At the end of each historical adventure-season I try to clean, mend and grease all our shoes. Outdoors in the autumn sun is of course the most enjoyable, but as long as you get it done it is fine. (Ideally, one would do this after each event to keep the shoes in top condition. But I am lazy…)
After each adventure:
Treat your shoes with some grease after each event/market/adventure and also during longer trips. If the shoes get wet, dry them in room temperature or outdoors (never put them by the fire). You may fill them with paper to get them to dry quicker.
How to deep-clean your shoes before putting them away for the winter:
Brush away loose bits and dust, and clean the space between leather and sole by separating these and brushing away small scraps in the crack. Use a soft brush.
Wipe the shoes clean with luke warm water, and a bit of leather soap/regular soap if dirty. Scrub the soles clean with water and soap.
Dry well, filled with paper to hold the shape better.
Treat the leather parts with leather grease. I also grease the soles on turnshoes.
Dry for a day or two, and then store the shoes in a dry space. I usually keep the historical shoes in the wardrobe.
Before the next adventure, take out your shoes and grease them again before use!
Mend your shoes as soon as you discover they are broken! A ripped seam or a loose strap needs to be sewn (you can use vaxed linen thread) and a loose rubber sole needs to be glued in place. If you are unsure how to mend the shoe, the shoemaker you bought them from should be able to help you or give you advise. A modern shoemaker/cobbler could also be of help.
Store your shoes:
Shoes should be kept in a dry space, and can be filled with paper to better hold their shape. Wardrobes, airy shelves or paper boxes are good. Shoes might get moldy if kept damp or squashed together.
How to use your shoes:
Leather turn shoes (with a leather sole) wears out quickly if you walk with them on gravel and asphalt. If you are walking a lot on those grounds, consider to bring a pair of pattens (wooden soles with straps) to protect your shoes. Or change to modern shoes if walking longer distances. I do that during Medieval week in Visby to spare both shoes and knees.
Mud is equally bad for your shoes; try to avoid it, wear pattens, or brush your shoes clean as fast as you can after a muddy experience.
When walking, remember to not drag you feet against the ground, but properly lift your feet to spare the sole. Avoiding glass and sharp stones is also good. If the shoes get a bit large, use an inner sole, a pair of extra socks or leather straps to keep the shoe firmly on your foot. A shoe that moves on your foot will get uncomfortable and wear out faster.
Buying or making historical shoes can be expensive, but with the right use and treatment they will last a long time. I use mine approximately 30 days a year, and they are several years old now!
(Want to make your own shoes? I have a weekend workshop in shoemaking planned for 13-14 November 2021 in Sundsvall, Sweden. Send me an email if you want to know more and join us!)
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.
Hugo van der Goes, The Portinari Altarpiece/Triptych, c 1475
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.