leather shapes leather shapes



Making a pair of "Viking" ankle boots

Prior to being asked to make a pair of "Viking" boots I'd never contemplated making a pair of shoes or boots, Viking or otherwise. This was to be a first, and I was fortunate to come across various websites put together by experts which tell you all you'll need or ever want to know about footwear of that era. Thanks to that happy chance I decided with more confidence to proceed.

The type of shoe I was going to make was what is known as a turned shoe, with a centre seam in the upper and the sole extending up the heel. The sole was to be attached by sewing through the upper into the side of the sole so that the stitching was not in contact with the ground whilst walking. The fit was not expected to be perfect as the shoes could be stuffed with straw, felt or wool as the leather stretched or even just to keep the feet warm and dry. The fastening round the ankle would be achieved by extending the collar, which would have a slot through which a peg-type "button" sewn to the side of the upper would be inserted.

When you are looking at leather to buy for making shoes (and wherever I use the word "shoes" I also mean "boots") there are a limited number of characteristics that you will want to keep your eye on.

A hide that looks good on the shelf may not be good for footwear.  Some examples include: stiff and dense leathers, such as those from the bend, that are really only good for a hard sole, while at a certain point, leather can be too thin for really durable shoes.

If the grain on the unfinished side of the leather seems to be peeling or shedding to any extent, then a shorter period of wear is implied. While an occasional hole in the middle of the hide may be all right, two or three weak or thin spots should suggest to you that the whole hide may be weak enough to just put it back on the shelf.

Creating the pattern and fitting

There is a delicate balancing point between making a simple container for the foot to rest in (a "static fit") and making a shoe that is too tight, and just letting the person who will be wearing the shoe take the responsibility of getting something that's "close".  That is, after all, how most modern (and many medieval) shoes appear to be made.  To make a pattern, you will at least need a pencil, a large piece of paper (newspaper will do), tape measure, scissors, and sticky tape. 

This is not guaranteed to make footwear that will fit perfectly, but rather with some care on your part, you can make shoes that will fit and not be unbearable for the wearer. 

Making a pattern for a shoe can be broken down into three basic steps.  The first is measuring the foot, the second is transforming those measurements into an accurate representation of the foot, and the third is extending those measurements into an idea of what the shoe will look like.

The first and obvious thing to do is trace the shape of the foot on to your sheet of paper.

The areas to be measured are traditionally referred to as girths, though there is some disagreement as to what these measurements are meant to be. But it appears that as long as you are consistent in your measurements and transferring them to your patterns, it's not relevant if you don't use exactly the same system as someone else, or don't give them the same names.  So then, the girths most often taken are at the joint or ball of the foot (that is the widest part), the waist (which is about an inch behind the joint), the highest point of the instep, where the bump of the middle cuneiform protrudes.


There is also a girth measurement  behind this that is the highest point of the foot, where it merges with the shin, and this is important for ankle boots though not for shoes.  These points may be measured around the foot, or from the "ground" where you drew your foot shape, that is straight down the side.  Finally, measure around the ankle, and take the heel measurements.

As you are drawing out the design, you are going to need to add in some extra room in the toes and the heel.  I can't give a definite amount, but anything from ½" in the front to ²/3" (round toed shoes)-1¹/3" (the last is for narrow toed boots); and ¼"-¾" in the heel.  I'd start with the ²/3" in the front and ¼" in the back, and work from that.  Note that this is in front of all the toes, and any extra for poulaines will extend beyond that.

If you are using heavy leather, add ¹/8"-¼" to all dimensions, to give a little more flex room.

Sizes increase by the half inch (I don't know why, since in lengths are measured in thirds of an inch). This means that a pattern for a size eight shoe will be about a half inch bigger all around than that of a size seven. Note that this rule of thumb is unreliable beyond two or three sizes. The size shoe I made was a six.

Cut out the pattern. At this point, it would be helpful to cut out a fitter's model of cheap leather (or non-stretching fabric) as a prototype, based on your pattern. This will give you the opportunity to adjust your pattern without needlessly ruining leather.

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leather shapes leather shapes