Archive for April, 2013

Strapping it down with the stirrup…

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Another essential tool (at least for me) used in many parts of the shoemaking process is the stirrup. The stirrup is basically a long, belt-like strap with a buckle in it to allow it to loosen and tighten. The idea is to act as a second pair of hands to hold something in place while you work on it. Let’s place the stirrup in historical context first, and then explain how I use it.

The earliest pictorial evidence of stirrup use that I know of is from the donor stained glass windows dated to 1205-1225 in the Chartres Cathedral of Notre-Dame. Both Marc Carlson and Larsdatter have several images of these and other images of shoemakers with (and without!) stirrups.

Many of the illustrations show the shoemaker strapping a shoe (or something – sometimes, we cannot tell) to the top of their knee or thigh, with the strap passing underneath the foot to provide tension.
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Just Your Ordinary Lasting Pliers…

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

In one of the previous posts, I discussed the use of the hammer and mentioned the lasting hammer or lasting pliers. In this post, let’s talk a little about those tools and what they’re used for.

As part of the shoemaking process, for a lasted shoe, one tacks on an insole to a last, and then the upper is stretched around the last. However, to my knowledge, we don’t really have much evidence for “pliers” specifically for lasting shoes until the 1640s, and that comes from The Shoemaker Teaching the Linnet to Sing, possibly by David Teniers the Younger, 1640s, at the Northampton Museum Collection. Marc Carlson’s site on shoes is an excellent resource, and I cannot recommend it enough. Look at the blunt-nosed pliers-like object, and I think that it’s quite a strong bet that these are used for lasting.

Hopefully, you will agree with me once you read the rest of the discussion.
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Fantastic Extant 1550s – 1570s Velvet Shoes

Friday, April 5th, 2013

You’ve clearly noticed that I tend to focus primarily on leather shoes, even though there is ample evidence for shoes of fabric (typically velvet) – just poke through Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d. The wardrobe lists all manner of fabric shoes: shoes of cloth of silver, shoes of velvet, and pantofles of velvet. These could have lace applied, trim, embroidery. However, aside from the children’s shoes in Moda a Firenze, I’ve yet to come across any other examples of extant 16th century fabric shoes…until now! Thanks to the great Tracy J., you can feast your eyes on these amazing examples from the Rijksmuseum, with the full link here.

The translation is, per Google Translate: “Shoe, flat, with Cover and heel cut – to pale yellow – velvet and with bovine leather sole with embossed geometric decoration, strap closure on the instep, anonymous, ca 1550 – ca 1574.

It’s a little hard to see, but if you zoom in at the actual museum website, it does look like the shoe is lined with taffeta. There also might be some linen interlining, as there is some kind of tabby material behind cuts in the shoe on the left, but that could also just be supporting material to ensure that the shoe keeps its shape. Notice the great detail on the buttonhole stitching around the slits and the eyelet holes.

My own supposition is that the straps should actually go behind the vamp, rather than over, as they look a little bit wonky and don’t seem to meet the eyelets on the vamp exactly. A lightweight shoe, probably of turn-shoe construction, this likely would have been an indoor shoe, suitable for walking about the palazzo, dancing, or having dinner. I will simply have to make a pair – the construction will probably be much more straight forward than for a leather shoe, as the upper can be simply sewn together, but the hard part is all of the buttonholes (of which I love the look, but hate the work!).

Things I’ve Learned – All about Hammers

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Over my years of shoemaking (about 9 at this point), I’ve picked up a few techniques and tricks through trial and error, and I thought I might share some of them, as people might be interested in more than just pictures of recent work and the occasional lesson or technique. By no means am I an expert – I haven’t been making shoes for decades, and I’ve yet to cross even the basic threshold of making 100 pairs of shoes. Additionally, I’ve only taken one informal class on shoemaking, so the majority of my knowledge comes from trying things out based on written descriptions and illustrations, but primarily from trial and error. As a result, if you have some potential insight to offer, I welcome it heartily! Hopefully, this series of posts might entertaining, insightful, and potentially even amusing.

This particular post focuses on an important tool of the trade – the hammer. In your visits to antique stores or looking through various Ebay or Etsy shops, you might have seen hammers looking very similar to the two below (if not, just type in “cobbler hammer”).

Interestingly enough, there do not seem to be many medieval descriptions or depictions of hammers used in medieval or Renaissance shoemaking.
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