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.

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

Ghillie Making at Winter Count 2014

One of the many things taught at Winter Count this year was shoe making in the form of carbatina or ghillies.  These are relatively simple shoes notable for their one piece construction and generally involve very little sewing.  I am interested in how things are learned and for me, the process is more important than any other aspect.  Hopefully, students take away some knowledge that they can apply beyond the class setting and in an afternoon can learn something that they can use for life.

ghillieHistorical examples vary widely but tend to have a lot of similarity in the complex toe-cap.  Shoes are a difficult piece of clothing and protection because the fit is critical and even minor problems with the shoe will impact the feet in a negative way.

Marx-Etzel2The toe cap is formed by strips of leather overlapping which gives flexibility and room for expansion.  The simplest forms are one piece but better versions are found with insoles and outer soles to extend the life and create a sturdier shoe.

DSCN4029 DSCN4030 DSCN4031 DSCN4033 DSCN4034These were all made from premium oak tanned leather (ca. 8 oz. or 3.2 mm) which proves to be tough to cut but provides a long lasting shoe.  It was a great set of students in the classes and I think we ended up with 17 pair of shoes in the end.

An earlier post describing my journey into Ghillies can be found HERE.

Winter Count 2011

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.

Ghillie brogues (shoes)

I am all about the DIY.  After making a pair of sandals for Winter Count this year (I arrived with only work boots) I got re-interested in making shoes.  I have made many moccasins for woods walking, especially when I was into mountain man and F & I re-enactment and decided to make some new ghillies.  I like these because there is almost no sewing and I think they are cool.  Much of Europe wore a variation of this theme for millenia.  I then took it as a veritable sign when I saw this on the Instructables web page: http://www.instructables.com/id/Viking_shoes/.  Even though these are listed as Viking style, I think they are commonly associated with their Celtic cousins in Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.  And they are very nearly the same as Roman carbatina.  Essentially, a basic European shoe.

I made a set of these many years ago with a little instruction from an acquaintance and they were great.  These new ones are a little more thought out and I will likely make a better pair based on what I learned here.  Click photos for larger picture.

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

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