­ing it to pop right around it would prob­ably come out more cleanly.

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