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.
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.