Making the Shoe, Part 3

Actually making the shoe...

make10.jpg (22113 bytes) Before we start, we should make sure that the awl is sharp on the end, and well coated with beeswax, to act as a lubricant as it slips through the leather.  I am using a curved awl because it makes the sorts of holes we are going to pierce easier. make11.jpg (19652 bytes)
make12.jpg (12322 bytes) Carefully pressing the point of the awl through the flesh side of the sole, then out through the side of the sole (hence the sometimes name "flesh-edge stitch").
The awl is then stabbed through the flesh and grain sides of the welt... make13.jpg (13401 bytes)
make14.jpg (11873 bytes) The awl is then stabbed through the flesh and grain sides of the upper...
The awl is then removed.  The bristled threads (or in this case, the needles) are slid through the holes made by the awl, both sides simultaneously, and (perhaps with a half-cast) these stitches are pulled tight.  You will notice the picture below I am using the groove at the pommel of the awl in my right hand as a capstain to help pull the thread tight.  My left hand should be protected by a hand leather to keep from cutting the skin, but I forget to use it.
make30.jpg (14302 bytes) make31.jpg (18324 bytes)

Then the awl is used again to start the next stitch.  This is stitching the inseam between the upper and sole.

I should mention at this point that by the late 16th century, based on some drawings,   some shoemakers appear to have been using a stirrup to hold the shoe in place when stitching.  Other drawings from earlier suggest that shoemakers had not yet made this discovery.  I will say a stirrup can make the task easier, although I do not use one when making medieval shoes.

make29.jpg (17671 bytes)
make15.jpg (9987 bytes)
make17.jpg (5111 bytes) The "pitch" is the number of stitches per inch.  In this case, I'm making about 6 per inch, which is not bad for a later period shoe.   Although later shoemakers would return their apprentice's work that used less than 6 per inch (Rees), earlier medieval shoes would often have pitches of 4 or so per inches.
It's sort of hard to tell here, but one of the things you want to do before removing the shoe from the last is to tray and flatten the round stitches, andburnish the flattened the stitches with a polishing bone.  Great care should be taken with flattening the seam with a mallot, since  you can easily break the threads of the stitches with the impact.  This flattening and burnishing is very important with the inseam connecting the sole and the upper, as you will be walking on this.

I can not prove that setting and flattening the stitches like this was practiced on medieval shoes, but it was standard when the making of turned shoes was finally described, and it makes the shoes more comfortable.  Even if you are not using a last to build a shoe on, I advise getting a small wooden block to stick in the shoe to serve as backstop for this smoothing.

make9.jpg (6433 bytes)
make16.jpg (9508 bytes) Then we pull all the tacks from the shoe.  And, carefully, pulling the heel down, we carefully work the last back out of the shoe.   Later period lasts make this easier by using "wedges" and "broken lasts" to split apart.  There is some evidence that some Roman and Medieval lasts might have been able to separate, but since this particular last was based on an archaeological original, I don't have that option.

All I can say is that you should be very careful.

make18.jpg (6667 bytes) make19.jpg (8569 bytes) make20.jpg (7295 bytes)
Now, we carefully turn the shoe rightside out.  If the leather is thick enough to make this work, soak it in water, and then try it.  You may need to insert a stick in the toe and use that to push the toe out.  In this case, the goat and the cow hide are thin enough that water is not needed. make21.jpg (7249 bytes)
make22.jpg (7571 bytes) Et Voila....

Return to Contents or Go on to Part 4 of Making the Shoes.


Footwear of the Middle Ages - Making the Shoe, Page 3, by I. Marc Carlson. Copyright 1999
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