Sunday, May 17, 2015

My Foray into 18th Century Shoemaking, or An Exercise in Humility

18th c shoemaker's shop.  Diderot

      You know what really burns me?  My kids grow.  Not normally a big deal, except when you have to remake a new set of 18th clothing for them every year.  I am not very interested in dropping over $100 for each of my companions on new shoes, so for a time we made do with 18th c "looking" shoes to which I could fix a buckle.  Now that they're older, we're going to juried events AND I'm not a fan of half measures, I decided to try my hand at making their shoes.  How hard can it be?  I'm making clothing, hunting pouches, hats, cartridge boxes, etc...right?  Wrong.  Whole different ballgame-but the good news is, I made all the mistakes for you.

       To start, with, I needed a source at which to look.  The shoes I made for my sons were based off my study (sadly only from photographs) of examples from Neumann and Kravic's Collector's Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Revolution (below) and the Ligonier Collection (below inset).

8,9:  Excavated 18th c shoes (Neumann and Kravic), Inset: Round toed shoe (Fort Ligonier)
        For my materials I used a light suede for the uppers and heavy bridle leather for the heels and outsoles.  For the larger pair, I salvaged the heel and outsole from a pair of my old shoes, for the smaller pair, he heel leather was salvaged from an old cartridge box.  Each shoe was comprised of several pieces for which I took foot measurements and made patterns.

Anatomy of a shoe.  This shoe is for my teenager.  I cut down the outsole from a worn out
pair of my own shoes, moved the hobnails, made new stitching holes (in the outsole). 
The thread used is 40lb weight hemp cord.  The leather is suede, left over from a previous project.

         After tracing my child's foot, I added 1/2 in. all around.  This is the added area for the outer row of stitching on the welt.  I made the other pieces by looking at the angles and lengths on the extant shoes and drawing proportional patterns to my children's' feet.  Interestingly, the angles in the quarter are the same for both shoes, obviously the lengths and widths change.  The welt attaches the vamp and quarter to the insole and outsole.  In the photo above you will the welt stitched to the vamp and quarter.  I am about half way done stitching the welt to the outsole in this photo.  This is where I made my mistake.  After the welt is ENTIRELY stitched to the vamp and quarter, a wooden form should be inserted into the shoe to give it shape.  The insole is then whip stitched to the vamp and the form is extracted through the ankle hole.  This is important as I could have told very early that my vamps were too long and too wide (I had to take the first pair of shoes apart.  Additionally, I glued the insoles in place after construction ,which was messy AND inaccurate.

One of these shoes is NOT like the other.  (The vamp on the one on the right is too wide).

         In the photo above, you can see how much wider the first shoe turned out.  The second shoe (on the left) fit my son perfectly.  I tore apart the stitching on the right shoe, cut down the vamp by 1/2 in. on each side and sewed vamp, welt and outsole back together.  The finished product... not perfect, but looked much better (below).

Finished shoes for the teen (left).  Outsole and cut-out uppers for by 8 year-old at right.

         The outsole were made of two pieces of stacked and glued leather.  The heels were six stacked and glued pieces of leather as well.  To these I added nails from the bottom side.  The second pair of shoes went far more easily (having learned rom my mistakes on the first).  Nevertheless, I still failed to use a shoe form, nor did I use a hardened leather tow box.  You can tell by the lazy, dilapidated look of these shoes. 

Formless, shapeless... but they fit!

       So, these are certainly NOT Fugawee, but for about $30 a pair, I was able to make a pair of shoes (cheaper than modern shoes with rubber soles) that I won't be embarrassed about my boys wearing at a juried event.  Nor will I be upset when I have to make the next size up in twelve months.  The shoes were finished with Fiebing's black shoe dye and my blackball mixture using beeswax, turpentine, and meet's foot oil.  This gives them that waxed, rough out look (and makes them water resistant) like the original working class shoe.


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