Turn Shoes


One of the more interesting topics to come up during all this research has been trying to find out what people mean when they use the words "turned Shoes", "turn Shoes", "turnshoes"; and the occasional misuse of "turnsole"[1].

Essentially, at this time there are generally two different definitions for "turn shoe"[2]. The first is the more generally understood: Any shoe that is made inside out, and then turned right side out, regardless of how the sole is attached to the upper, or how the upper is closed. Many scholars have issues with this definition, since it can then be used to refer to some Native American shoes, some Iron Age European shoes, and all manner of other shoes than straight-forward medieval European shoes.[3]  They would prefer to restrict the term 'turn shoes' to only those medieval style shoes whose uppers have been closed and made with the edge/flesh seam (or sewn with a split hold).[4]  This would seem then to pretty well limit the use of the term to medieval European footwear, although there is some evidence that Romans may have had some shoes closed with edge/flesh seams/split holds by the 4th century[5] , as well as some examples from Coptic Egypt.[6]

The question is obviously then, who's right?  As with so many of these questions, the answer is both and neither -- it depends on what's wanted from the term.  In Calceology, there are two directions to come at the terminology, the first is description of what is being found in the ground, the second is determining how it got that way in the first place.  To give you an example, let me use a term I've used already in this document: "edge/flesh seam (or sewn with a split hold)".  What does this mean?

It means that a piece of leather was found with a hole that enters the edge of the leather and came out the flesh side - like so:

Thread was run through this hole, and probably joined that piece of leather to another.  This is particularly true if a line of such holes was found (a "seam").  Conversely, there should also be an "edge/grain seam", although these are not found in medieval footwear..  They are found in later era footwear:

However, from a shoemaker's perspective, this doesn't make a lot of sense, since what he or she wants is to explain how the hole got there in the first place, what it's for, and why it looks like that.  Since the awl (and hence the thread) "splits" the leather, and comes out in the middle, as opposed to "stabbing" through to the other side, these are referred to as "split".  Since the thread "holds" the leather, these are "split holds" (but not "split stitches").  Sewing is different from stitching, in that stitching means (in Shoemakerspeak) that the hole goes from one side of the leather to the other, while sewing can come in one side and go out the edge or back out the same side, depending on what the purpose of the seam is.

Obviously the different jargons are intended to convey different meanings to different audiences.  This is only a problem is that the traditionalist jargon is being superceded by the modern, artificial terms. 

So, getting back to the subject of "Turnshoes" how do the two jargons differ?

Shoemaking first.  The word does not appear to be medieval. According to the OED, the word 'turned' is first applied to footwear made inside out as early as 1766 ("turned pumps for men").  The Encyclopedia Britannica, 9th Edition places all of shoemaking into two divisions, the lesser of which being turned work, the making of turn shoes.  So, we can probably be pretty sure that by the time the word was picked up by the academics and applied in the mid-20th century, to refer to medieval shoes, it was a fairly old term for inside-out made shoes (For the record, people in the Middle Ages likely referred to them as "shoes").  There is no indication that the presence or absence of any particular sort of sewing technique is the defining criterion.

Then we get the academic application, probably stemming from people finding examples of medieval shoes and being told that they were "turnshoes" because they were made inside out.  Gradually this is broken into a number of  separate subgroups, such as "Turned-welts" - shoes that are made as turned shoes, and they have an additional outsole attached to the welt.  It should be noted that it is this development where the Academics begin to refer to the leather strip between uppers and soles as a "welt".  In shoes without an added outer sole, they refer to it as a "rand", even though the word "welt" is a perfectly acceptable medieval word for the leather strip sewn between the sole and the upper since at least 1425 (Rand didn't appear in a shoemaking context until nearly 1600, and then [7] to refer to what some later calceologists have termed a "folded welt").

[1] I make no bones about the fact that it's a misuse since it was likely MY misusing the term that helped it catch on. Turnsole is a kind of plant that, as far as can be determined, never had anything to do with shoes. At one point, the term was briefly confused with Turnshoe, and that was enough for it to catch on. Hopefully it's been weeded out now.
[2] This is the spelling and form I'm going to use for this document, I am not suggesting that any other usage is wrong. At this time there apparently IS no standard usage.
[3] Curiously, these are often the same people who find no problem with taking obscure words for a shoe type and then driving them into the ground by overuse (vis. "Moccasin", "Opanke")
[4] The desire to limit the terminology is from a pers.com. discussion with Carol van-Driel Murray, and D.A Saguto.
[5] van Driel-Murray, Carol. "Roman footwear: a mirror of fashion and society" Recent Research in Archaeological Footwear (Association of Archaeological Illustrators & Surveyors, Technical Paper no.8) 1987; Göpfrich, Jutta. Romische Lederfunde Aus Mainz. (Sonderdruck Aus dem Saalburg-Jahrbuch 42), Mainz Am Rhein: Verlag Philipp Von Zabern, 1986. 
[6] Shoes made inside out and then turned rightside out actually can be found as early as the 18th Dynasty in Egypt.   Montembault, Véronique. Catalogue des Chaussures de l'Antiquité Égyptienne. Musée du Louvre, Département des Antiquités Égyptiennes. Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 2000.
[7]  At least according to D.A. Saguto, of Colonial Williamsburg, a recognized expert on post-Medieval footwear.


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Footwear of the Middle Ages - Turned Shoes, Copyright © 2002 I. Marc Carlson. 
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