With Powles window corven on his shoos,
In hoses rede he wente fetisly.
[H]e went very elegantly in red hose,
with St. Paul's window tooled into his shoes.
- Geoffry Chaucer, "The Miller's Tale" (referring to a character called Absalom), late 14th c., trans. and ed. by A. Hiett and C. Hiett, 1964, Bantom Books, pp. 156-157, with a note on p. 421: "window (St. Paul's)-Intricate tooled designs resembling the windows in St. Paul's Cathedral."
In the fall of 2019, inspired by a photo posted to the Dordrecht Ondergronds Facebook page, I made pair of 14th-century openwork shoes as a test to determine how hard they were to make, how comfortable they were to wear, and how long they might last.
As it turned out, these shoes ended up getting worn more than originally intended. They are rather comfortable, and although they appear delicate, the modern furniture-grade leather I used proved sturdy enough to last me through a number of events with activities such as jumping into and out of trucks, moving heavy loads, climbing steps, etc. They also attracted a lot of eyeballs and led to requests for a class on how to make them.
During that period of testing, the Dordrecht Ondergronds page posted photos of a few more designs. I decided to make reproductions of four of them, and then develop templates that would let others easily make their own shoes with those same designs. The result of this effort was a make-and-take workshop first offered at the fall Æthelmearc Æcademy in 2022.
It should be noted that the materials, methods, tools, and approaches used in this workshop make no pretense at being historical. They are intended to allow someone to make a pair of fancy shoes quickly with minimal skills. You will need very thin leather for the uppers, and 9-10 oz. leather for the soles.
Download the PDF hand-out provided in that class if you would like to use its steps to make your own pair: Making Openwork Shoes. If you would like a copy of the template used for one of these designs, click the link for the corresponding image on the right: Design A, Design B, Design C, Design D. You will need to print it to a scale that fits your feet.
Last updated May 8, 2023.