Wrapping Peasants, Part I: Drafting a pattern for shoes…

Where was I before my holiday travels got sucked into that polar vortex thingy we’re all tired of hearing about? Oh! Right. We were making shoes. For this, we will have to backtrack a bit to October, when I was devoting time primarily to research while recovering from my mystery ailment and various ensuing nonsense…

Part One: In Which I Run Afoul of Congress

With a finished pair of lasts in hand, my next step in my shoemaking journey was to contact Francis Classe for advice. Our conversation ranged across the spectrum of tools and patterns. This inevitably led to a tussle with the US Postal Service, who waylaid my attempt to pay him for some tools, including some surprising ones: Boar bristles, which he offered to sell to me at a very reasonable price. If only I could get the check to him (Yes, a check; if you don’t know by now I’m a bit of a Luddite, you haven’t been paying attention.) which I finally sidestepped by at long last succumbing to the embrace of Paypal. . . God help me.

Two closing awls and a bundle of boar’s bristles. I’m semi-convinced that
Francis raises wild boar in his back yard because he seems to have an 
inexhaustible supply of these bristles… 

While I was waiting for the USPS to get their appointed rounds out of their dark of night (ahem), I headed to the library to seek out a copy of “Stepping Through Time: Archaeological Footwear from Prehistoric Times until 1800” by Olaf Goubitz.  It is essentially the book on the subject. Goubitz, who died in 2007, was a Dutch archaeologist who dedicated his life to the conservation and study of historical leather artifacts, which led to books and articles like Stepping Through Time… and Purses in Pieces. His books are full of tireless scholarship and hand-drawn patterns and replications of shoes from shipwrecks archaeological digs throughout Europe.

Thanks to his tireless efforts, I am able to approach this part of my project with more confidence that I’m approaching the subject in an historically-sound manner than I have at any other time in the past 13 months.

I’ll do my best not to screw it up.

Thanks to the magic of Inter-Library Loan, in short order, I found myself in possession the People’s Copy of this seminal work. By which I mean that The Library of Congress was apparently the only copy available, which led to me being the guardian of this important book, as the United States government went on hiatus almost immediately after I picked it up.

Needless to say while I was the Keeper of Congress’s Preeminent Pre-modern Shoemaking Text, I took copious notes and chatted a bit more with Francis before settling on a pattern and a plan.

We’ll gloss over the fact that when I returned the book after my 2-week guardianship, the librarian finally opened the envelope taped to it and discovered an admonition that I was Not To Take This Book Out of the Reading Room. She and I agreed that our legislators were far too busy arguing to care about my minor flouting of congressional mandate.

Either that or I’ve doomed my soul to Congressional Library Hell…

Normally this would be my idea of heaven… unless the shelves were unalphabetized.
And I had to re-shelve the books… (shudder)

image source: “15 Gorgeous Photos Of the Old Cincinnati Library” via Buzzfeed

Part II: On the Drafting of Patterns

As a painter, I’ve always been fond of the curious and somewhat controversial pastoral paintings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Especially the detail on the costumes, customs, and clodhoppers. These are the feet of two bagpipe playing peasants in the painting ‘Peasant Wedding’ clad in some charmingly simple-looking shoes.

Detail from The Peasant Wedding c. 1566 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Image source: Wikipedia

As I mentioned, Bruegel’s bucolic depictions of peasant life are somewhat controversial in many circles, so I try not to trust them if I cannot back them up from more conventionally reliable sources. Which is where our old friend Goubitz comes in.

Among the shoes he documented from digs in the Netherlands were these, which I re-drew from his book. Handily, he provided a schematic of the pattern pieces as well, as you can see below.

This is where we get to the pattern drafting part of our program.

Note: I am basing my drafting methods here on years of experience drafting patterns for clothing, further informed by an article contained in the book Handmade Shoes for Men by Laszlo Vass & Magda Molnar.
This is something we’ll re-visit at least twice more after we’re finished with the shoes, and it’s an important aspect of everything we do as we clothe our renaissance working man (or woman) from toe to head. At each level of dress, we will find ourselves wrapping parts of a body in paper and imagining flat drawings from 450 years ago into three dimensions.
Which entails a lot of paper and a helper. When drafting patterns (or as I like to think of it: “Wrapping peasants”) it is best to work with a friend.  Which makes it especially appropriate since it was the week of Christmas when I started laying paper over my shoe lasts and making with the Scotch Tape and sharpies.
Once I had the shoes wrapped in paper, I approximated the seam lines from Goubitz’s drawing on my new three-dimensional model, guessing in places where and how I would compensate for the contours of the wooden foot, marking out how the vamp and sides come together.
Then I used a shop knife to cut along the seam lines, cutting the paper away from the last and laying them out flat to check that they approximate the pieces that Goubitz drew for his book. 
From paper to leather to shoes… simple enough, right? We can only hope.
More later,
– Scott


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