Personally, I do not do much in the way of decoration when making shoes, however there
are several techniques that are discussed in the literature. For those truly
interested in the topic, I advise The Bryggen Papers,
which discusses the finds in Bergen. It has a fascinating, indepth discussion of medieval
shoe decoration. Also I suggest looking at Shoes and
On the Continent, gilded strips of leather were sometimes applied to embroidered shoes.
Doing needlework on the leather itself. There are examples discussed in Shoes and Pattens and The
Bryggen Papers. The "Plaited stitch", or the "Raised Fishbone
stitch" was the dominant form of embroidery on leather shoes.
However, other stitches were also used, such as the Satin stitch, and Cross stitch.
While sometimes, the thread was passed through the leather and seen on the other side,
more often, the the grain was incised and the thread passed along between the cuts, and no
sign of the stitch was to be seen on the flesh side.
Other shoes that were embroidered were made with uppers of silk, or some other fabric.
Some of these had birds, beasts, flowers, foliage scrolls, stars and moons worked in
metallic threads. The principle forms include the Toe-to-instep band, which was
quite popular in the 12th Century; the Instep band running around the instep; and Borders,
bands of decoration running around the edge of the upper and any side openings. The motifs
consisted of seven gernal patterns
- Lines running along and across the upper, with diagonal lines on the vamp.
- Lines over the instep.
- Lines, triangles, circles, arcs and wavy lines located on the vamp and over the instep.
- Lines and triangles along the top edge, the edges of side openings, and on the sides.
- Lines and figures-of-eight along the top edge and on the instep.
- Lines, triangles, arcs, rectangles, runics symbols, and perforations over the vamp, over
the instep and along the top edge.
- Lines, arcs, wavy lines and triangles on the vamp and the instep and along the top edge.
- Pinking (Fenestration/Perforations/Openwork/Cutout)
Creating designed by punching holes in the leather, often to reveal an under-fabric of
some color or another. This appears to have been a common form of decoration, often in
repeated patterns, or lines of cutouts. One form of fenestration appears to have been the
"Rose Window" pattern. Technically, shoes such as the Roman Caligae were heavily
fenestrated center laced shoes, not sandals.
Later on this term appears to have changed its meaning.
- Thong Decoration (Lacing)
Several finds have thonging threaded into the uppers in ways that could not be removed and
seens only to serve as decoration.
- Impression (Incision)
There are few instances of combining techniques such as Incising and Stamping, such as is
done in much modern leatherworking. Those that do exist appear to resemble the embroidered
designs. It is quite possible for such tooling to be done only using stamping tools, but
the edges of such work are usually not as sharply defined as the cut and tooled work.
- Stamping (Punching/Cold Stamping)
Using a hammer and unheated metal "Irons" to create a pattern, or set a single
image. There are a few examples of examples of these in Knives and Scabbards, most
often to create a repeating motif of a single design element.
- Blind Stamping
Impressing by means of heated metal stamps, touched to the leather. This is the method of
ornamentation used on books, and other items using very thin leathers.
- Creasing (Veining)
This is referred to a single or double line, often used to create a decorative border edge
on leather. It is done with either heated metal irons, or by friction with wooden tools.
It is essentially similar to blind stamping in that it uses heated metal to create a
- Cuerro Gofrado
Rather like "Blind Stamping", this rather lays the leather atop a heated metal
design, and pressed down onto it, creating a multilayered effect. It seems to have not
been common beyond Spain and Italy.
Taking a knife, or in modern tooling, a swivel knife, and inscribing a design into the
surface of the leather. Note that a dull knife can leave a much larger "line"
than a sharp one, and will not weaken the surface strength as much. This is *possibly* the
most common method of ornamentation for leather during the Middle Ages. On shoes, these
were often in a latticework pattern.
- Sgraffio (Scraping)
Scraping away parts of the surface to create an overall effect.
- Painting and Dying
The acidic content of vegetable tanned leather doesn't seem to be very friendly to a lot
of the pigments and mediums used in period, especially over long time spans. There are few
examples of painting on leather that have survived, however this seems, to judge from the
pictures, to have been common.
Some shoes have had jewels and gems set on them.
- Other types of Decoration appear to have included colored piping, exposed linings in
other colors, and so forth.
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Footwear of the Middle Ages - Decorative Techniques, Copyright © 1996, 1997, 1999
I. Marc Carlson.
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