Currying Leather Properly…Part II

May 1st, 2014

After looking at the four pieces, I discovered that there was something of a difference between the piece of leather that had been oiled on both sides rather than just the front, so I decided to go with just the one which had been oiled on both sides. For the tallow, there might have been a slight difference in tallowing leather that had been wet – it didn’t take the tallow as well. As a matter of course, you kind of want as much oil and grease in the leather as you can get, which will keep it in the best shape. So, dry is certainly the way to go, and you will get more tallow into it when dry.

I also noticed that to get a rather darker look than I was looking for, I had to apply a couple of coats of fish oil. I also found that if you dunked the leather in a bucket, it did NOT take the fish oil very well, so I ended up simply spritzing it down with a spray bottle and using a rag to apply the fish oil. Essentially, the dryer your leather is, the darker the oil will make it look. Dark leather is lovely, but you don’t want streaky dark leather, so I would err on the side of a bit of dampness and several applications. I let this leather sit for about three weeks, and although I am told that it is supposed to “jelly” up a little, I did not notice a significant difference. Possibly, I did not oil the leather enough. In any event, you can see below the leather I started with and how much darker it is now. Quite a difference!

However, tallowing made the leather beautifully supple and smooth – I cannot say at this time if the leather will retain its suppleness and smoothness over time or if the tallow will leech out too quickly, but I will be sure to keep you in the loop and update this post accordingly. From now on, all of my shoes will be at least tallowed, if I do not have the time to oil them as well. Neatfoot oil might have a similar effect, but it is modern, and I’d rather go for something that has some historical appeal to it. We are, after all, reproducing history!

Currying Leather Properly…Part I

April 2nd, 2014

It’s been a while since I posted something on the topic of actual shoemaking rather than just showing off finished products, and we’re long overdue. I’m going to talk a bit about currying leather.

It’s not what you think – I’m not going to the Indian market to pick up the proper spices. Nor am I performing a mathematical transformation of a function with multiple arguments into a chain of functions, each with a single argument. In fact, the verb “to curry” is actually much older, and comes from the 13th century, from the Middle English currayen, from Anglo-French cunreier or correier, which was to prepare, curry, from Vulgar Latin conredare. It means to dress tanned hides by soaking, scraping, beating, etc. in order to make them supple and resistant to water. So, how does one do this, exactly? First, a history lesson…

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1600s Heel with Edge Decoration

March 12th, 2014

Yes, another 1600s shoe, but hey – why quit when you have a good thing going? =) I do try and do new things with every piece, and this one was no exception. In this case, when I visited the Museum of London, I was fortunate enough to be able to look at many of the stored leather pieces that they had in the cabinets. I’m sure I mentioned it in a previous post – anyhow, one of the things that impressed me was the level of detail in so many of the shoes.

In some cases, there were lines of fine tunnel stitching along the surface and opening of the shoe. In fact, this was even visible on many shoes from the wreck of the Mary Rose in 1545, and those guys were sailors! A point of note is that a far majority of shoes had some kind of reinforcement along the opening, either a top band or some kind of stitching like this.

How about some background and construction shots:
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1780s Shoes – Finished Products!

March 6th, 2014

I promise to write this up into an official lesson, but there is simply so much to tell that it’s a bit daunting for me! I will get it written up at some point. I learned an incredible amount on these shoes, and although I do plan to make another pair at some point soon, I think that these are of sufficient quality to present here. In truth, they knock the socks off of my Lesson 5, and I’m far more pleased with them. The upper leather is black waxed calf from Dickens Brothers, one of the oldest leather merchants in the UK. Further, it is precisely what the shoemakers in Colonial Williamsburg use. The insole, rand, and outsole leather is from Joh. Rendenbach. Both leathers were an absolute pleasure to work with.

The buckles themselves are actual antique 18th century silver buckles. These buckles are neat in that they are “clasp” buckles, where a small button is pressed and the actual strap attachment hinges out of the buckle proper. Then, once the shoe is buckled, the silver portion is clicked back in to place. Quite neat!