This page includes some observations and comments on
my experience of attempting ot make a version of an "authentic" Ancient
See this link for a more complete
the entire thing
(needs fleshing out...)
Main steps as I see them:
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
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.
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...
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.
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
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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