Two Pairs of Early Period Shoes

(Editing another post to fix the date I realised this one has been sitting in draft state for ages without actually getting published. I wrote this post in April ’09)

These are shoes I made for two members of my household who were asked to join the royal household of our SCA king and queen. The king and queen are doing Merovingian-era, and wanted their household to have matching clothing and period shoes. This was one of those situations where I’d have liked to have taught the wearers how to make the shoes but they needed them in a hurry and it was quicker to make them myself than it would have been to teach people how to make them.

Both of these are based on examples in Stepping Through Time close in time to but not specifically Merovingian. I don’t have any specific sources on early period shoes other than Willy Groenman-Van Waateringe’s bit in STT.

All this happened just before a major event at the beginning of this year, meaning these were real rush jobs. I did both pairs, including fitting, in two and a bit evenings. The photographs were also rather rushed, taken while the shoes were still damp from turning, so the colour of the leather isn’t necessarily true to life.

Fortunately, given the time constraints, they are quite simple shoes. Both are carbatines — the sole and upper all being the same piece — which made the patterning quite a lot easier. It also cut down on the required sewing a lot because there wasn’t a sole seam to do. I’m not sure I could have done two pairs of shoes with separate soles in that time without skiving off work and foregoing a lot of sleep.

Rushed as they were there are patterning issues I would have fixed if I’d had more time. Mainly the toe on the ones with the pierced tounge is much too pointy, it should be a lot more rounded. The point of the heel on one of that pair is well off centre too, I fixed it on the second shoe but didn’t have time to remake the first one on the fixed pattern. Those are fairly minor things though and I’m quite happy with them overall. Importantly the construction is sound and reasonably neat despite having been done in a hurry and it’s nice to know I can get away with that. I can do very neat work, but the ability to do very neat work at a good speed is something that only comes with a lot of practice.

The leather is my standard 2.5 mm veg-tanned bovine shoulder. I was originally going to make these out of thinner, 1.5 mm, leather for fear the thicker stuff wouldn’t take the rather drastic forming around the toe but the 1.5 mm leather I had turned out to be too thin and flimsy.

These shoes are held onto the legs with ties threading through the holes in the tounge. Originally they’d have been woven or braided, we ended up using some nice brocaded ribbon. I can’t remember if we slotted the heel to thread the tape through or not.

The decoration was freehand scribed into damp leather with a scratch awl. The teardrop cutouts are a punched hole and two straight cuts to form the point.

The side seam of the toe is a round closed seam inside. The ‘tail’ lying over the vamp was tunnel-stitched down after the shoe was turned. I can’t base this on anything other than that it seemed like the obvious way to do it but I’m happy with how it came out.

Still-wet shoes just turned. These were decorated before being closed. The decoration on one is darker than the other because I left it out in the sun after doing the work which darkened the exposed leather in the grooves. On the other I did the decoration after leaving the leather in the sun so the grooves are lighter than the grain surface. This will change over time as they’re worn outdoors but I like the effect on the new shoe.

Long seam up the middle of the vamp. This is a whip-stitched butted seam as on the originals, not a round closed seam

Here you can see the back seams and the inside of the vamp seam. These are slip-on shoes without a fastening. The slits at the sides allow the foot to get in and out.

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