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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