Many shoes have been found from our period; in water logged areas in Dublin, Heddeby and York. The wealth of find material means that we have a pretty good idea of what shoes and boots the Vikings and Saxons wore. Consequently, there is no acceptable modern substitution for C10. foot wear. Your choices are limited to buying or making. There are quite a few people currently making shoes, so supply is no problem. Cost is also reasonable, especially when compared with buying a pair of hand made shoes, (see the society trading officer for details).
Making yourself a pair of shoes or boots is not too much of a problem providing you have basic craft skills and a small selection of essential tools. The wealth of shoe finds can been categorised in many different ways, but for the purposes of reconstruction we need only two. These can be referred to as the 'Front Seamed' and 'Side Seamed'. The latter is a little more economical to make but an exact pattern is required and is therefore a little trickier to make. The former is easier to make but perhaps a little more wasteful of the leather. No pattern as such is needed for the front seam type so we shall consider the making of this one first.
Manufacture Of Front Seamed Shoes
For the front seamed shoe, no pattern as such is needed for the upper.
All you need is a piece of leather that is long enough to wrap around
your foot and tall enough for the type of footwear you require, (see figure
26). Make the length and width of the upper longer than you actually need,
then trim off the excess when you have finished.
From the illustration you will see that a front seamed boot is simply a front seamed shoe that comes further up the leg. You will need to select some leather for shoe making. This does not have to be high quality (and expensive) tooling leather, but cheap center spit hide is equally undesirable as it will not last very long, (see annex 9).
For the sole a thicker piece of leather may be used, stitching the upper to the sole through the side of the sole (annex 10), or else sewn through a thinner piece of sole leather and another piece of leather glued to the sole. Any stitches that protrude through the sole will eventually wear away, then your upper falls off! Side stitching or gluing another sole to the bottom will prolong the life of your creation. Another factor is modern roads. The Vikings did not have them, but we have to contend with walking on tarmac and gravel, so any number of soles that give the feet protection are desirable. Remember to assemble your footwear with the 'shiny' of the leather downwards.
When cutting out your leather soles from your cardboard pattern, add
about 1/4" - 6.5mm. all round the foot for seams. Also add a heel
triangle, about 1.5" x 2.5" - 4cm. x 6.5cm. (see figure 27).
The triangle prolongs the shoes life by having the heel seam out of the
way of heel scuffing. Our ancestors must have been prone to scuffing their
heels as this is a very common foot wear feature!
Now that you have leather for your sole and upper, cut a slit in the
middle of the long edge of the upper, slightly 'V'd at the edge, (see
figure 28). When pulled apart, this slit becomes the heel triangle, so
it needs to be 2.5" - 6.5cm. long. This allows the upper to cling
to the back of the foot and stops it becoming baggy.
Starting at the heel triangle, sew the upper to the sole, round one side
then around the other, finishing at the big toe. (figure 29a). You should
now have a foot shaped tube, open at the front. Put your stockinged foot
inside your tube, and pinch the leather together up the middle of your
foot, till you reach the leg. Mark this line and sew up, (annex
10). You can leave your foot inside when you sew up, but this is not
advisable as you invariably end up sewing the shoe to your foot. Wooden
lasts were found at York, probably for this very job. However, if your
marking is accurate enough, you should not have any problems. Remember
Finally trim the leather off the top of the foot, and shape the remainder
either as a boot or shoe, (figure 29b). Complete the foot wear with fastening
toggles and loops, (annex 11) edge whipping,
(annex 10), dye if required and add leather
Manufacture Of Side Seamed Shoes
A good pattern of your foot is required if this type of footwear is to
be successfully manufactured. Reproducing original shoe patterns of Viking
footwear or even modern adapted patterns of successful shoes simply does
not work. Not only do people have feet of different lengths (generally
longer than Viking feet) but even people who have the same length of foot
have varying widths of feet, proportionally much wider than Viking feet.
Obtain a pattern of your sole, (see above - 'Making a pair of shoes I').
Obtain a pattern of the upper of your foot by either cutting up an old
pair of shoes, such as plimsolls that are still a good fit, or by making
a paper pattern of your foot by cellotaping pieces of paper together over
the top of your foot, until a sort of paper sock is achieved. Next, cut
the old plimsoll or paper sock off your foot in such a way that it resembles
one of the basic shoe patterns when laid out flat, (figure30a).
Check that this pattern will do for both feet and label 'L' and 'R' accordingly.
Usually a single cut is required from the outside of the foot, cut
With your pattern laid out flat, add about 1\4" - 6.5mm. all round for seams. From a suitable piece of leather, mark out two soles and two uppers, (see annex 9 below) . Add about 1\2"-l3mm. to the length of the short edge in case of upper or sole mismatch which sometimes occurs when you sew a straight - edged piece of leather around a curved one. Remember to put a slit up the back of the heel, 2.5" - 6.5cm. long, and round off the corners.
This kind of shoe can also be sewn onto a thick piece of leather, as detailed in the previous section. Otherwise a thinner sole can be sewn onto the shoe, inside out, hence the term 'turn shoe'. A turn shoe is a shoe, like this one, that is assembled inside out and then turned the right way round.
Manufacture Of Turn Shoes
Start the sewing at the heel triangle, and use saddle stitching, (see annex 10). Sew up the short side first, then sew round the long edge. You may have to pull the leather tight to ensure that they meet together at the side of the foot. A little extra material on these edges will ensure a good seam.
When the sewing is completed and any excess leather is trimmed off, the shoe can be turned the right way round. Stiff seams can be rubbed with bees wax and hammered flat to prevent chafing. Toggles and laces can be added, but remember that they did not lace up boots and shoes as we do today. We tend to lace up a vertical arrangement of holes, whilst they thonged up a horizontal arrangement of holes or slits, (see annex 11).
To complete the shoe, the top edge of the seams can be "whipped", (see annex 10). The leather can be dyed and waterproofed with preservative, (annex 12) . Extra soles can be sewn or glued to the bottom to help with the roughness of modern roads.
Finally, inner soles can, and probably were, used against cold wintry
ground! Authentic inner soles probably consisted of stuffing the shoe
with straw. Cheap foreign soles of raffia or hessian can be used, they
can be bought from bargain shoe shops. Alternatively pseudo inner soles
can be cut from a piece fleece.
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