Split-pull­strap Shoes (Goubitz type 30, Ib)

This pair of shoes marks a fairly sig­ni­fic­ant point in my shoe­mak­ing. They were the first pair I had made in a couple of years and I had learned a lot of the­ory since my pre­vi­ous pair but my prac­tic­al skills were a bit rough start­ing out. Enough went wrong with them that the exper­i­ence of mak­ing them promp­ted a major rethink of how I approached shoe­mak­ing and craft in gen­er­al. A lot of thought on new tools and bet­ter mater­i­als fol­lowed these, not to men­tion quite a bit of prac­tice and I think the next pair I made came out much bet­ter for the exper­i­ence of mak­ing these. They are also the pair that reminded me after quite a long break that this really is some­thing I enjoy doing.

They are based on examples found on page 158 of Step­ping Through Time. It is not a dir­ect copy of any example but have ele­ments of dif­fer­ent examples illus­trated in that chapter. I decided to make these because in addi­tion to look­ing neat they are unusu­al and I had nev­er seen a recre­ated pair, either in pho­to­graphs or in per­son. I have since seen a pair at one of the bet­ter vendors of hand­made medi­ev­al shoes, but they were a slightly dif­fer­ent sim­pler vari­ation — which isn’t sur­pris­ing at all giv­en how fiddly these were to get right.

Goubitz dates these no more pre­cisely than to say they are 14th cen­tury. Ankle shoes, as opposed to low shoes or full boots, are very rare in the middle of the 14th cen­tury [Grew and de Neer­gaard, p25] , mak­ing it likely these date from one end of the cen­tury or the oth­er. In my opin­ion the over­all style, toe shape, and the pres­ence of buckle fasten­ing — rare pri­or to the last quarter of the14th cen­tury [Grew and de Neer­gaard] — place these in the later end of the cen­tury, des­pite the super­fi­cial sim­il­ar­ity of the fasten­ing meth­od to the thong fasten­ing of mid-late 13th cen­tury shoes.

The build­ing and wear­ing of these shoes proved to be a learn­ing exper­i­ence, so much so that they sur­vive mainly as an example of what not to do when mak­ing shoes. Don’t rush, don’t use bad mater­i­als, and don’t use the wrong tools. These would have been bet­ter shoes if I’d taken my time and paid more atten­tion. I like them though so one day I will rebuild them more care­fully using bet­ter tools and mater­i­als.

They were made in a bit of a hurry in late Februrary/early March 2007 after my only pair of shoes finally dis­in­teg­rated at Can­ter­bury Faire, leav­ing me with noth­ing to wear for a camp in mid March. As a res­ult some of the stitch­ing, par­tic­u­larly the sole seam is coars­er than I might like. This nicely illus­trates a point DW From­mer made on the crispin col­loquy earli­er this year that really stuck with me; speed in mak­ing is invis­ible in the fin­ished product except as a lack of qual­ity.

Rather rough sole seam done in a hurry…

… but at least it’s reas­on­ably straight.

I had nearly run out of leath­er when I made them so they ended up being cut from the belly remains of a side of leath­er I had kick­ing around which is very stretchy and was really too thin. After 3 days of con­stant slightly damp wear they stretched sig­ni­fic­antly from their ori­gin­al good fit and the straps had stretched so they didn’t do up as well as they ori­gin­ally did either. I still think they look Ok, espe­cially with the con­trast­ing strap.

The most obvi­ous prob­lem with them is that the awl I used to make them was just too big for the thick­ness of leath­er and the thread I was using, so all of the seams now gap des­pite hav­ing ori­gin­ally been pulled tight and look­ing fine before the shoes were turned and worn.

Seams closed and burn­ished before shoe ass­membly look­ing nice and tight.

Same seam in wear, note the gap­ping stitches.

Side seam pulling apart. I sus­pect there’s a prob­lem with the pat­tern because this seam comes under a lot of stress get­ting the shoe on and off my foot. Per­haps the open­ing should be fur­ther for­ward.

I also learned that dia­mond awls are not a good tool for whip stitch­ing in thin leath­er, hav­ing a much great­er tend­ency to tear out small stitches because the holes have corners. After some dis­cus­sion with Marc Carlson and Ken Nye on the medi­ev­alshoe­mak­ing list, this promp­ted me to build a set of round awl blades before my next pair of shoes, which were a lot more suc­cess­ful as a res­ult.

These were the first shoes I built entirely using britles and hand-plied lin­en thread waxed with coad. It wasn’t far throught the con­struc­tion pro­cess that I decided bristled threads are easi­er to use and just plain bet­ter than needles and reg­u­lar thread, even count­ing the time it takes to assemble them. I will doc­u­ment the pro­cess as soon as I’ve figured out how to take decent pho­to­graphs of the very fine thread ends.

There are only two fea­tures of interest in the the actu­al con­struc­tion of the shoes. The first is the short side seam, in which the back edge of the vamp is stitched into a short slit in the back­part of the shoe with a seam that sim­ul­tan­eously makes a lapped seam and a but­ted seam. This joins three edges allow­ing the clos­ure to over­lap without being open all the way to the sole, which would admit dirt, grit and water. This was quite a tricky seam to build with the awls I used.

Side seam on the inside (flesh side). The rear edge of the left­most part is stitched into a slit in the over­lap­ping right­most part.

This pic­ture shows the over­lap­ping lay­ers slightly more clearly. The line of stitches on the right is an edge-flesh but­ted seam but the line of stitches on the left is an edge flesh but­ted seam in the lay­er under­neath and a grain-flesh seam in the overly­ing lay­er.

Note in the pic­tures above that I have tried to fin­ish off the ends of the thread. In seams that go down into the last­ing mar­gin of the shoe this isn’t neces­sary, just sew it down to the edge, leav­ing a short length of thread ends and the sole seam will stop it pulling open. It fol­lows from this that clos­ing seams should always start at the top and fin­ish at the last­ing mar­gin rather than start­ing at the edge and work­ing up since the top of the seam is usu­ally the point where the most stress is applied and the end of the seam where it is fin­ished is weak­er than the start.

The second inter­est­ing bit is the clos­ure strap itself which splits into six parts and required the strap to be care­fully tapered and the slits to all be of the cor­rect length to allow the shoe to open enough to admit my foot, which it only just does.

The straps pass through rein­forced slits in the front part of the open­ing.

The strap is pulled back to close the shoe…

… then wrapped around the back …

…to the oth­er side…

… and buckled to fasten.

More pic­tures of the con­struc­tion of these shoes

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