Monday, April 14, 2014

HSF '14: Another Try at Shoe-Making

There's an upcoming challenge in HSF--Art: make your own masterpiece based on a work of art.  At first I thought I'd do something basic for it, like a 30's hat, or an accessory (especially as the due date is in the middle of my vacation to the US).  But then I thought about a print that I have on the wall of my sewing room. It's one of two items that are always hung in whatever space is "mine" that have been with me since college--two continents, three states, and about 10 years ago.  I'm not going to tell you what the painting is, I don't want to spoil the surprise, but I have always loved the scene in it, and always thought that one day I'd make the clothes the woman in the painting is wearing.  So my minor Art project has gotten huge.  But I did figure out that I could make one component for the current challenge: Tops and Toes.

Thus, my first foray into medieval shoe making.  I have to admit, that these are wrong in several crucial ways. I picked up my leather before learning what kind/how thick shoe leather should be, so these feel more like slipper socks than slipper shoes.  Also, I'm pretty sure the opening of the shoe is supposed to be on the inside of the ankle, but in my painting the opening is on the outside, so I went in with that assumption, and figured out my mistake later.

I had a bit of hope that my new shoes would also prove useful as Hobbit shoes, but after wearing them around the house and noticing that the wood floors somehow make small cuts on the bottoms, I have scrapped any plans to wear these outside for a long day of walking on gravel paths.  In the end, they're prop shoes.  Which is fine, as they didn't take as long as I thought they would, and that was their only primary purpose.  

As with the Regency Shoes, I did document my steps, so to see what works/what not to do, feel free to scroll through all of that.  Otherwise, pictures of the finished shoes are near the bottom.

To start with:  Research.  As this was something completely new for me, I probably looked at all of the medieval shoe making blogs to figure out what to do.  
I probably used this blog the most, as it's an excellent overview both of what the author has learned, and references a lot of other useful sites.
I decided on this as my pattern (found at this website) mostly for its relatively easy construction and similarity to the shoes in my inspiration painting.  To see a drawing of what the shoe looks like made up, go here, it's the first and third image.
And I learned about actually stitching leather here.

The photos:

I started by tracing my foot on some felt (and added seam allowance).  I decided to use felt to make a mock-up of my shoe because it's drape and thickness was similar to the leather I had, also it was a cheap option.

I cut the bottom out and placed it under my foot. Then I draped felt over my foot and began pinning top layer to bottom.

That actually went pretty smoothly.

After I had encased my foot, pinning quite close, I marked everything, trimmed the excess, removed the pins, and stitched it together.  I didn't worry about the top line of the shoe, knowing that I could just cut the leather to where I wanted it after I had sewn the shoes together.

I turned it right side out, tried it on, adjusted a couple things, decided it was good enough, and got out the leather.  I made sure to place some marks on the patterns to line up the upper and sole when sewing.  These were extremely helpful, and I only wish I had made a couple more, especially around the heel and toe.

Fitting my pattern on the leather as well as I could.

Even though the coloring is completely different, that is the same leather as the photo above, I promise.  I didn't know how to pin the shoe together while I sewed it, so I started by tying the two layers together at the points I had marked earlier.  These shifted around too much though, and I don't recommend them.

 Normally, you sew a leather shoe together like this:

You don't go through the entire sole layer, you come in from the back and out the side (what is up in that image will be the inside of the sole) to minimize the leather pushed to the inside when you turn it, and it makes the seam more secure (or so I've read on just about every medieval shoe-making blog).  But you'll notice that the sole leather is about twice as thick as that of the upper--but I'm using the same thin leather for both (once again because this is a new experiment, and I didn't do any research into appropriate leather before I stumbled across a piece on sale).  And because my leather was so thin, I was afraid that my stitches would tear out of the sole.  So I decided to just use the saddle stitch (pictured below, and another common way of stitching leather together).

And after awhile, it looked like this.  It did take awhile to get the hang of sewing with two needles, but eventually I got a pretty good rhythm going.

When I got to the heel, I started really wishing I had made more marks to line the two layers up.  In the end, I found it helpful to slip on the shoe and pin the layers while I was wearing it.  It helped with easing the curved upper onto the flat sole.

By this time I had started pinning the shoe together by lining up my two stitching lines and just sticking a pin through both layers, all the way up.  All the friction meant they stayed in pretty well, though I increased my rate of stabbing myself by about 1000%.

Looking at the heel from the other side.

After sewing the heel, all I had left was to sew up the opening a bit.  This too was based on my inspiration painting, and is probably not a period correct method--if for no other reason than it doesn't seem very secure.  In the painting, the split opening is partially closed up, but without any noticeable seam.  I call that artistic licence, but I needed another option.  So back to the ever helpful Vikings Online site for more leather sewing methods, and back to the idea of only sewing through the back and side of the leather.

Testing on a scrap of leather, I found the stitch to be more secure than I thought it might be (at least I couldn't rip it out).

I made marks where I wanted my stitches to go, and carefully stitched it up, keeping it loose enough to get at the bottom part.

After I pulled the stitches tight and tied off the thread.

And finally, I had shoes!  Or actually a shoe, but you don't need (and I didn't take) any photos of my making the other one.

You can still see my side seam, I couldn't get it as tight as I wanted, but again--shoe props!  Oh, and this is also after I trimmed down the ankle edge to be where I wanted it.

As for fit, they are a bit big specifically on the inside of each big toe, and I get the feeling they want to sort of angle themselves off that direction.  But I really should have made a second mock-up.

Phew!  If you stuck with it, congratulations!  I still have one more thing though:  The HSF info!

The ChallengeTops and Toes

Fabric: Leather, I think cow.

Pattern: Made my own based on a historic shoe that seems to be called the Shoe from Parliament Street York

Year: General medieval, though the Parliament Street shoe is roughly dated from the 10th to 13th century

Notions: Really heavy duty thread--no idea about content.

How historically accurate is it? Well, the pattern is good, and we'll have to stop there, as my leather wasn't even right for shoe making--it was way too thin (for the sole at least)

Hours to complete: Only 10.5 total, with about 3 of that for mock-up.  Not bad!

First worn: Just around the house, but will be worn with my Art Challenge outfit.

Total cost: The leather was $10, the felt for the mock-up was $3, and the thread was probably $2.  So $15, but I still have leather for the uppers of at least one more pair.


  1. a challenging project! How sore are your fingers??? I must say I've been doing some handsewing myself (although not through tough leather) and it's quite enjoyable. And I've learned waxing the threads stops them from tangling and is supposed to make the seam stronger

  2. This is totally a very challenging but fulfilling project and it requires both time and creativity. Two thumbs up for a job well done. :)