Historic techniques and materials

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truzicki
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Historic techniques and materials

#1 Post by truzicki » Mon Feb 16, 2009 11:12 am

Greetings. I'm new to the forum, so my apologies if this question has been asked before. I suspect it has, but I can't find anything specifically through a search.

I've been asked to make a pair of eighteenth century, American commoner's latchet shoes. They need to *look* as historically-accurate as possible (although I doubt I'll use wooden pegs to secure the heels -- since they're my first of this style). Anyhow, my problem is that the source material I have talks about using a veg-tanned leather about 3/32" thick. However, my early experiments with standard veg-tan have not proven very successful. My shoemaking teacher suspects the leather I'm using isn't appropriate, since it wasn't tanned for shoemaking. He recommended I ask you fine folks for advice.

One additional note about this pair is that I've been asked to make the shoes with the flesh side of the leather out -- evidently this was a common practice for the lower-class shoes? I don't know if that will affect the nature of the leather I need, so I thought I'd mention it.

Thank you in advance and best regards,
-Tim.

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Re: Historic techniques and materials

#2 Post by tmattimore » Mon Feb 16, 2009 11:29 am

Tim
I have made abut 6000 pair of veg tanned shoes from almost every quality of leather from every suplier in the U.S. They all work about the same. What is your specific problem?
Tom

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Re: Historic techniques and materials

#3 Post by truzicki » Mon Feb 16, 2009 1:10 pm

Hi Tom. Thanks for responding. First, let me apologize for posting this in the "insole leather" subcategory -- it was meant to be in "vamp leather."

So, the veg tan that you've used isn't tanned specifically for shoemaking? It's just the standard belt/bag/tooling leather? I've only ever used chrome-tanned leather for vamps and quarters, so this is new territory for me.

I guess I've got three specific questions, then. The first is, how do I add the heel-counter? The reference book I have shows a whip-stitch into the heel, but doesn't give me a detailed view of the shoe from the back. So, I don't know if I'm meant to sew through the leather (with the stitching visible from the back), or only into but not through the leather. The later just doesn't seem very strong, but the former doesn't seem correct, aesthetically. Also, I'm having a difficult time with the channel approach, as I keep ripping the channel open with even my smallest awl.

The second problem I have is the general lasting process. Am I meant to wet-last the shoe? And if so, do I just use water? I'm used to wet-forming leather because I make leather commedia dell arte masks...but they end up very stiff when completed. I'm concerned the shoe will be very hard and uncomfortable to walk in if it's wet-lasted.

Finally, do I dye the shoe before or after I last it? It seems that dying it before lasting it would be difficult if I'm meant to wet-last it, but dying it afterwards won't allow me to dye the inside of the shoe.

It's just such a different approach than what I'm used to, so any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks again, and best regards,
-Tim.

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Re: Historic techniques and materials

#4 Post by das » Mon Feb 16, 2009 5:01 pm

Tim,

What a list of good questions--where do I begin? First I'm the master shoemaker at Colonial Williamsburg, where 18thc shoes are our "life". These may be quick replies, but be assured they are based on my (36 years) experience with this sort of shoe (antiques and repros).

1) Common shoes at that date were buckle shoes, so they had "straps", not "latchets" (latchets are for ties)--don't worry, most reenactors have this bass-ackwards.

2) Not sure what your source material is, but if it's 'Sketchbook '76' go easy there, we've learned a lot more since the early 1960s when it was written. Insole thickness varied considerably (median average might be 5-6 iron for men's shoes), and was firmer, better leather than we can readily get today when cattle are fed for rapid fleshy growth which produces hides and skins that are weak, flabby, apt to tear when hand-sewing, and have little tensile strength. As Tom has pointed out, you can try almost any commercially available "veg-tanned" side leather around 5-6 oz. thick (for uppers), some will prove better than others.

3) Nothing particularly lower class about "waxed calf" (finished black on the flesh). Like most leathers it was available in a variety of grades and qualities back then, and was the predominant uppers leather for men's footwear c.1660-c.1890. Be aware that when this stuff was popular, it was not fuzzy and suede-like--it was greasy, waxy, and the surface slicked-down in some cases so well you'd have a hard time telling it was not grain. The other neat thing about waxed-calf, it obviated the need for adding any smooth lining inside for comfort or to save wear on your stockings, because the smooth grain was already turned inward.

4) We buy all of our insole and sole leather from J. & F. J. Bakers, in Devon, England, where it's tanned and prepared the old way slowly in pits with oak bark. We get most of our uppers from Dickens Brothers, Northampton, who still dress "waxed calf", though the current stuff is not quite as fine as the finest available in the 1970s (much less the 1770s).

5) Don't bother adding any inside heel-stiffener (counters go on the outside)--most 18thc. men's shoes never had them, and they do require whipping, which if you're not practiced at it and your leather dubious, will only risk ruining an otherwise acceptable repro shoe.

6) Not sure what/which channel you talking about? The outsole? If getting a decent channel is a problem, omit it altogether. Most 18thc. common shoes (soldiers' etc.) were stitched "aloft" (no channel or groove of any kind) in the 1700s, very stout thread (too stout to hide in a channel anyway).

7) I was trained to wet the uppers before lasting, and have never had any problem with this (with stout waxed-calf). It should have no effect on the finished shoe's stiffness, especially if your uppers are greased and waxy enough.

8) Dying? The uppers leather should be colored before you ever cut the uppers. You can dye a portion of a skin black, and then cut your parts from that, leaving the cut edges un-dyed. There was/is no dying the insides of the finished shoes--the grain remains its nice natural russet color.

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Re: Historic techniques and materials

#5 Post by tmattimore » Mon Feb 16, 2009 6:13 pm

Ditto's to all Al wrote. I would add that if you wish a softer finish mix up your favorite dubbin and work into the shoe while on the last after you sole it and let dry.

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Re: Historic techniques and materials

#6 Post by truzicki » Mon Feb 16, 2009 6:57 pm

D.A. -- Thank you so much for your post! That's exactly what I needed to get going, and I greatly appreciate the information.

Just a quite note of clarification -- when I mentioned "channel," I wasn't referring to the midsole or outsole channel -- I was using it in a much less technical manner (please accept my apologies for my poor use of the terms -- I've got a lot to learn!). Am I correct in assuming the whip-stitch doesn't penetrate the outside of the shoe, and only goes part of the way into the leather (creating a tunnel, or channel of sorts...which explains my poor use of the term!)?

Actually, I do have one additional question. How do you finish the top-line of quarters, tongue and straps? Do you burnish it, skive and roll the edges, or something similar?

Again, my sincere thanks for your advice.

Best Regards,
-Tim.

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Re: Historic techniques and materials

#7 Post by truzicki » Mon Feb 16, 2009 6:59 pm

Hi Tom. Thank you for that suggestion -- I'll certainly give that a go. Do you have a favorite that you use?

Best Regards,
-Tim.

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Re: Historic techniques and materials

#8 Post by das » Tue Feb 17, 2009 4:07 am

Tim,

Glad to be of help there. Ah, I see... right, whip-stitching only goes partway into the substance of the quarter and does not show on the outside. Most modern leather want to tear-out when you try this on them, but if you oil and grease the leather or dampen it with a swipe of water, it might hold long enough to get the stitching done. Main thing is, don't sweat it--most 18thc shoes did not have these whipped-in stiffeners--only the lightest-weight or weaker uppers needed the reinforcement.

Top-line? Leave it cut edge and un-dyed, especially since you're doing "common" shoes.

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Re: Historic techniques and materials

#9 Post by truzicki » Tue Feb 17, 2009 4:32 pm

Al and Tom -- thank you for all your advice and for taking the time to answer my questions. I greatly appreciate it! I think I've got enough information to make a good start on the shoes, so once again, thank you.

Best Regards,
-Tim.

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Re: Historic techniques and materials

#10 Post by truzicki » Thu Mar 12, 2009 4:42 pm

Well, I've just completed the shoes, so my thanks again to Al and Tom for your help. I have learned a great deal through this process, although it's also led to a whole heap of additional questions. Now that I have a better idea of what to ask, however, I'll do a more comprehensive search of the archives first.

One question to Al, though. You mentioned that the "Sketchbook '76" is somewhat outdated -- are there better sources you could recommend?

Best Regards,
-Tim.

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Re: Historic techniques and materials

#11 Post by das » Fri Mar 13, 2009 3:16 am

Tim,

Congratulations on your baptism of fire there. Post some photos over in the Gallery if you dare Image

The shoe pages in 'Sketchbook '76' were created by my late master and mentor Ernie Peterkin, and are excellent for what they were--a simple "sketch" of 1770s shoe-basics as we understood them in 1963 when the book was done. No real glaring errors except the 2-part "block last" illustrated didn't appear until c.1800. The sketchbook was developed/intended mainly for a group of Maryland-based Revolutionary War reenactors, some of whom were ambitious hobby-craftsmen, so they might try their hand at making their own uniforms and gear. It was not an exhaustive survey of archaeological examples, variants, etc., etc.

I'm assured that by June-July there will be a book available (mine) that might just fit the bill. Keep your eye out for a general announcement here. Otherwise there are no other how-to guides per se, but there are plenty of 18thc shoes more or less accurately recorded in numerous archaeological reports. Jacob Grimm's 'Archaeological Excavations at Fort Ligonier' pops to mind. Lots of 1750s shoes and parts illustrated in there, 'though many are mis identified, so unless you know exactly what you're looking at, take the text with a grain or three of salt

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Re: Historic techniques and materials

#12 Post by truzicki » Fri Mar 13, 2009 10:53 am

That's good news about your forthcoming book, Al. I look forward to reading it. Thank you for the information about the addtional sources as well.

I've posted a couple pictures in the Gallery, and I'd welcome any constructive criticism you (or anyone else for that matter) would be willing to offer.

Best Regards,
-Tim.

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Re: Historic techniques and materials

#13 Post by das » Sat Mar 14, 2009 3:29 am

Tim,

It may be a while before I can view your shoe photos--shop (where fast computer lives) is closed for 2 weeks for routine maintenance, so don't think I'm ignoring you.

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Re: Historic techniques and materials

#14 Post by amuckart » Wed Jul 15, 2009 8:18 pm

Seeing the boots Al posted in the Gallery today reminded me of a question I've been meaning to ask for a while.

When did the transition from closing on the inside with seams that are near invisible on the finished shoe to closing from the outside with visible stitching happen and do we have any idea why?

Even the very "late" period shoes I look at from the 1590s are closed on the inside using closing techniques fundamentally the same as used to close high medieval shoes of the 14th and 15th centuries and earlier even though their sole construction shows complex construction with welted soles and pegged on lifts etc.

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Re: Historic techniques and materials

#15 Post by das » Thu Jul 16, 2009 4:24 am

Alisdair,

There were no hard and fast "rules" on this historically, and variations occurred in different regions/countries, but Rees (1813) sums up the general trend under closing uppers, plus the whys and wherefores in detail--waxed (flesh) leather was closed on the flesh (i.e. the outside) while grain leathers were closed on the flesh (i.e. inside). I've seen grain uppers closed on the grain (outside), but it's rare and usually super-fine work.

IOW, it depended usually on the uppers, waxed or grain. Also, round-closing inside creates that lumpy round ridge down the middle of the seam, which can rub the foot, besides, if the seam fails it's impossible to mend satisfactorily. If you round-close on the outside, the inside is perfectly smooth, and if the seam goes, you can re-stitch it through the original holes.

Having said that, waxed calf uppers (flesh out) do not become the predominant "norm" for men's shoes and boots until maybe the mid 1600s (until late 1800s), so prior to that you'll see a lot of grain uppers closed on the outside until the fashion changes and they figure out its stronger to close on the flesh.

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Re: Historic techniques and materials

#16 Post by amuckart » Thu Jul 16, 2009 11:57 pm

Thanks for that explanation Al. I don't know very much about 17th /18th century shoes so I hadn't clicked to the link to grain-out waxed uppers.

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Re: Historic techniques and materials

#17 Post by das » Fri Jul 17, 2009 4:21 am

Alisdair,

When it comes to historical footwear all this is more like "C.S.I." forensics, surely we've "lost" far more than what has been preserved in artifacts, artwork, and written descriptions. But one thing seems clear, folks depended on their ability to work/walk in shoes a lot more than we do today, so when successive new techniques (e.g. rightside out, welted construction, vs. turnshoes), and new architectural features (e.g. heels, covered-wood then stacked leather) made their way onto the scene, there was a period of transition and awkward chaos until shoemakers could figure out their own way of best making shoes the "new" way. In this sense, what I call "the early-modern shoe" [welted with stacked leather heel, and similar proportional material thicknesses to "modern"] doesn't really congeal into what we know from the 18th-20thc. until maybe the 1625-40s period.

It's just a guess on my part, but when waxed calf first gained wide-spread popularity, no doubt due to its advantages: a "healable" finish (via burnishing scratches out); increased durability over simply tanned, or oil-dressed, or tawed, uppers leather (tanned PLUS curried/oil-dressed=dually preserved); grain-in obviated linings, more comfortable in wear, and it was not so abrasive on (expensive) hose, etc.--it took a while for every shoemaker to become acquainted with the best way to close the stuff. Traditions were strong--old habits died hard--and many may have simply continued closing it the way they had done the earlier, predominantly grain uppers, up to say the mid-late 1600s. By the 1700s most counties in W. Europe seem to have figured it out though.

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Re: Historic techniques and materials

#18 Post by jesselee » Fri Jul 17, 2009 8:35 am

DA

You are so right. I have been 'forensically' examining 19th century footwear for years, its the only approach to get accurate copies. There is a great pair of over the knee 'Buff' leather boots in the R.O.M. and the upper comes over the vamp in is closed overlap style. The interesting part is that the sole stitching is at the side/edge of the soles in heavy linen cord about 1.4 inch stitches and the sole goes from the toe to the back of the high heel and curves under the arch.. I have never figured out where the stitches go unless the heel is hollow and made for wearing a shoe inside..

Cheers,

JesseLee

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Re: Historic techniques and materials

#19 Post by jesselee » Fri Jul 17, 2009 8:48 am

DA

Good points on the waxed calf. Its pretty hard to put on an unlined grain out boot that is tight as the fashion of the period, thus linings were introduced to grain out boots.

My notes aslo showed that French waxed was done on inferior grain side hides to as you say create a restorable finish against scratches etc.

Closing with a number of stitch techniques from the grain side as it is stronger and the reason we skive the flesh side. Aslo in this method one can make a boot that appears to be one piece of leather. I have a pair like that on my site and the more they are waxed and polished the more the seam dissapears.

I will also be making a two one piece pairs for my display collection this summer,They were made in your era and mine and were the most expensive boots.

Cheers,

JesseLee

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Re: Historic techniques and materials

#20 Post by jesselee » Fri Jul 17, 2009 8:53 am

Not sure if this is the right place to post, but does St. Hugh's 'bones' still exist? I have seen beautifully carved awls of obvious antiquity on Portabello Road in England and still have some, somewhere. I would imagine they were made in the tradition of St. Hugh's bones.. Comments and enlightenment wanted.

Cheers,

JesseLee

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Re: Historic techniques and materials

#21 Post by lancepryor » Sat Aug 22, 2009 6:36 pm

I don't know if this is the best place to post this, so Admin please feel free to move it as appropriate.

In any event, I happened upon an interesting web-site that allows you to view a wide variety of shoes, including many from the Joseph Box Collection. You can check out a number of shoes/boots that were made for 'Prize Work' or exhibition in the mid-19th century, including a number that were entirely made by hand (including closing of the uppers). The pictures include a powerful zoom function, so you can see things in pretty close detail.

So, here is a link:

http://www.dhub.org/

You can search for: 'shoes' or 'boots' or 'Joseph Box' -- each search will bring up lots of interesting items. Then, under the heading "Collection Search Results" you can click the 'show all' button to see all the matching items.

Lance

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Re: Historic techniques and materials

#22 Post by skeeter » Mon Dec 07, 2009 9:01 am

Hi

I'm a newcomer so forgive me if I've come in through the wrong door. I'm looking for information on sandals in classical Rome - patterns, templates,academic treatises etc. that I could work from.

If this post needs moving elsewhere, fine.

neuraleanus

Re: Historic techniques and materials

#23 Post by neuraleanus » Mon Dec 07, 2009 9:27 am

>I'm looking for information on sandals in classical Rome - patterns, templates,academic treatises etc. that I could work from.

I recently made a pair of roman sandals, soleae, for my wife. As far as the strap work goes there isn't much to go on as it rarely survives, more often than not all that we have are the soles. I based mine on what the frightened initiate is wearing from the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii. By the way, sandals were primarily female footwear during the roman period.

I'll post some images and the pattern that I made up tonight as well as soem references to roman footwear.

Lee

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Re: Historic techniques and materials

#24 Post by marcell » Mon Dec 07, 2009 9:33 am

Dear Mike, I assume you are at the best place. I am sure, that you will have some help soon.

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Re: Historic techniques and materials

#25 Post by skeeter » Mon Dec 07, 2009 12:34 pm

Lee - thanks in advance. I didn't know sandals were for women mostly. Hmm...

Nice brogues, Marcell.

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