Quick Black Waxed Calf

April 8th, 2018

In the 18th century, leather was often dyed on the flesh (the slightly rough side), impregnated with wax, and then polished to get a sheen on it. When done correctly, it can look very similar to the grain (the smooth side), but nicks and scratches can more easily be buffed out. The last (to my knowledge) source of black waxed calf was Dickens Bros., who have since retired and are no longer producing. I recently made an attempt to make something that looks similar from regular vegetable tanned leather, though it certainly doesn’t have the flavor and lovely scent of the Dickens Bros. material. The test scrap is on the right, with the true waxed calf on the left. But, I am optimistic it will do until a new source can be found.

Making this was rather straightforward, though it remains to be seen how well it will react when having a pair of shoes made up in it.
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Lesson 13: Late 16th C. Corked/Timber Shoes

March 22nd, 2018

There are a variety of different references to corked shoes, that is, shoes in which a layer or multiple layers of cork have been inserted, to either keep an insulated layer from the cold, or perhaps to create an “arched” shoe, like that shown here. In this case, these shoes are based off of a pair that was found in Nova Zembla, a Russian archipelago in the Arctic circle. In 1596, a Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz led an expedition looking for the Northeast passage to the Indies and were stranded. Many excellently preserved items were found, including mules and shoes, including the finds upon which this pair is based.

This find was originally published in a Dutch journal which documented the catalog of the findings, “Behouden uit het Behouden Huys – Catalogus van da voorwerpen van de Barentsexpeditie (1596), gevonden op Nova Zembla. Di Rijksmuseumcollectie, aangevuld met Russische en Noorse vondsten.” In other words, the finds are primarily at the Rijjksmuseum. :)
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1620s Jacobean Heels

March 9th, 2018

This pair was specifically requested to be white. I, and like many other shoemakers, I’m sure, hate working in white. Why? Because you have to take such care with making sure your hands, your apron, your mind (some being more difficult than others), are all sparkling clean. Further, this leather was a bit trickier to deal with – I don’t often use chrome-tanned leather, but this was per specific request. Additionally, the leather was actually quite thin, so I used a completely a-historical technique to cement two layers together. In this manner, they had the firmness and stability of an alum-tawed calf, but also its flexibility. In any event, white and cream shoes were all the range in the 1620s – this painting of Sir Thomas Parker of Ratton by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, located in the National Trust, Saltram, shows a fine example upon which this pair was based.

The use of this leather came at something of a price – although we avoided the significant cost needed to purchase alum-tawed calf (which is beautiful, and well worth it), one can note a bit of wrinkling at the top of the vamp, and some also on the heel covering where mere tugging and tapping of the leather would normally arrive at a satisfactory smoothness. I also notice that I am still stitching a little too high up on the rand, especially at the heel. Period examples tend to be almost touching the sole, as shown in the Ashmolean heels here. Improvements, no doubt, for the next project!

“High-Top” 16th C. Cowmouths

January 22nd, 2018

I’ve made a couple of pairs of these cowmouths, similar to what I’ve written about here, but these are a bit different in that they have a “high-top” quarters. This type of shoe was quite common and strongly represented in the finds, but they are not as popular for re-enactors. I have come to like them a bit, if for no other reason than they are more unique.

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