As you may know, I have been making an 1830’s dress, complete with all the undergarments, for the past few months. I’ve had a few stalls and delays along the way, but it is all done! I will tell you all about the dress once I have pictures of it in all it’s glory, along with the pictures of all the completed undergarments. Wheee!!!
But first, shoes! You can’t have a full historical costume without shoes, and quite frankly, 1830’s shoes are really darn hard to find. I looked high and low for some shoes that would work, but all the flats available right now are either pointy-toed or extremely expensive for a shoe that still isn’t what I’m looking for. So, last fall, I got some lightweight dark brown lambskin, since I couldn’t find kid leather at my local Tandy Leather. It sat in my sewing room, with my fabric stash, for many months, because I just wasn’t quite brave enough to cut into it, and didn’t have a pattern.
Enter this wonderful little book:
“Every Lady Her Own Shoemaker” was written in 1856 by an anonymous lady, and details how to make your own shoes. It contains several different styles– high boots, gaiters, and low cloth shoes. None of them have heels, and all are made as “turn shoes”, or shoes that are sewn together inside out and turned right side out– rather like medieval shoes. I had made a couple of pairs of Viking Shoes before, so I thought, “How hard can this be?”
The first step was to fit the pattern to my foot. Yes, the book has a variety of sizes of patterns, but none were exactly the right size for me.
The first attempt fit, kinda, but had a few issues. The sole was too narrow, and the upper had to be folded into pleats at the toe to fit.
The second one, the upper was still just a bit too large (apparently a 1/4″ seam allowance is given in the patterns in the book), but the sole was the right side, and there was no need to gather in the toe. Yay! I had a workable pattern!
So it was on to cutting the lining!
I cut the lining out of teal linen, and the interlining out of unbleached linen canvas. I treated them as one layer when sewing them together. So far, so good!
I then cut the lambskin uppers out. The leather was a bit wrinkly and wavy– so it was difficult to cut out nice pieces without being wasteful. But I did it!
I then stitched the uppers together (with my sewing machine and a leather needle), and bound the top edges with a grosgrain ribbon. The book asks for galloon, but quite frankly, I don’t know what that is. The dictionary describes it as a type of woven trim or edging, but isn’t specific. I suppose grosgrain counts as a woven edge and trim? As a side note, you will need at least 1/2″ grosgrain for this. 3/8″ simply will not do. Also, if I had to do it over, I would definitely take the time to handstitch the grosgrain all around, as the machine stitching was messy, and it was difficult to keep all the layers corralled and lined up correctly. Don’t make my mistakes!
The next step was to cut out the sole. I used some lightweight veggie tanned leather, but it beats me what weight it was. My dear husband got it for me at Tandy while I was working on the uppers. (Then he came home and made me Swedish Pancakes for brunch! Best Saturday EVER!) It’s sturdy enough it will work for my soles, but not so stiff it would be impossible to work with. These are not left or right specific soles. Lefts and rights were known by the time this book was written in the 1830’s, but because of the way lasts were made in the 1830’s, shoes were non-specific to left or right. However, because leather stretches, shoes would become left and right specific after they were worn. In addition, some shoes had lacing or other decoration on one side or another, they would of course be made symmetrically and thus be specific left-rights. Confused yet? Good.
After all that, I was ready to punch all the holes for sewing the soles to the uppers! But wait! My dear husband actually punch all those tiny little holes for me with my awl, because I was helping a friend of his to cut out a Viking tunic. Win-win. Basically, I wet each sole down, and scored a line where I wanted the holes punched on the flesh side of the leather, then Philip laid the soles on an old board punched all the holes for me! With a hammer! Yay! I also took a skiver to the edges of the heel stiffenings, so I wouldn’t have ridges that might rub against my foot. That part wasn’t called for in the book, but it was mentioned in another shoe tutorial I read, and seemed like a good idea.
The next step was to sew the soles to the uppers. Really, this was a lot bigger ordeal than I anticipated. It easily took me two hours per shoe, and I could only do one shoe at a time. I sew a lot. I had the right glover’s needles with the sharp points that prick right through leather. I had pre-punched holes. It still took a lot of oomph and a lot of time. Oh, what I wouldn’t do for my leather sewing machine to be in the same place as I am! (I can sew through kid, lamb, or buckskin with my regular sewing machine, but not through sole leather!)
I do have to say, though– these little clips were just the thing for sewing leather. I was able to completely match up the shoe all around, at least once I had stitched the back with the heel stiffening, and make sure I didn’t end up with a crooked shoe or anything weird like that. I couldn’t use these clips in the back by the heel stiffener, but I treated that like a collar, and matched up the center, then sewed from the center out on both sides. Easy as pie.
This was also about the point I realized that my lining seemed to have grown, and was larger than the lamb! No fix for that now– onwards and upwards!
Now the next step, I don’t have any pictures of. I just don’t trust myself with Philip’s camera near water. His camera costs much more than my first car. Basically, you have to wet down the sole, and then turn the shoe right side out. It’s important to get the leather wet, or it can crack as you turn it. So I took a sponge, and started to paint water on with my sponge until my hand inside the shoe was wet. Then it was turning time!
But wait! First, you should hammer the seam flat, all around, in the direction the seam will be folded when the shoe is turned. This is best done wet, and makes the shoe a lot more comfortable.
Here you see my first shoe, which later became my right shoe, all turned right side out. But it is not done yet! First, I had to repeat that whole sewing and turning process with the second sole. Then I fixed the grosgrain ribbon around the top edge, and sewed on two little ties at the little front slit. It looked weird just open, and didn’t fit as well as with it closed. I also glued in an insole of the same teal linen with rubber cement– such insoles are important according to the shoemaking book to prevent the sweat and oils of your foot from showing through to the outside of your sole!
This picture was taken by my husband. Here we have my 1830’s shoes, next to my little Swedish girl and my husband’s York Viking Chess Piece. I’m really not sure why they were included, but it looks like they are considering conquering my shoes.
The little shoemaking book recommends blacking the edges of your soles with ink, which I may do. It would make a nicer appearance and not show the edges of the sole. However, I don’t have any black ink right now, and I’m a little worried of it bleeding and coming off on things in damp weather.
In conclusion, by the time I bought all the materials and book and spent 10 hours making a pair of shoes, I don’t think I saved any money at all over, say, buying a pair of shoes from American Duchess. However, I still have enough material for about… 6 more pairs of shoes. At least. Especially if I make the uppers of different materials. (They can be made of silk and heavy canvas, or linen, or cotton, or all sorts of things, and sewn to a leather sole!) Also, I got to make them all by myself, all for myself, and being as I am, all about the process, I greatly enjoyed it.
This project was partially inspired by The Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge “Tops and Toes”. (But I got it done almost a week late.) Here’s the challenge details:
The Challenge: Tops and Toes!
Fabric: Lambskin, shoe sole leather, linen, and polyester ribbon.
Pattern: The cloth shoe pattern from “Every Lady Her Own Shoemaker”, altered and adjusted to fit my own feet.
Year: Mid-late 1830’s
Notions: Heavy-duty waxed thread, rubber cement.
How historically accurate is it? I would say about 80%. The style is right, they look right, they should be made of kidskin instead, probably. Lambskin was a mistake. Don’t think you can use it like I did and be fine!
Hours to complete: 11.
First worn: Haven’t been worn to an event yet.
Total cost: Well, the lamb skin was $20 and the sole leather was “I’m-not-sure”. (Hubby picked it up for me.) Plus I had to buy the book. BUT, I probably have enough left over for about 4-6 more pairs of shoes. I probably actually used about $20 worth of materials, tops.
If you have questions, put them in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer!