I wanted to buy myself a pair of really nice wooden pattens to protect my handmade medieval shoes during events, like 6 years ago. I didn’t find any, so then I tried to trade for a pair with some woodworking friends, but none knew how to make a pair or didn’t want to, so I set out to fix my non-pattens-problem on my own. That took a while, and believe me, I have gone through some bad options before I ended up happy.
Making a wooden sole with a leather strap, and then put it on your foot seems like a simple task, but in the end, I didn’t get it right before I researched the extant finds, looked at the artwork and then tried making a pair with some serious hands-on experimenting. I wanted them to both look good, feel right and be comfortable to move in. Now I have finally made a pair I am satisfied with, so I wanted to share my research and process with you! Because of the amount of research, text and pictures I ended up with, I am splitting the posts into research and step-by-step. Easier to read!
Period: Europe, mainly 14th to 15th century.
Pattens are a pair of soles with straps, to wear with your everyday medieval shoe to raise the foot above the ground, avoiding snow, dirt and water. Though they might look like sandals their purpose was to protect the wearer and the expensive shoes all year round, and the thick soles meant you came up from the ground, keeping you dry and warm as well as making the shoes last longer. Pattens were shaped after the foot and the leather shoe, changing form as the shoe fashion did.
They may also be referred to as clogs or galoshes, all names for a medieval overshoe meant to protect the leather shoe, though I will use the term pattens like Grew and Neergaard does in Shoes and Pattens. There are finds of pattens from the 12th and 13th century, making them an useful accessory for the medieval person. Finds of 14th century pattens in London are often decorated for the higher classes and gets more common later in the century. In the 15th century, they become increasingly popular, with many different models and variations. Lots of extant finds show this trend, as well as the pattens being frequently showed in contemporary art. Based on this knowledge, I decided to focus mainly on the late 14th and 15th century variations of pattens.
Materials and models
Pattens can be found with soles in joined layers of leather, as well as wood, and with a solid sole or a two-pieced variant, joined with leather almost like a hinge. Examples with a wooden platform on top of stilts or wedges in wood or metal can also be found.
Examples of wood being used in finds; alder, willow, poplar and one example of beech. Aspen was prohibited for use in England in 1416 (which tells us it was probably a popular choice) but 1464 it was stated that it was allowed to make pattens of aspen wood not suitable for arrow shafts (Shoes and Pattens).
15th and early 16th century pattens, both wood and layers of leather were used for soles.
Straps made of leather
All extant examples I have studied have straps made of leather (vegetable tanned cowhide seems to be the choice), though there are lots of different strap fastenings. Some pattens have one strap over the front part of the foot, almost like flip flops, while others also have straps at the sides or behind the heel, joining in a strap around the ankle. The heel straps can be first seen in late 14th century finds.
Looking at contemporary artwork, many working persons from the period wear practical pattens with a sturdy strap over the foot, while higher classes have more formed soles with delicate straps, sometimes decorated, and sometimes with a buckle.
To adjust the fit of the straps there are examples of metal buckles, ties and leather strips secured with a piece of leather or a nail among other varieties. The leather used for straps are generally thinner than the one used to join a split sole, and to make it sturdier a seam, a binding or a folded edge has been used. Two layers of leather sewn together is another method. The leather could be decorated with dyes or edges of contrasting colours and stamps or cut-outs in patterns.
To fasten the leather to the soles iron nails were used, both for the straps and the sole hinge. Sometimes a second leather strap was nailed down around the sole to finish the look and protect the foot straps from wear. Other words used for the nails are dubs, pins and pegs but I choose to follow the item descriptions on the online database of the Museum of London naming them nails. It also seems that the medieval examples have the same shape and size as nails to other kinds of work.
Metal buckles and other fastenings
There are several examples of metal buckles represented in the artwork on pattens from the 15th century, and finds from the 14th and 15th century of similar buckles made in iron, brass, bronze and copper allow to mention some examples. Because most buckles are found loose it is hard to say which ones were used for belts, shoes, pattens and purses. I opted for some examples from contemporary artwork to show you, and if you want to further examine buckles from the period there are lots of finds on online museum collections as well as in Dress Accessories.
Examples of metal buckles in contemporary artwork
There are several finds from sites in Europe like London and Amsterdam as well as examples from Germany. If you want to see more extant finds, the Museum of London online collection is a great source to begin with.
Grew and Neergaard (2001) Shoes and pattens p. 91-101
Egan and Pritchard (2002) Dress Accessories 1150-1450
Goubitz (2011) Stepping Through Time: archaeological footwear from prehistoric times until 1800.
Museum of London online collection (20200416) https://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/online/search/#!/results?terms=medieval%20patten
Extant find at the top; Museum of London online collection. 15th c patten in wood with leather and iron nails.
A patten maker; (20200416) https://hausbuecher.nuernberg.de/75-Amb-2-317-106-v