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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