Ghillie Shoe Commission

A while ago I received a request to make a pair of carbatinae (ghillie shoes) for a reenactor.  It was the first time I have done this long-distance without being able to measure the foot directly.  Luckily, we had good communication and I had a shoe last in his size so with these factors and the fact that this style is a fairly forgiving fit, I was able to create something he was happy with.

Being constructed from 12 oz Hermann-Oak harness leather, these should last for a very long time if not worn extensively on wet concrete.

I really love the simplicity of this design and continue to learn and modify my technique with each new pair.  With high quality commercially tanned leather, they can’t be made particularly cheap, but with high quality materials you certainly get what you pay for.

Very little sewing makes this shoe a fairly quick project to complete once the cutting is done.

This was the first time I used a last to make this type shoe but it was a big help in the forming stage.

Setting the pattern and cutting them out is most of the battle.

Once they’re broken in, they fit your foot like a leather stocking, allowing for a barefoot, but well-protected feel.  I certainly like this shoe.

Medieval Turnshoes

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.

Still damp from the turning and shaping.

My slightly sloppy side-seam.

Mayhem Shoes for the Dystopian Survivor

“The first rule of Project Mayhem is that you do not ask questions…”

this may be my new teaching mantra

I am considering calling my custom footwear “Mayhem Shoes” (at least until Chuck Palahniuk’s space monkey lawyers make me stop).

I teach a couple classes about low-tech shoemaking a few times per year in the primitive survival skills community.  The designs I focus on are styles that can be made by one person in one day; a popular theme in early historic examples.  Some require a lot of cutting, some require sewing.  There is an off-grid, neo-Luddite attitude about making your own shoes.  In fact, I think I will register the name Dystopian Leather Works as my new business.  I’m considering a small business venture to go into custom production of the shoes I teach people to make as well as expanding the custom leather work I currently produce.

DSC_0111

The author at work.

DSC_0156

A dedicated student finishes in a day.

The kinds of people that take these classes are from all walks of life, not just survivalists, historical nerds, or experimental archaeologists, but folks who want to make things for themselves for whatever reason.  I’m finding that there are others who might just want the handmade product without the labor of making them. In a day, an attentive student can produce a wearable (and good-looking) pair of serviceable shoes like the carbatina (ghillies) above.

DSC_0100

An experienced craftsman creating some new sandals in the class.

Another finished pair.

For those looking for a more modern look a fine pair of sandals can be made with just a few hours, cutting and sewing.  These are easily re-solable and should last the better part of a lifetime.  Look familiar?  Chaco and Teva didn’t exactly re-invent the wheel; just updated the materials and outsourced the work overseas.  Even in the wilds of Canada, traditional ghillies can be a useful part of the wardrobe.  Mike made these two years ago and they still protect his sturdy peasant feet.

DSC_0082

As long as you can stick with it while safely using a knife, the class is a cinch.

There is something very satisfying about taking a piece of nondescript, vegetable tanned leather and creating a lasting and useful object with your own hands.

DSC_0081

Attention to detail makes a fine finished product.

The beauty is truly in the details.  Serious students often bevel and burnish edges to give their shoes a “finished” look, suitable for public wear.

DSC_0092

A pair of saintly sandals nearing completion.

Above, a student trial fits the uppers before attaching the outsole.  In my classes, the outermost sole on any of these shoes may be a durable Vibram material, a softer but grippy Soleflex, or natural leather.  The latter option is popular with those who are interested in treading lightly on the earth or those who are concerned with earthing or grounding.

DSC_0089Learning as community.  It is always a very social event to teach these courses.  No matter the variety of backgrounds, we are sharing an ancient craft in common.

DSC_0087As in all leatherwork, neatness counts.  A good hand with a knife is a great asset for shoemaking.

DSC_0086Test fitting the straps for buckle placement and strap length.

DSC_0084This style sandal may be tied or buckled but I have found that a 3/4″ center bar buckle is about the easiest to work with and adjust.

DSC_0104Bowing to modern convenience.  For the classes, we use contact cement to adhere the insole, mid-sole, and outsole.  This insures a good connection and will hold up even if the stitching doesn’t last forever.

DSC_0119The author demonstrates the wrong way to rough out a pattern.  Cutting out oversize pieces for the sake of time-savings.

DSC_0118Tough rubber soles will make these sandals last years and are easily replaced.

DSC_0137Trial fitting a ghillie after soaking in water.  They feel ridiculously thick and stiff for the first hour or two but tend to suddenly relax an become a part of the foot after a soak in neatsfoot oil.

DSC_0136Ready for taking part in the highland games or dancing at a cèilidh

DSC_0134Sometimes it helps in shaping to take a hammer to the leather when it is stiff and wet.

DSC_0130It is important to leave the channels free of glue so that the straps may be adjusted in future.  You never know when you might need to wear some black socks with those sandals.

DSC_0131 DSC_0133Helping a student skive out some particularly stiff areas.

DSC_0154Mom tries on her new shoes before going home to make some for the whole family.  DSC_0139Even an old shoemaker is interested in this ancient design.

DSC_0180  DSC_0178 Happy and diligent students show off their newest creations.  These could be directly from the shoe store.  But without the satisfaction of knowing you did it yourself.

DSC_0176

Above are few photos from previous classes.  Thanks to all who come and make!

Save

Save

Ghillies (simple shoes) again

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,

Don’t Panic.

pattern and finished

pattern and finished

rear view

rear view

sewn heel

sewn heel

lacing the toe

lacing the toe

after wetting and shaping

after wetting and shaping

drying before oiling

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.

dsc_0130-3 dsc_0127-5Dive on in.

Save

Save

The Vikings Used Comfortable Shoes

Osberg Ship Viking Shoe

 One of the original boots found in the Oseberg Burial Mound dating back to 834 AD. (Photo: skinnblogg.blogspot.no)

A number of complete Viking Age shoes found in Scandinavia and England have the same characteristics. They are flexible, soft and mostly made of cattle hide, but also other kinds of leather was used.

There are complete shoes found in the Oseberg ship burial mound in Norway, Hedeby trading center in Denmark, and Coppergate (York, Viking Age Jorvik, Editor’s note) in England.

All three of these discoveries show a similar construction and form typical for the Middle Ages.

The shoes found in the Oseberg ship consists of two main parts, soles and uppers, and are so-called “turn shoes”.

(Article continues)

Reconstructed Oseberg Viking Shoes

Reconstructed boots found in the Oseberg burial mound, by Bjørn Henrik Johansen. (Photo: Bjørn Henrik Johansen/ skinnblogg.blogspot.no) 

The shoemaker stitched the shoe together inside out, and then turned right side…

View original post 235 more words

Huaraches!

There are still Huaraches north of old Mexico.  As I prepare to resole my huaraches I thought it might be good to look back on them as a very viable hand-made shoe.

For a long time while searching for huarache construction techniques, I could only find the simplest tire sandals and many links to “barefoot” style running sandals.  However, a few years ago, I found Markus Kittner’s Huarache Blog and scoured it for inspiration and design secrets from real huaracheros in old Mexico.  He has done excellent work in documenting the process.

My first beautiful huaraches drying after being soaked to shape to my foot.  They were subsequently oiled and slicked down.  I owe much to the Huarache blog for so many great images and descriptions of traditional huaraches.

As a craftsman of sorts, I understand that making a “one-off” of something does not imply expertise.  Only replication builds a real understanding and mastery of the object being produced. However, this is not my first leather working or shoemaking project but a major improvement on a theme.  This style shoe is made on a last.  The shoe lasts I purchased on Ebay have finally been used to actually make a shoe.  I documented the process as it came together as best I could; my mistakes and changes included in the process.  This is not really a “how to” recipe for making a huarache but shows the process I used.

The lasts I found on Ebay.  The sole cut out, punched for strapping and nailed to the last.

The last shown here fits me well but are an Oxford dress shoe style, meaning they run a little long in the toe.  As I am making an open-toe design, I let the last hang over slightly in the front, squaring the sole to the shape of my actual foot.  New lasts are pricey (ca. 50 euros/$70 US), but I think it will pay in the long run to invest in a better design for myself and those people I might make shoes for.

Wetting out the first strap.

I didn’t show the strap cutting process as there is little to be learned about that.  It is a skill in itself, even if you have a strap cutter.  My Osbourne strap cutter can be seen in the upper right of this photo

Since this project was experimental, I used scrap leather, meaning I could only get about three foot (one meter) straps.  In future, I’ll probably use 6 foot or longer pieces (2+ meters).

Nailing the strap to the last.

I pre-punched holes in the mid-sole and away we go.  A little tallow on the straps helps cut the friction of the leather but ended up being not worth the trouble.  They were kept damp throughout the process.

Placing the twining thong.

This is a signature of the style I chose.  The vamp or tongue-like piece was later removed as I didn’t like the way it looked.  I’ll experiment more with that later.

Lacing and twining.

Unlike normal, I completely finished the first shoe and removed it from the last to check size and shape to determine any major changes that would need to be made.

A heel piece was added and laced up the back. I think this step shows the evolution of the strap sandal to the modern huarache.

The straps running under the mid-sole look like a problem here but are ultimately skived down, dampened, and hammered flat.

Straps ends as added in. Longer straps would lessen the ends here.

I used simple wire nails (as is traditional) to attach the soles but sewing would work too.

Ends to be trimmed and skived, and a finished sole.

Pulled from the last, they actually matched.  I don’t know why I was surprised but that made me really happy.

Preparing to nail the sole.

The method I chose to attach the rubber is fast and efficient, and I suspect rather tough.  The nails are pressed through the leather and rubber into a thick leather scrap below.  Otherwise, you would need to pry it up from the work board.  One surprise I learned over time was that the nails actually wore off on the underside before the rubber.

Nailing the sole.

Bending the nails in preparation for clinching.

The nails are bent over (inward) to prepare to “clinch” them.  There are no photos of this part of the process but this was done by setting the shoe back upright on a small anvil and hammering the nails down tight with a punch.  The pre-bending causes the nail to curl inward and back up into the sole.  Voila!  The Huaraches below have about five miles of hiking on them now and they’re beginning to have some character.

Huaraches you say?  Do tough guys wear such things?  In an era of cheap, slave-made garments, its easy to forget how self-reliant our ancestors were for such things as raiment. I include this photo of Capitan Alcantar I found on the Huarache Blog as a great historical image of a man of action wearing his huaraches and ready for war.

Click the image for more historic photos like this.

I hope this prompts someone out there in the world to take on the project of making their own shoes, whether for survival, uniqueness, or just as a challenge.  Making for yourself is a small act of revolution against a bad system.

Project: Mayhem Shoes

“The first rule of Project Mayhem is that you do not ask questions…”

this may be my new teaching mantra

I am considering calling my custom footwear “Mayhem Shoes” (at least until Chuck Palahniuk’s space monkey lawyers make me stop).

I teach a couple classes about low-tech shoemaking a few times per year in the primitive survival skills community.  The designs I focus on are styles that can be made by one person in one day; a popular theme in early historic examples.  Some require a lot of cutting, some require sewing.  There is an off-grid, dystopian attitude about making your own shoes.  In fact, I think I will register the name Distopian Leather Works as my new business.  I’m considering a small business venture to go into custom production of the shoes I teach people to make as well as expanding the custom leather work I currently produce.

DSC_0111The kinds of people that take these classes are from all walks of life, not just survivalists, historical nerds, or experimental archaeologists, but folks who want to make things for themselves for whatever reason.  I’m finding that there are others who might just want the handmade product without the labor of making them. DSC_0156In a day, an attentive student can produce a wearable (and good looking) pair of serviceable shoes like the carbatana (ghillies) above.

DSC_0100For those looking for a more modern look a fine pair of sandals can be made with just a few hours, cutting and sewing.  These are easily re-solable and should last the better part of a lifetime.  Look familiar?  Chaco and Teva didn’t exactly re-invent the wheel; just updated the materials and outsourced the work overseas.  Even in the wilds of Canada, tradtional ghillies can be a useful part of the wardrobe.  Mike made these two years ago and they still protect his sturdy peasant feet.

DSC_0082There is something very satisfying about taking a piece of nondescript, vegetable tanned leather and creating a lasting and useful object with your own hands.

DSC_0081The beauty is truly in the details.  Serious students often bevel and burnish edges to give their shoes a “finished” look, suitable for public wear.

DSC_0092

In progress photo with tools of the trade. The authors well worn sandals are on the left of the photo.

Above, a student trial fits the uppers before attaching the outsole.  In my classes, the outermost sole on any of these shoes may be a durable Vibram material, a softer but grippy Soleflex, or natural leather.  The latter option is popular with those who are interested in treading lightly on the earth or those who are concerned with earthing or grounding.

DSC_0089Learning as community.  It is always a very social event to teach these courses.  No matter the variety of backgrounds, we are sharing an ancient craft in common.

DSC_0087

As in all leatherwork, neatness counts.  A good hand with a knife is a great asset for shoemaking.

DSC_0086Test fitting the straps for buckle placement and strap length.

DSC_0084This style sandal may be tied or buckled but I have found that a 3/4″ center bar buckle is about the easiest to work with and adjust.

DSC_0104Bowing to modern convenience.  For the classes, we use contact cement to adhere the insole, mid-sole, and outsole.  This insures a good connection and will hold up even if the stitching doesn’t last forever.

DSC_0119The author demonstrates the wrong way to rough out a pattern.  Cutting out oversize pieces for the sake of time-savings.

DSC_0118Tough rubber soles will make these sandals last years and are easily replaced.

DSC_0137Trial fitting a ghillie after soaking in water.  They feel ridiculously thick and stiff for the first hour or two but tend to suddenly relax an become a part of the foot after a soak in the neatsfoot oil.

DSC_0136Ready for staling the game or dancing at a cèilidh

DSC_0134Sometimes it helps to take a hammer to the leather when it is stiff and wet.

DSC_0130It is important to leave the channels free of glue so that the straps may be adjusted in future.  You never know when you might need to wear some black socks with those sandals.

DSC_0131 DSC_0133Helping a student skive out some particularly stiff areas.

DSC_0154Mom tries on her new shoes before going home to make some for the whole family.  DSC_0139Even an old shoemaker is interested in this ancient design.

DSC_0180  DSC_0178 Happy and diligent students show off their newest creations.

DSC_0176

Above are few photos from previous classes.  Thanks to all who come and make!

Irish Brogues and Other Simple Shoes

It’s time for new shoes.  After a soon-to-be-finished commission for a leather satchel, I intend to dive into a brogue-making project in the style of 19th century Ireland.  This basic design certainly dates back much further than this as shown by archaeological finds in bogs throughout Europe.  Don’t confuse these brogues with the more modern usage such as:

ModernBrogueThis is a brogue in the Scottish/Northern English semi-formal fashion with decorative holes reminiscent of the drains left in old field shoes.  Nor is this to confused with the type of shoe that some modern-primitives call “ghillie-brogues” or more properly, just “ghillie”:

These earned their proper name from Scottish Ghillies; a term used to denote game wardens, hunting and fishing guides, and sometimes, even poachers.  A simple shoe style that probably goes back several millenia in Europe.

What I decided to shoot for was a shoe that is relatively simple to produce, is closed for winter use, and can be regularly worn in public without arousing too much comment.

birdshoe

Haarlem, Netherlands, ca. 1300-1350.

To me, something like the “bird shoe” above is very cool but not really acceptable in an unforgiving office environment.  I would gladly hunt elk in these but for some reason, modern work culture has a fairly standardized and limited uniform.  This style tends to be cut from a single piece and sewn around three-quarters of the sole.  This one is punch decorated, probably to show off the stockings inside, a sign of wealth.  This is a form of “turn-shoe” or soft-sole sewn inside-out then “turned”.  A sturdy high top 12th century Dutch example with a center-seamed upper is seen below.  In my opinion, these would make a fine winter shoe.

shoe_12th

12th Century center seam shoe from the Netherlands.

I can’t help but see the similarity between these and North American center-seam moccasins.

BogShoeThe style above is a well-documented Irish “Type 1” dating anywhere from the 1st centuries A.D. through the Middle Ages.  A little more complex in construction, especially to get a perfect fit, it has been argued that these may be the result of craft specialization in the early Christian period of Northern Europe.  I plan to make a pair of these and contemplate them as a possible design for teaching simple shoemaking.  There is some real sewing involved, but not enough to intimidate most beginners.

shoes-fig3

From: Lucas, A.T. (1956). Footwear in Ireland. The Journal of the County Louth Archaeological Society 13(4).

For those who know American moccasin styles the pattern above seems very familiar as a one piece, side-seam shoe.

So, this brings us to the “Irish Brogue” or Type 5 shoe.  These are known well up into the nineteenth century and I wouldn’t be surprised to find them in even more modern contexts, especially amongst the poorer populations.  There are similar shoes depicted in Colonial America, probably made in the home for lack of money or access to a cordwainer.

Newports

Early American shoes from Newport, Rhode Island.

The above brogues appear to be a “built” shoe, having separate soles, multi-pieced upper, and a heel lift; the only difference between these and others from the period is the lack of ties or buckles.  Although difficult to tell from the image, they are likely constructed similar to those below:

Lucas, A.T. (1956). Footwear in Ireland. The Journal of the County Louth Archaeological Society 13(4).

Lucas, A.T. (1956). Footwear in Ireland. The Journal of the County Louth Archaeological Society 13(4).

Hopefully, updates will soon follow to track the creation of a new pair of shoes.