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This page includes some observations and comments on my experience of attempting ot make a version of an "authentic" Ancient Irish shoe.

See this link for a more complete Outline of the entire thing

(needs fleshing out...)


Main steps as I see them:

Pattern-Making: the most important step in the process, IMO

Selecting and buying Leather

Assembly/construction

Detailing/Decoration

Wear with Pride!

 

Pattern-Making

This is the most important step, takes the longest, and requires the most trial and error.  I found craft felt is a good substitute for leather to pratice patterns on.

My basic process was to look at the illustration in the source book - and get the actual Lucas article if you at all can, it's widly mis-quoted (byreputable sources!) in such a way that it's impossible to make shoes from the misleading mis-quotes.  The full citation for the original article is:

"Footwear in Ireland", A.T.. Lucas,  Journal of the Archaeological Society of CountyLouth, Vol. XIII, No. 4, pp. 309-394, 1956(available for inter-library loan offprint in the USat the Boston College O'Neill Library).

This is the only comprehensive review of the oldest Irish shoe finds we have.
 

A distinction Lucas found (see Molly's page, for a great list of sources...) in early Irish shoes is the emphasis on a central point - not like modern shoes with a point over the big toe, but one that extended beyond the toe box, and more or less centered. This most obvious in the "Lucas Type II" shoe (but beware, the link on Molly's site to Mark Carlson's site has incorrect illustrations for this shoe type - we had to track down the original artical to clear the confusion up...Carlson quotes Hald who mis-quotes the original Lucas article...). I hope to put my own illustrations up here soon (including photos of the shoe I've got finished!).

The "gillies" or dancing shoes frequently seen at Highland Games are actually

Leather

Most of the sources describe Ancient Irish shoes as made of "raw hide". This seems not quite accurate, however, as modern pampooties (still made in remote coastal areas of Ireland and Sctland because they are the most pratical for climbing around on wet rocks) are also described as made of "raw hide", but they are made from semi-tanned skins that have been "smoked" in a chimney or the rafters. It's likely that ancient shoes were made of leather with at least this much "tanning" - more like Native American "buckskin" than modern "rawhide". Also, there are many references in the Ancient Texts to leather tanned red , so there was certianly tanned leather available (even if it was an expensive import).

For my first attempts, I've used a very supple and strong medium-weight Buffalo hide. Not very authentic, I'm afraid. I thinkthat a light-weight saddle or bridle leather is actually more likely to be similar to the leather's used in Ancient Ireland. In any case, I think now that the ancient Lucas Type II shoe was made of a much stiffer leather - probably worked wet and formed to the desired foot shape - than the modern shoe-leather I used. The gillie type shoes, however, may have used a lighter, more flexible leather.

Assembly

 I learned to make the "box stich" used for sewing leather at right angles to iteslf. See Flesh/Edge Butt Seam on the linked page for a picture of this seam. It is also described on page 101 of:

General Leathercraft (1955) Raymond Cherry, McKnight and McKnight Publishing Company, Bloomington, Illinois. It's probably out of print, but we got a copy from the library.

This appears to be the stich that the Lucas illustration shows for the Lucas Type II shoe.  This stich makes a nice "butt sewn" seam where the stiches don't show on the outside. It was farily easy to sew the flexible Buffalo hide right-side out. For the stiffer saddle-leather, I may have to take Lucas' advice and sew the wet shoe inside-out and turn it right to get the "hidden stich" effect.  One thing is clear: modern leather "experts" are hard pressed to match the craftmanship evidanced by reminants of Ancient Irish leatherwork...

Detailing/decoration

 I haven't tried matching the glorious detailing on the Lucas Type II example photographed in his article, as the Buffalo isn't really suitable for carving (unlike saddle-leather would be...).  I did try, though, to align the grain of the hide I used such that it's natural pattern would show on the top of the shoe.

Wear with pride!

I made a "scrap leather" pair of shoes (not authentic in any respect!) from odd bits left over from other peoples' shoes.  I got to try stuffing/walking in them some.  I found that raw wool is not a great substitute for the dried grasses people used in ancient times to pad shoes.  This is often described as "straw" in the sources but, apparently, it was not necessarily just any strw.  Particular plants were specally cut and dired as particularly suited for the stuffing of shoes.  There are quotes from people saying they preferred a properly stuffed shoe to the best of socks.  I'm still working on replicating this experience (if anyone reading this has any experience with the proper stuffing of shoes, please  contact me!).

In the meantime, I'm using the very inauthentic expediency of a store-bought foot pad.  It works better than the wool (which compacted too quickly, and was sticky on my foot...) and helps with the equally inauthentic concrete I have to walk on in the shoes.
 


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© 1997 Robin A. NíDána

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