By far what we know about shoes and shoemaking in the Middle Ages is surpassed by what we don't know. When it comes down to making any of the designs in this work, remember that all we have to work from are illustrations, which may only be artistic interpretations; and those shoes that have been excavated archaeologically, which at best represent slender visions into the techniques of manufacture, and highly limited examples of styles. It is as if someone was trying to reconstruct 20th C. shoe styles and manufacture techniques from photographs and ads in GQ and Vogue, and a large pile of half-rotten Tennis Shoes and one or two Cowboy Boots. While it is possible to get an idea of what existed and how they might have been made, it tells you little, if anything, of what shoes were worn beyond those glimpses.
Therefore, when making "Period" items, we are often placed in the position of either making a slavish reproduction of an item, a reasonable facsimile or an exercise in interprative speculation or a baldfaced fantasy. The first of these, slavish reproduction, is my personal preference and goal might be better termed museum quality replica. One of the major drawbacks to this level of reproduction is that, while accurate, it may not be terribly representative of what might actually have been worn (For example, photographs of English Civil War re-enactors show a very limited number of shoe styles that are unlikely to accurately portray the varieties of footwear actually worn). On the other hand, we are forced to work with what we know.
There is a spectrum of possibilities between the terms reasonable facsimile" and an exercise in interpretive speculation (also sometimes refered to as "plausibly period"), ranging from slight personal modifications of an otherwise absolutely accurate replica (for example, I know of one person who made a pair of Irish Slippers but chose to set the lacing holes in a slightly different pattern to make them more comfortable to that individual), to the basic designs of a number of the shoes in this document that are my estimates based on contemporary illustrations and descriptions, and layed out as best as I am able to reflect contemporary manufacturing techniques.
Baldfaced fantasy involves making items using techniques or materials that are not accurate to the design being recreated (for example: making an Anglo-Saxon design with a full welt and attached lower sole is a blatant anachronism, although it does allow for a longer lasting, more easily repaired shoe, and more comfort to some people when walking on gravel).
Keeping this in mind, this work shall endeavor to show accurate techniques and will indicate which designs are, in fact, based on archaeological finds and those that are based on shoes in period pictures (and those that are modern fabrications).
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Footwear of the Middle Ages - Recreation Vs. Interpretation, by I. Marc Carlson.
Copyright 1996, 1997, 1998
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