Glossary of Footwear Terminology, B

International Language Terminology Cross-Reference General Glossary of Footwear Types

Back flap
A small extension which may be part of the shoe and which extends from the bottom of the back seam. When it is cut into small strips it becomes a 'trailer.' It can also be shaped in some other way. The back flap may be turned up and sewn either inside or outside the shoe. [Webber, 1989]

Literally, the back of the sole, or insole.  This term is not consistently used in the modern literature.  It is not used generally to describe the Heel or any part of the overleather, except in cases of footwear lacking a side or back seam, in which case, backpart refers to the rear quarters on a shoe with no backseam.  Medieval shoes do not usually have a backseam

Back seam
  1. The seam that joins the rear quarters up the center-back of the shoe
  2. The vertical seam at the center back of a shoe or boot. Anthropologists in North America often call it a 'heel seam.' See Quarters. [Webber, 1989]
  3. The seam that runs up the back of the Quarters (q.v.).
Backing, or Backer
Fabric laminated to a weak material to give it strength and to help it stand up. [;]


  1. The back of the shoe, or the sole or insole See Quarters. [Webber, 1989]
  2. May be used in describing footwear which lacks the pair of Side Seams (q.v.). [Thornton/Swann, 1983]
  3. Of upper: for pre-16th-century footwear lacking quarters and a backseam, it is the term used to describe the rear area of the shoe upper. [Goubitz, 2001]
Back Seam
  1. The seam up the back of the quarters.
  2. The seam that joins the rear part of the quarters together, centred at the backmost part of the shoe. [Goubitz, 2001]
Back Stiffener
See Counter

Back Stitching
Stitching done with a single thread that is worked forward two stitches and back one, so that a continuous row of stitches is left on the top surface, sometimes with intervals between (and very long stitches on the back).

  1. A strip of leather applied on the outside, covering the back seam, typically on high boots.  Post-1800.
  2. Sometimes used for Heel Stiffener and Counter
  3. (Sometimes Backstrip) This is a piece of leather used to cover the back seam of the shoe quarter.   []
  4. (See Heelstrap). [Goubitz, 2001]
Bagged top
A method of binding the top line of an upper so that no stitches can be seen, giving a very soft feel and look. [;]

Ball (Joint)

  1. The head of the first metatarsal bone where it joins the big toe. [Thornton/Swann, 1983] The part of the foot at the base of the first metatarsal or "big toe" is rounded. This projection has the appearance of a half-ball or semi-round pad traditionally called the "ball". [Webber, 1989]
  2. See Girths
Balling Heels
See Glazing. [Devlin, 1840]

Baker's Brake
Holme shows this.
It is a tool that is used like a long stick or bone to polish, burnish or slicken leather.

Bar shoe
Any shoe held on the foot by bars across the instep. Any number of bars can be used, and they can be arranged in various ways e.g. T Bars. [;]

Barber's Twist
An old term for a type of silk thread, twisted hard. See Twist. [Devlin. 1840]

Bark tanned
See Tanned

Basan (Other medieval spellings include: Basĕn, Baseyn, Basan(n)e, Basyn, Bazan, Bazen(n)e) from Old French Bazenne, Basanne.   By 1714 Basan, Bazan corrupted to Bazil, Basil,
Brown sheepskin, the leather has been tanned in oak or larch bark.  It is not the same as roan, which is tanned in sumac.  To judge from the London Ordnances, it was sometimes illicitly passed off as "cordovan", or cordwain, or mixed into shoes with cordwain.  The word’s earliest appearance seems to be about 1300, although at least one source has suggested that it was also used for a style of Anglo-Norman riding boot worn by the clergy.

Basic forme
Used to produce the design for the upper. The designer transfers the design from the last onto paper. [Vass]

Bead (Bead-welt)
There are three terms that cover essentially the same piece of a shoe that are used in different contexts. The definitions for The Bead, the Rand and the Welt should be examined carefully.

  1. See Welt (5).
  2. Also known as welt, though the latter term should be restricted to the sole seam insert. To avoid confusion with 17th-18th century randed construction (q.v.), this term may be used in place of Rand [Thornton/Swann, 1983]
    Note that "bead" and "bead-welt" have no historical source of authority in the traditional shoemaking vocabulary before they were adopted in the mid-20th c. The term "bead" was borrowed from the ICOM Costume committee's glossary for historical clothing by shoe fashion researcher, June Swan, to refer to a strip of material, single-ply, or folded over a fine string to create a "piping", inserted into a machined seam of the uppers to reinforce it and fill the gap between the pieces, or between the cut-edges of the lining and the shell of the uppers along the topline to create a finished edge. Ms Swann further made it into "Bead-Welt" to connect the two items when referring to Uppers only, i.e., a bead used like a welt, for shoe descriptions. She wanted a different term for each different type of strip, and was forced to adapt some new terms.[Saguto]
  3. The modern shoe (and luggage/handback) trade does have a term Bead, the Piping inserted into seams of uppers or used to finish edges, but that's its limited use: for uppers only in the  post-sewing machine era.
  4. The piping that is used at the top of the boot. Also top bead. [Frommer]
The narrow concave curve in the front panel of the boot which opens to the instep of the boot (only really known regarding cowboy boots) [Frommer]

Bell Line
An imaginary line around the leg of the boot (or on the pattern for the leg) which corresponds to the top of the bell (only really known regarding cowboy boots) [Frommer]

Bellows Tongue
A folded tongue stitched in under the lace holes. [Thornton/Swann, 1983]

A half hide of sole leather with the shoulder and belly trimmed away.

Bend leather
The most valuable, hardest, and most massive part of a cowhide, between one-fifth and one-third of an inch (5-8 mm) thick, water and temperature resistant and easy to work, that has been softened and stored in the tanning pits for at least 15-18 months. It is used for the top sole and the heel (both the lifts and the top piece). [Vass]

Custom work that has been "spoken for".  Something that has been made to order, as opposed to Readymade work.

A leather edge pared down at an angle, see also skiving. [Goubitz, 2001]

Bifurcated strap
(Tie lace): a leather strap which has been split along most of the length, making two tie-laces joined by the un-split portion of the strap. [Goubitz, 2001]

Binding (Modern terms include: Edge Binding, Top band)
  1. A finishing technique that sews a band of leather along the raw top edge)

  2. A piece of material that goes around the top edge, often binding the lining with the outside material.
  3. In 17th-early 19th centuries, used to join the parts of the upper. The term is then equivalent to closing q.v. [Thornton/Swann, 1983]
  4. A narrow strip of material covering the edge of a section. [Webber, 1989]
  5. The fabric channel through which the drawstring runs in ballet shoes. []
  6. Finishing off a leather edge by sewing a band of leather along the raw edge. [Goubitz, 2001]
Binding Cord
See Reinforcing Cord.

Binding Stitch
Angled whip stitching along the edge of a piece of leather through the edge and back.  Used for patching, for joining two pieces edge-to-edge or to simply to reinforce the edge.

Black (Other medieval spellings include: Blacken, Blacken, Blake, Blatche, Bleche, Bleke, Bletch, Bletche Latin: Atrementum, Artrementumo) Also Blacking
The precise meaning of what "black" and blacking was in the Middle Ages with regards to shoemaking remains a bit cluttered.  Clearly it is something used to make the shoes black.  One form is probably some form of Coperas water, although it may also refer to a form of black paste. Blacking Pan (Other medieval spelling includes: Blackyng pan).
This phrase appears in the Lystyne lordys verament, and the meaning is obscure, but I suspect that, because the term pan more often means a container used in the manufacture of something than it is to refer to a storage container, this may be the pan used for preparing the blacking. 

Blacking Pot (Other medieval spelling includes: Blackyng pot)
This phrase appears in the Lystyne lordys verament, and the meaning is obscure but I suspect that, because the term pot can be used either for manufacture or storage (and the reference already mentioned the blakyng pan), this may be some form of container for holding the blacking in. 

Shoemaker's Blacking.  In Latin, Atramentum [Promptorium Parvalorum]

Bleche of Souters
A group of shoemakers [MED]

Blind is a used to describe something where the work must be done where it can’t be seen by the person doing the work, or the finished product can’t be seen, hence a blind stitch/blind hold is one where the thread is hidden, but is not buried in a channel

*Blind Split Hold or *Blind Split Seam (Modern terms include: Caterpillar Stitch, Clump Stitch, Hidden stitch, Tunnel Stitch)
This term has been generated to the split hold sewing used in attaching an outer sole to a welt in a Medieval shoe, or to the overleather in a Roman shoe.  These stitches are made such that the stitch vanishes completely into the body of the work (other than the thread visible on top of the welt).  While this is generally referred to in archaeological terms as a tunnel stitch, the term *blind split hold is intended to reflect the more traditional shoemaking argot.  Clearly a *blind split seam is a seam made up from such holds.

Blind stitch
A technique of sewing (See Tunnel Stitch). [Goubitz, 2001]


  1. One who blocks [OED2]. From at least 1609, the term was still used by 1866.
  2. A term (possibly originally British, but now used predominantly by Americans) for a component of a boot or show (i.e. front, vamp, etc) that is cut oversized and subsequently trimmed down to size during the lasting or shaping    See Castor; The rough pattern for the vamp or the front half of a full Wellington before blocking (crimping). [Frommer]
  3. In England, used for Crimping.
Setting the wet insole, or sole for a turn-shoe, on the last and molding it to shape.  It may also refer to trimming it to shape on the last.
  1. Setting the sole on the last [Holme, 1688]
  2. Blocking In-soles. Stretching the wet insoles to the insoles. [Devlin. 1840]
Board Lasting
Board-lasted shoes incorporate a board which makes the shoe rigid. Shoes of this type are generally heavier and stiffer than those built with other types of lasting. []

Bodkin (Bodkyne)
See Awl.  [Promptorium Parvalorum]

Bones and Sticks
This entry is more for a class of object than a specific term.  Bones in this case is not necessarily a reference to skeletal remains, although it can be.  These are tools, long smooth sticks that are used to slicken the leather, smooth it and compress it.           These include, but are likely not not limited to the following:
Baker's Brake Used for general slicking down, pressing, rubbing and burnishing the sole.  Shown in Holme. [Holme, 1688]   It is used like a Long Stick or Bone [Saguto].
Bone & Rattle (Traditional terms include:  Scratch bone) This bone can be used to slicken the leather, but it also has a set of teeth cut into one end to scrape away excess wax from finished rows of stitching.  [Saguto]
Dresser This is also obscure in meaning, but while some sources, such as Holme suggest that this may refer to a polishing bone, an edge creaser, a burnishing or rubbing stick, used to burnish the edges, or to flatten and make smooth leather.  It is also possible that Holme was discussing this when he described a tool for "pairing leather  upon", making it likely that this is related to the leatherworker's "dressing knife" and might be similar to a pairing horn.or stick.  Shown in Holme. [Holme, 1688]
Forepart Stick Shown in Holme. [Holme, 1688] gloss5.gif (312 bytes)Hugh116b.gif (1307 bytes)
Hollin Sticks, Shoulder Sticks The stepped configuration is to aid in smoothing down the sole edge and any welt.  Apparently "Shoulder" refers to the raised guides cut into the working end to hold it to the edge of the sole.  Narrow "shoulders" can be used for  pumps and turnshoes. Shown in Holme. [Holme, 1688]
Long Stick/Long Bone
  1. Used for general slicking down, pressing, rubbing and burnishing the sole.  It is used like a Baker's Brake. Shown in Holme. [Holme, 1688] [Saguto]
  2. A tool used for rubbing the surface of the outsole after rounding and tacking it, but before cutting the channel.. [Martin, 1745]
  3. A Slicking, rubbing or burnishing tool. [Devlin, 1840]
gloss6.gif (529 bytes)Hugh116c.gif (1517 bytes)
Mounter A tool for burnishing and smoothing down stitches.  .Shown in Holme. [Holme, 1688]
Petty Boy A tool for burnishing and smoothing down stitches  Shown in Holme. [Holme, 1688]
Short Bones These are just short flat bits of bone like bone folders/folding bones used in bookbinding [Saguto]  
Stitching Stick Shown in Holme. [Holme, 1688]  Used for smoothing stitches? gloss5a.gif (1397 bytes)Hugh116a.gif (1578 bytes)
Boot,  Bote (Other medieval spellings include: Bat, Bate, But, Bute, Buyt, Latin: Bota/Botarum, Ocrea)
  1. A family of types of footwear extending above the ankle, and may end just above the ankle, calf length, knee high, or thigh high.  Cokers and hueses are probably types of botes.  A bote may lack any closure, or may be laced, buckled or buttoned.  Based on documentary evidence and illustrations, botes were worn by laborers, hunters or riders.  This may also refer to a type of legging, or leather hose. 
  2. An item of footwear, the leg of which extends at least to, or above, the ankle joint, and may be an ankle boot, calf, knee or thigh boot.[Thornton/Swann, 1983] [Webber,  1989] [Grew/deNeergaard, 1988]
  3. A closed form of footwear reaching over the ankle or higher, and lacking a fastening opening, fastening or closure. [Goubitz, 2001]
  4. A covering for the foot and lower part of the leg, usually of leather. (Distinguished from a SHOE by extending above the ankle. In earlier times used only by riders.) [OED]
Boot leg (Modern terms include:  Leg)
The part of the boot which extends above the ankle. [Webber, 1989][Devlin. 1840][Rees, 1813]

Boot Tongue-Closing
One of several butted edge sewn seams, done with a curved awl, showing on just one side of this finished seam. [Saguto]

  1. A name for a sort of Ankle shoe (q.v)
  2. A trade name for: a. a kind of high-low boot for ladies [OED]
  3. an infant's wool boot. [OED]
Boteu (Other medieval spellings include: Bateau, Botewes, Butewe, Buttwe. Butewes, Buttows, Buttois, Low boots Latin: Coturnus, Botula, Crepita)
A kind of low boots, reaching above the ankle and perhaps as high as the calf.

Bottom (Modern terms include:  Bottom Unit)
The bottom stuff made up of one or more of  the outer sole, the insole, any midsole, welt, rand, and any separate raised heel. In a single piece shoe like a revelin, this term may be used for that single piece of material that forms the sole and sides. See Stuff.

  1. (Bottom) The underpart of a shoe comprising one or more of the following sections: sole, insole, welt, Rand, heel, and possibly other minor parts. [Thornton/Swann, 1983][Webber, 1989]
  2. (Bottom) In boot and shoe making, the heel, sole and insole. [Frommer]
  3. (Bottom Unit) A unit of sole and heel, sometimes with mock welt (20th Century).
  4. (Bottom Unit) May also be used for the single piece of material of moccasins and opankes which forms the sole and the upturned sides. [Thornton/Swann, 1983]
  5. (Bottom Unit) On Indian and Eskimo footwear, the bottom unit is a single piece of material, soft or hard, comprising the bottom and upturned sides. [Webber, 1989]
Bottom Holding
A lastmaker's term for grading a last up (making it larger) without altering the bottom width, bottom radius or bottom papers. The net result is a size D last, as an example, with a size A bottom. [Frommer]

Bottom Leveling
Filling the area over the bottom, inside the Inseam, with scraps, skiving, cork, felt and paste, and then paring it to an even depth. [Rees, 1813][Devlin, 1840]

Bottom Papers

Bottom Unit (see Bottom)

(Block) In ballet shoes this is the stiff toe cup throat which encases the toes []

Box calf
Calfskin tanned with chrome salts. It is considered to bc the best material for shoe uppers and boot legs. [Vass]

Box cowhide
Cowhide tanned with chrome salts. It is used for shoe uppers.  [Vass]

Box Liner
The soft fabric that lines the inside of the toe box in ballet shoes   []

Bracing (Traditional terms include:  Breasing)
Bracing is a technique for holding leather around a form by making criss-crossing of thread between the edges of the leather.  It is known that in the 16th-17th century, a rand would be braced to keep it curved under the insole, until it could be stitched.  Therefore, it is likely that medieval rands were braced in the manufacture of leather covered cork or wooden soles on certain forms of pattens, ecclesiastical footwear, and winter shoes. 
  1. When an upper is lasted onto an insole, the lasting margins have to be temporarily held in position until welt or sole is attached. This can be done by defines or by bracing thread criss-crossing and pulling the margins inward. Although the thread may not survive in buried shoes, the imprint of it is often visible. [Thornton/Swann, 1983]
  2. "Breasing doen the Rann" [Holme, 1688]
  3. A way of reducing the Pipes around the toe of the lasted shoe by stitching the vamp leather tightly around the toe area. [Rees, 1813][Devlin, 1840]
  4. A method of tightening the welt or envelope with a thread that follows a zigzag or crosswise pattern, used to hold a folded welt or envelope leather in place so that the treadsole (outsole) can be sewn on. [Goubitz, 2001]
Bracing margin
The free edge portion of the folded welt or envelope, which is folded over the insole or filling, and which the bracing threads pass through. [Goubitz, 2001]

Bracing thread
A single thread which passes tightly from bracing margin to bracing margin in a zigzag or crosswise pattern over the insole and often leaves an impression on insole and treadsole (outsole). [Goubitz, 2001]

Braided toggle
A fastening made from a thong that is tied into a large knot of several passes. [Goubitz, 2001]

The point in the crimped vamp or in the completed boot where the leather changes direction to meld into the tongue or into the leg. [Frommer]

  1. The front surface of the heel, usually termed heel breast.[Thornton/Swann, 1983]
  2. The forward face of the heel, usually at 1/3 the length of the cowboy boot. [Frommer]
Breasting iron
A tool with different cross section sizes used by the shoemaker to smooth the edges of the sole and heel and make the material more dense. [Vass]

When pulling leather tight during lasting, it will not always pull down to the wood over extreme contours on the last resulting in bridging.

Bristle (Other medieval spellings include Brustel Latin: Seta, Sæta)
A long hair from a wild pig (hog is preferred today) which is attached to the end of the thread.  This allows the thread to be drawn through the stitch hole for sewing or stitching.   According to tradition, bristles became used in the shoemaking industry because they were cheaper than needles, and because of their flexibility in pulling the thread through curved or oblique holes. They were in use during the Roman Era, and then they do not appear in literature until the 12th century, and when and where they were used in the mean time is not known. See End, also see Needle.
  1. A nylon, steel, or hog's hair needle. [Frommer]
  2. The long neck hair of a wild pig fixed to the end of sewing thread, used to guide the thread through the awl holes; in shoemaker's parlance the bristle fixed to the thread is known as a 'waxed end'. [Goubitz, 2001]
Broad Toed Shoes (Other terms include: Bearpaw, Bear's Claw, Cowmouth, Escarpin, Hornbill, Horned, Kuhmaul, Scarpina, Solleret)
Towards the end of the 15th century, as interest for pointed toed shoes waned among the stylish, the fashion drifted towards more blunt, squared-off toes. However, as with the crakowes, the broad toed shoes eventually became grossly exaggerated. These styles were limited at times to a mere 6 inches wide. They were often worn by the German mercenary soldiers.  Unfortunately, I am unaware of a really good term from the era in English to describe these, and most of the terms that have been used also mean other things as well.  Also many of these do represent variations in styles.

(Brodequin, Cothurnus, Corthurnus, Korthornos, Scin-hose, Socca, Soccus, Sokke)
A 15th century boot, reaching the calves or knees. These are referred to by many names that are also used for other sorts of footwear.  Most often they are erroneously referred top as buskins. 

Brogueing row
An arrangement of holes of the same or different sizes at regular intervals along the lines and curves where tile upper components meet. [Vass]

See Pin

Fastening device made of a metal frame with a hinged pin. There are two kinds: the spindle buckle has a hinged pin fixed to a central bar and can be permanently fixed on the shoe, and the detachable buckle which has a chape consisting of a spiked tongue and attachment device hinged on a central bar and is transferable. [Goubitz, 2001]

Buckle attachment strap
The strap by which a permanentily fixed buckle is attached to the shoe. [Goubitz, 2001]

Buckle strap
The strap that passes through a buckle to fasten a shoe [Goubitz, 2001]

Built Heel (or "Stacked Heel").
See "Heel". [Thornton/Swann, 1983]

A low three legged stool.

Removing the Grain, and then sandpapering it. [Devlin, 1840]

Bulldog Pincers, Bulldogs
A form of lasting pincer that is self-tightening. They are used in the waist pulling the uppers of the boot tight to the last. [Frommer]

Burnishing (Ragging off)
See Ragging off.

Burnishing iron
Iron tool that the shoemaker heats to the required temperature over a flame and uses to press ink and shoe cream into the leather. [Vass]

Buskin is a 16th century word for a type of soft leather boot reaching the calf or knee, or perhaps a shorter laced boot, possibly deriving from the 15th century brodeguin.  Starting in the 16th century, historians started referring other footwear, such as the ancient Greek cothurnus/corthurnus/korthornos, as "buskins" because they vaguely look like Buskins, leading to much confusion about what a buskin really is.  It has also been, used to refer to low stockings and hose of leather, linen, silk, or embroidered and brocaded fabrics.  See also Socc.

Butted Seams
  1. A modern term for a variety of seams in the uppers where the edges of adjoining sections are butted together and joined.  In medieval shoes, this closing was almost exclusively what is called in archaeological circles, an edge/flesh seam (q.v.).
  2. Joining made by placing the two edges together and sewing from the leather's surface through the thickness of the edges and through to the surface on the adjoining leather, often known its being sewn edge/flesh (split closing); the seam is invisible on the reverse side. [Goubitz, 2001]
Button (Other medieval spellings include: Botone, Botoun Modern terms include: Toggle)
A small knob used to fasten a shoe’s straps.  In archaeology and museums the term toggle is used to describe buttons in a belief that this is a more accurate term.  Rolled toggle and coffee bean toggle are terms that have been used to describe buttons of rolled leather.
  1. (Toggle) the term toggle is used in many archaeological texts to describe a kind of fastening device made of either a rolled or knotted leather strip, which sometimes has been described as a 'button'. [Goubitz, 2001]

Return to Contents or [Next]

Footwear of the Middle Ages - Glossary of Footwear Terminology B, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001, 2005 I. Marc Carlson. 
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.