Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Dungiven Project: Part Shoe!

The Dungiven Project is my journey to attempt to recreate--to the best of my resources and abilities--the outfit from the Dungiven find; primarily a doublet, trius, pair of shoes, and a brat. There were a couple of other fragments--including a belt--but they are not quite as important.

After a day of wear at 3-Barons Renfair.  I got a number of compliments on them!

The Find:
The Dungiven find consisted of a pair of trius (the Irish trousers), a jacket, and a brat (Irish variation of a cloak) dug up by a farmer on April 23, 1956. There were several other pieces found as well as the major ones—a pair of Lucas Type 5 [Henshall, pp. 135] shoes (sewn with wool thread, interestingly enough), and fragments of a belt that was found in the waistband of the trius. No skeleton or body was found with the clothing, which is not unusual given the acidity of the soil. The pieces were found slightly North of Dungiven, Co. Derry, North Ireland (the tiny red dot on the map). One of the somewhat interesting things about the garment(s) is that we do not actually know what period they are from—it is estimated based on shape that the jacket could have been make any time between 1570 and the 1640s.

My main source of information is the report on the clothing written by Audrey S. Henshall for the Ulster Journal of Archaeology in 1961-62.  While Reconstructing History does have a pattern and a little research out for it, I intentionally chose to work from as close to the original material as I could, partly because I much prefer to pattern things myself to get closer to the original (pretty much any commercial pattern is going to be cleaned up, and any irregularities removed), and partly because almost any commercial pattern is going to require more work to fit than just doing so myself.

Garment Description:
What do they look like (other than shoes)? They are fairly high (but not boots!) welted construction shoes; the first in Lucas's shoe typology which is sewn with a separate sole and upper, rather than being folded and sewn out of a single piece of leather.  For a description, they have a somewhat angular effect, since both the vamp and heel have points.  The shoe is held securely on with latchets fastening over (but off center) of the instep.  The most notable feature is that it was sewn with a three ply wool thread (dark brown, although no mention is made as to whether this was the original colour).

Now, Henshall's description of the dissected scraps of leather which were shoelike "welted form, and made up of several pieces of leather"--it was in the appendixes that they are called Lucas Type 5s (which the one reference I found which copies or paraphrases his descriptions calls welted).

My Goals;
I had a couple of goals in making this piece, other than the previously stated "to finish my outfit".  The main one was to make a second pair of late period shoes--the general style of the Lucas 5s is not uncommon for Northern Europe, and a similar pair of latchet shoes was found on the English warship, the Mary Rose--other than my cowmouth shoes (which, though fairly comfortable, are not the best for less than idea weather). To practice my technique of making welted construction footwear, and leatherworking in general, and out of morbid curiosity as to why anyone would construct shoes with wool thread.

As for that last, I haven't yet figured it out, although one friend suggested that it's because wool is more rot resistant than linen.  This doesn't take into account that Lucas 5s are mentioned to have typically been sewn with leather thong, and that you wouldn't think wool thread would be durable enough to need rot resistance.

In this particular piece, I am not trying to exactly duplicate the shoe, since it is quite impossible.  Even if I had the pieces in front of me, with full reign to go over them with a fine ruler, it wouldn't really work.  They are in too poor of condition, plus they then wouldn't fit my feet (even if I scaled them correctly).

I used my own pattern for the shoes, based on the small sketch in Henshall, and measured to fit my foot.  The sole (both the insole of light leather, and the heavier outsole) was made by tracing my foot, adding ease in the appropriate places.  The upper was drafted by measuring the width (this time paying attention to the top of the arch, which is off center!), and length, then shifting and tracing the sole to fit; the heel was draped.

Note: I did make things asymmetrical, which may or may not have been done in the original pair.  The decision was made in order to have the top point of the vamp (and heel) line up on the highest points of my instep--which is not the center.

Er....leather?  As usual, I used veg. tan leather--which is tanned with tannic acid, rather than more modern chemicals--for both the upper and sole.  The upper is in about 3-4 oz (weight is by square foot), and the outsole is cut from 14oz leather.

To hold the pieces together, I used a fairly lightweight, two-ply wool thread (white), since it was the closest I had available to the specified 3-ply woolen thread.  The thread was doubled for strength.  When it comes time to do the repairs (which it already is, actually, after a day of wearing), I will need to decide whether to attempt to use leather "thong" or do my repairs in heavy linen (or, horrors of authenticity, artificial sinew....because I don't like doing repetitive repairs).  I did wax the thread as best as I could, since I couldn't find my softened beeswax.

Because Henshall didn't specify, I chose a doubled running stitch; it is pretty much my favourite stitch, since it isn't much weaker than a saddle stitch (although, admittedly doesn't lock each stitch as well), but is a lot less fiddly and time consuming.  The majority of the seams--with the exception of sewing the latchets on--were done right sides together and turned (then pounded flat whilst wet).


 After draping and drafting the pattern, I cut it out of the thinner leather with shears.  The long strip at the bottom is the rand, or welt, and is just a strip of leather about 3/4 inch wide; depending on the thickness of the leather, the inside (the side which is sewn into the upper's seam) may be skived down to make it thinner.  I didn't, because I felt the leather was thin enough already.  However, the ends /are/ scived and lapped before being sewn into the seam.

I gave myself about 1/8th inch seam allowance on all turned seams--small enough that it doesn't waste leather, but just enough that it can be easily worked with.

Before working with a section, I thoroughly soaked the layers of leather in warm water to make it more malleable.  I find this rather important, since it makes it a lot easier to punch the holes, as well as match curves which, really, don't.  Here, you can see that I started sewing at the tip of the shoe, since it is important that those match up.

After getting the vamp sewn on to within an inch or so of the side seams, I stitched one side seam, finished sewing around the heel, then sewed the other.  As said before, I pounded the side seams flat in order to reduce rubbing.

Once the uppers are completely sewn on, the entire shoe gets saturated with warm water, then turned right-side-out; pressing and tugging the rand until it is taut.  I allowed the upper to dry with a towel inside it to help hold the form, them moved on to repeat the process with the second shoe.

I followed the same pattern for the outsole, adding another 1/4 inch to all directions--this is easily trimmed after sewing. Since I wasn't as close as I would have liked to the actual pattern of stitching, I decided to punch the holes for the heel half first, then kind of alternate sections until I reached the toe.  The sole is being installed rough side out in order to improve traction.

Since the leather is rather thick, it is even more important that it be worked wet, which makes it easier to awl holes, and for the needle to pass through said holes.  After the holes are punched, you trace them on the underside of the sole by cutting almost half way through the thickness of the leather; this cut is then traced with a blunt knife to spread it.  This is an important step, since it (if done correctly) buries the stitches and helps prevent them from wear.

Once again, the sole is worked wet.  In this case, the rand gets kind of pressed in to form sort of a fold--if done correctly, this covers the upper's seam to help waterproof it.  I didn't do it quite right, but it came out better than the last time.

 I more or less eyeballed the width of the latchets, but did measure the length.  This is the only butted seam I used in these shoes, and that was mainly because I neglected to add seam allowances to that bit of the heel.

 The finished shoes.  Prior to oiling, I punched four smallish holes in the inside latchets, near the ends; the outside latchets were folded down to the right length, then got a pair of somewhat larger holes punched through the two layers of leather.  The ties are a strip of leather, cut in two almost the entire length, and threaded through the inside latchet holes.

At this stage, the shoes were oiled to restore flexibility and season against moisture.  While animal fat would probably be the most period option, I neither particularly want to deal with that, nor actually have clean animal fats on hand--so olive oil was used.  After wearing, I plan to fully season them, using a blend of olive oil and beeswax, and almost saturating the leather.

At least as I made them, they are a quite comfortable pair of shoes, with fairly subdued stitching--if I do repairs with "thong" I doubt they will be quite so elegant.  Because I don't have enough data about the originals, I'm not sure how many conclusions I can make.

One of the main things I learned was testing and implimenting a slightly better form of measuring and drafting (so that the lengthwise instep of the shoe isn't centered)--which worked quite nicely.  I also am testing the durability and use of wool thread in footwear (it's okay, but not recommended), since this isn't the first piece of leatherwork I've sewn with wool thread (my tarsoly was the first, since I was out of linen thread when I made it).  In addition, I was practicing how to sew a welted shoe, and re-affirming the importance of working the leather while it's wet.

What I'd do differently:
I'm really not sure.  Other than /maybe/ making and using a last, the main thing would be to hammer the inside seam to help seal it and make it more comfortable--I didn't have the needed tool, and couldn't manage to improvise something.  I should also probably stop being lazy, and use a proper saddle stitch, rather than the double running stitch I have been (each stitch gets knotted into place).

How Accurate:
I don't think it's too bad--all the materials and techniques are period correct, as is the pattern to the best of my knowledge.  There is one possible issue, and that is my lack of a last--one of these years, I'm going to have to actually make one and learn to use it.  However, we don't know whether this particular shoe find was made on a last or not, nor whether it was cut to have a right and left foot.

10 hours, 20 minutes; not counting time spent oiling them or patterning.

Henshall, Audrey S. The Dungiven Costume. Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Third Series, Vol. 24/25 (1961/1962), pp. 119-142.  [Saved to my computer 6-20-12]
Footwear in Ireland.  Excerpt from Lucas, A.T. (1956). Footwear in Ireland. [Webpage Accessed: 6-15-16]

© John Frey, 2016. 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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