The purpose of this web site is to provide a general guide to footwear in the European Middle Ages, with some examinations of footwear before that period, as well as some that came after. Hopefully this will be an overview of footwear technology up to 1600. Since we don't have the materials or knowledge to make this an exhaustive view of all footwear up to 1600, because much of the knowledge has been long lost, not yet published, or simply not available to me at this time, this site should always be considered a work in process. Further, I don't wish to present this material as thought I am an expert, much less THE expert in this field. As we learn more about how things were done, this will change our understanding of techniques, technology, and so forth. To my mind, the true experts on Medieval shoemaking all died centuries ago. At best, I am a student of their work. As such, I am continually learning more about these things, and as I learn them, I will present them hear as I can. To this end, I will present the research that I have done (when I am able to), as well as that done by those before me, and those who are currently doing such research today..
A second purpose for this web site is to try to compare later shoemaking techniques and contemporary shoemaking terminology to that currently used by archaeologists, calceologists, and museum personnel. With luck, this may help to clear up some problematic usages, so that those researchers who are not familiar with historical shoemaking practices and terminology will understand why these usages have been developed over the past few decades.
A third purpose for this web site is to provide materials to help amateurs who are interested in the topic to learn to apply the knowledge we currently have so that they can make better reproductions of of medieval footwear, usually for reenactment purposes. It is easy to see that in the past five years, the level of quality of such reproductions has improved, and I would like to encourage that improvement.
To be honest, when I began this project back in 1995, my intention was simply to make easy to use information about making shoes available to people, first by paper, then by the Web. I assumed that it would be looked at by some SCA people, some LARP players (Live-Action Role Players), some Rennies (Renaissance and Medieval Fair participants) , and if I was really lucky, people who were really interested in reenacting might take a look at it. So I didn't really figure that scholarly merit was something I needed to sweat over too badly. I was mistaken. Those of you who design and build your own web pages may want to take note of this, by the way. This page is FAR more widely used than I ever would have expected. So much so that I have really become embarrassed at presenting a sloppy product (Note to those of you who disagree with me, and think it's just fine, thank you, I do appreciate it, but it you show this website in its current condition to real scholars, calceologists and shoemakers, and after they have finished chortling, ask them why).
So, my intention is to correct that. Those of you who have enjoyed this document as it has been, don't worry. I have no intention of altering my goals as stated below. I will simply be adjusting some formatting here and there, perhaps change a few pictures around, make notes more clear about what is provable and what is probably an artistic guess on some scholar's part. I will also be taking the time to correct some factual errors and misunderstandings I have encouraged (for example, woolen thread was not particularly common, at least in Anglo-Scandinavian shoes). I will also be adding a Links page, and a What's New page so that people will not have to guess any longer about what changes were made this time. Even without that, though, you will be able to tell those pages I have altered because they will, like this one, have a different color background. For the sake of clarity, I will leave the pictures in their original backgrounds, so that they will contrast better with the new backgrounds. Altered pictures will be identified only by a note in the text. If this makes the site appear a little choppy, I apologize. I also extend my apologies to those people who have print copies of this work, but to be honest, I'm in the same boat you are, and will have to completely reprint off the entire thing when I am done.
Thank you for your time, and your indulgence.
I. Marc Carlson
12 November 1998
This document is an exploration of the topic of shoemaking in the so-called Middle Ages, particularly centered on the British Isles and Western Europe. It includes an examination of shoemaking and footwear types, techniques for working the leather, designing the pattern and so forth. I hope the reader will find the discussion to be at a level that would be of some use to the most practiced professional, but without losing the tremulous tyro, as yet uninitiated into the Mystery of Cordwaining. This is in no way meant to be the "last word" on this topic of shoemaking, nor is it intended to be a replacement for a real, intensive study of the topic. It is my hope, however, that no question be left unanswered at the end of this document, with each of the steps described, and demonstrated when necessary; from measuring and making the pattern, to "clicking," or cutting the pattern, and the final assembly.
Finally, I will offer some suggestions and unsolicited advice based on my experience for those people who have no interest in making shoes. I make no pretense to be an expert on this topic, simply someone who's made some shoes. I am well aware that Cordwaining is a skill and, like many other skills, requires more than just a "how to" book to learn. However, unlike many skills, Cordwaining is one that doesn't have a plethora of teachers and easy ten-step manuals. This should not be interpreted as a "pickup and whip-out a shoe" kit, as that is not how it is intended.
At this point it would probably be appropriate to give up a note of fair warning. My tone may seem harsh and brusque, my opinions may seem brutal and hard, and what passes for my "wit" may be interpreted as dry and caustic. If this offends you, all I can say is that this material's been edited to minimize that, and you've been warned. I will be honest, and straight-forward. Of necessity, I will try to keep the vocabulary of this document as simple as precision will allow, to minimize the chances of misunderstanding. I make no assumptions that my readers will be either basically informed on this topic, or as dumb as posts. When I state an opinion, I will try to label it as such, when I state facts, they will be as I understand them.
It should be noted that there are areas of this topic (as well as the topic of leatherworking in and of itself) where educated and informed opinions differ and, more importantly, where my particular opinions will enter in to this discussion. In those places, I will attempt to be fair to both sides of the topic, and allow the reader to use their own judgement.
This document focuses mostly on the cultural milieus I am most familiar with, those of the British Isles and the North Sea. Therefore, the materials you are examining should not be confused with a text of shoes for all regions in Europe (although, admittedly, some other examples are given). I would suggest, though, that understanding how shoes were made in Britain might give you hints on how shoes were made in Germany.
Finally, I think it's important to point out that the designs you will find in here are NOT "patterns" for "Period Shoes". They are not drawn to any appreciable scale, nor have I actually made all of these designs. These are more akin to the period design drawings, from which each individual pattern should be drawn. If you slap them into a photocopier and just enlarge them, you'll likely come out with garbage.
I hope then that you will find both food for thought in here, as well as information that will be useful as you sit down and begin to work.
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Footwear of the Middle Ages - Introduction, Copyright © 1996, 1998, 2002 I. Marc
This page is given for the free exchange of information, provided the author's name is included in all future revisions, and no money change hands, other than as expressed in the Copyright Page.