Sunday, January 11, 2015

A pair of Norse Shoes

Completed Shoes.  Not particularly attractive--especially unoccupied--but they should serve.

This particular project was inspired by a terrible need for a pair of early period shoes—something fairly generic, but period (Viking Age) in cut.  While I started by patterning off of the Oseberg 303s—and did keep the basic outline of that pair--, I ended up draping many trials in order to get the fit I desired.  My goal was to make a pair of shoes which met my desired purpose—something which could be worn in winter with heavy socks and would keep the snow out.

Overall, the shoes are based on a slightly simplified Oseberg 303s—a single piece upper with no center seam.  There is a dart in the center back (of the heel), covered by the triangular extension from the heel of the sole.  The heel extension was more commonly found on Anglo-Scandinavian footwear, but also on Oseberg 172[i]. 

I chose a lace rather than toggle closure partially because I see a lot of the toggle closures used (and feel that the tied/laced is underrepresented), and because I feel it would give greater resistance to snow entering (since the tie wraps all the way around the ankle).  Keeping snow out is the reason for the large overlap on the front as well.

Materials and stitches:
The sole is made of a heavy weight vegetable tanned leather.  The upper, on the other hand, is some form of modern tanned leather—upholstery leather, I think.  While I would have preferred to use a light weight vegetable or a oil tanned leather for the uppers, the stuff I used was given to me, and enabled the project to actually happen. 

I used an artificial sinew for the stitching.  Obviously, linen thread would have been more period—however, I do not have any available.  There was also the factor that the sinew is far easier to work with—it doesn’t break on you nearly as often—and is longer lasting.

To attach the sole, a flesh/edge shoemakers stitch (interlocking double running stitch with a needle on each end of the thread) was used.  The side seam was sewn with a regular turned seam, right sides together—a butted seam is more period, but I did not believe the leather being used would hold up to it.

Final pattern.  There is a 1/2 inch seam allowance added all along the bottom edge.

After finally working through eight different variations until I finalized the pattern, I was able to being working.  I traced the pattern out on the leather, and cut ½ inch outside the line (of the sole) with a sharp knife.  This excess was originally intended as an allowance for turning, but before I began to sew I discarded that idea—the leather would stretch when I turned it. 
An awl was used to tunnel stitches from the flesh through the edge all around the sole.  Running around the heel, I cut a channel around the curve of the heel and treated that as the edge.  At this point, I also skived the edges of the heel extension.

The skived heel extender.
Heel seam sewn.

The heel dart was sewn first, wrong sides together, then I began stitching the upper to the sole, starting at the toe.  First stitching partway down the inside of the foot, then going all the way around the outside and back.  All this was pretty well straight forwarded.  I stitched the majority of the side seam—up until it curves—before finishing stitching the soles on.  I trimmed the seam allowance fairly close before turning.
Ready to Turn.

At this point, it was time to turn by soaking the sole in hot tap water until pliable (ish.  That heavy of leather doesn’t get particularly soft), and turning it right side out and allowing it to dry for a day or two.
Once it was dry, I put holes in the heel extension after resoaking that particular spot.  It was sewn flat to the leather of the upper, using the same double running stitch as the rest (making sure each stitch was tied off).  The last bit of sewing to be done was to finish the side seam.  I made sure the back side seam was 1/3 inch longer than the front seam—this got sewn down behind the overlap.  The overlap was split into two pieces.
To be honest, I probably did this wrong.  Looking at other people’s reproductions with the heel extension, I think they inset it into the leather of the upper.  I chose to do it this way for no better reason than I could.  Unfortunately, I cannot be conclusive without examining extant pairs of shoes.

The final step before wearing was to lucet a set of cords in wool.  I awled a set of holes in the side and flap, laced the cords through them, and was done.

What I learned:
·       Using the correct leather is important in order to be able to use the correct seams.
·       When drafting your shoes, try using acrylic felt with a thin layer of duct tape to keep it from stretching too much (for the uppers.  I used craft foam for the sole).  It behaves fairly closely to drape of a softer leather.
·       On patterning, after going through so many versions, and looking at the wide variety of patterns used in period shoes, I gained the suspicion that early period shoemakers—if working on a last—simply draped their pattern (at least the first time).
·       Trust the fit of your pattern—do not stretch or gather the leather unless you know you must. 
·       I inquired on an Experimental Archaeology group about the location of the side seam (and fastenings), and the consensus was that both were generally on the inside of the foot, when the shoe wasn’t straight lasted (no difference between left and right foot on the sole).

Time: 10 hours, 50 minutes (not including the time to lucet the ties, or many hours patterning.)
UPDATE: I attempted to wear them at Coronet...but they were so slick as to be unsafe.  I've now scored the bottom in a diagonal crosshatch (then re-oiled the soles), and it seems to be much better, even on packed snow.  I still have to take them out for a real test in the winter woods, though.

First Draft.  Honestly, I'm not sure how the pattern works with that notch at the top of the foot.

Draft 2.  Slightly simplified.  I also made the potential overlap greater.

Draft three.  Now with a heel notch!

Draft 4.  You can see the change on the back-side seam.  I also tucked some off of the side, since it was wrinkling.
Draft 5:  Essentially the same as 4.  I tried adding a bit to the top of the side-seam to get a greater overlap.  You can also see that I completely removed the notch between the overlap and vamp.

Draft 6.  As you can see, I tried flaring the side-back seam, to give greater ease in putting the shoe on (or off).

Draft 7.  Still closer.  I curved the back-side seam.  This is based on an idea I had when I saw a pattern for the Deventer Boots (which may be 13th Century).

Draft 7, assembled.
Draft 8.  I lengthened the back curve a bit.
Draft 8, assembled.   An Excellent article on the general process of making your own turnshoes.
General instructions and drafting your pattern.
Oseberg 303s
Oseberg 172s Discussion on the location of the side seam and fastenings.  The group is closed, and requires membership to view the discussion.

© John Frey, 2015. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.  Photographs of my work may not be duplicated.

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