I’m re-sharing an older post of some experimental turnshoes I made quite a few years ago. These were based on some Scandinavian examples from the archaeological record. They came out pretty good for a first try. My only modification would be to tighten the width through the arch and lengthen the toe area slightly. I have since learned that this problem has been well-understood for centuries by shoe makers and is why modern shoe lasts often look long and narrow to the amateur eye.
Finally “finished” enough. These were rubbed down with a “tea” made from walnut juice, worn dry, and later oiled.
This was my first attempt at a proper turnshoe. Basically a variation on the shoes worn in Europe and parts of Asia from the Iron Age (ca. 500 B.C.) through the early modern times (ca. 1700s). This pair is made without a last (form) so construction is similar to other moccasin-type shoes. There are quite a large number of early shoes found in archaeological contexts in Europe so many designs are known. This is inspired by, but not slavish to, shoes found in the British Isles and Scandinavia in the early part of the last millennium.
I was sorry to not document the pattern making but, as can be figured, the upper is a single piece side-seam make by wrapping the foot, marking a rough outline of the plane where the upper meets the sole, cutting off the wrapping, and cutting to shape. Really, I’ll try to make record of this in the future but, for now, I suspect there are other tutorials out there. Besides sewing, the turning is definitely the toughest job as this was some very thick, tough leather.
Here’s a simple shoe design that was made by our ancestors before there were shoe shops or Zappos. Much of the Europe population, both male and female wore a variation of this for many millenia, right up into the early 20th century. They are commonly associated with their Celtic cousins in Scotland, Wales, and Ireland but they are essentially the same as the simplest Roman carbatina. Essentially, it’s a basic European shoe.
I made a set of these around 1986 with a little instruction from an Eighteenth Century reenactor and loved how simple they were to make. My experience up that point was with Native American style moccasins the difficulty I had with sewing in those days. This was a perfect option for me and I find that it is a popular class when I offer it as an introduction to leather working and moccasin making.
While this isn’t exactly a tutorial, it does provide the basic information necessary to get started on a pair for yourself. I would suggest a pattern to be cut from heavy cloth before diving into cutting valuable leather just to get the fit right. It’s a forgiving design so,
pattern and finished
lacing the toe
after wetting and shaping
drying before oiling
And finally, six years later, they still function well. The soles are getting thin so it’s almost time to renew them. Fortunately, a pattern can easily be made and adjusted from the old pair by wetting them, letting them dry flat, and using that as a starting point.
Lovely warm and soft, these shoes (or perhaps slippers) began as an accidentally shrunken wool sweater. These poor, shrunken, often high quality wool sweaters end up in thrift and consignment stores on a regular basis. They also tend to cost next to nothing, so all in all they make perfect material candidates for any felt related project. These shoes are a quick and fairly simple project.
I began with two wool sweaters that had been washed in a washing machine until they were fully felted. Both were good and thick which makes for a warmer and more durable material.
The Pattern: The mid-sole is simply a tracing of a foot. The front upper is made by laying a piece of paper over the foot and tracing around the edges. I cut the sole out of the slightly thicker of the two sweaters because the sole gets more wear, and then…
This is a great series of photos of a surviving craft still producing their own leather. This maintains an economy (for them) that could have very little cash outflow, replacing the cost of raw materials with labor. I hope these industries survive.
Nestled into the Sierra Norte mountains of Oaxaca is the small town of Yalalag.
Yalalag is very precious town, not only for it’s strong Pre-Hispanic traditions, but also because like only a handful of other small towns in Mexico, most of the Yalalag population is still dedicated to the traditional craft of Huarache making.
Huaracheria Aquino is the largest ‘Taller’ workshop in Yalalag and they are well known for their high quality Zapotec Huaraches.
What also sets this family run business apart from most other Huarache makers in Mexico is that their crafting process begins at their in-house tannery, where they vegetable tan all their leathers to their precise specifications.
Huaracheria Aquino is famous for their traditional women’s Zapotec Yalalag sandals (the only existing traditional women’s leather sandal/huarache style in Mexico).
Photo of young Zapotec Woman in Mitla, by Guy Stresser-Péan, 1957
Determined to get the pattern right once-and-for-all I have been slaving away on a new pair of shoes. As a matter of fact, I think these shoes are completely slave-labor-free. The leather upper and mid-sole are oak tanned leather (Hermann Oak), and the rubber soles were cut from SoleFlex sheeting. The laces were made from brain-tanned elk hide I processed myself.
The gent’s shoe as worn.
Outside heel stiffener.
Trousers cuffed to show height of shoe. I live where the plants are unfriendly to bare skin.
The pattern was created without a last based on previous turn-shoes and a mock-up done in heavy canvas. The shoe has no heel or shank as I am very used to walking barefoot or in sandals and moccasins. A little more on shoes I have made here at: Footwear. And some other leather work here.
Handmade and bespoke shoes have become an interest of mine over the years. Starting with moccasins and graduating to other variation led me to the realization that even with a great deal of leather and sewing experience, shoemaking is a complex and underestimated art in our culture. Of course, cheap shoes are readily available to just about any income level in the industrial world. But if you have moral objections to the devastating effects corporate shoe companies (not to mention the clothing industry in general) and like the idea of being able to provide well made shoes for yourself, there is at least some information available. On that note, I am glad to keep finding more and more craftsmen making handmade shoes available. Unfortuntely, many are prohibitively expensive for the average worker but hopefully more will become available as demand calls (or the international infrastructure collapses from its own greed).
This pair is made by a shoemaker in Mid Wales. I have no idea of cost but all of her information is on her website. The gallery shoes a good variety of stitch-down type shoes and an interesting design she calls a shandal. Click the image to navigate to her site in a new tab or window.
If you prefer more historical or high end classic designs Sarah Juniper makes everything from Roman Period through modern shoes and boots. There are some great looking lasted boots and other fine shoes here. Click around her website to find lots of good stuff. I would love to learn from a master like Ms. Juniper.
NP Historical Shoes: This couple makes beautiful historic shoes for reenactors in Europe. Awesome work and very inspiring.
I think a look at simpler, pre-industrial shoes can help us who are struggling to relearn this uncommon art.
The upper is turned, now attaching the sole. This is very much an experiment but so far it is coming along better than expected. It is a style from early modern shoe construction, with a lot of similarities to the archaeological finds from the Mary Rose but with a modernized upper. This style of construction bridges the gap between Medieval turnshoes and fully lasted ones and dates from around A.D. 1545. Ah, the good old days.
Not a great photo perhaps but construction photos will be uploaded if and when this project is successfully completed.
A few photos of the vardo in the desert at this year’s Winter Count. Along side the usual survival skills, I also taught another simple shoe class.
Click the photo to see more uploaded images of the little vardo in action.
This ghillie shoe class was busy again and I think we had about 16 participants. It’s always more work for the students than I think it will be as many have not had much experience working and cutting leather. I think they all came out great though.