Shoes by Robert

In the Polish Style (Poulaines)

Poulaines... the quintessential medieval shoe...

Let's try making a pair of extremely long-pointed, low-sided shoes that medieval clergy loved to rail against, calling them devil's claws.

This was an entirely new pattern for me, but I based it on my previous turnshoes of "normal" size, modifying it to be equalized on both sides of the instep. I also cut the sides lower and made the quarters into a separate piece. I then extended the length of the toe a great deal on both the sole and the upper pattern.

Based on existing specimens, it appears that this style of shoe either had no decoration or else sported a series of carved transverse channels with crosshatching between them. I decided to go for the fancy style. It was necessary to decorate the leather while it was flat before stitching.

In order to achieve the desired decoration of the suede elements, I tried a variety of tools on diverse leather samples, but could not achieve a channel. Either the sides were too uneven, or the depth inconsistent, or the channel U-shaped rather than straight-sided. It would seem that one should pull the blade toward oneself, eliminating chisels as a solution. I searched high and low for any tool that could be used to produce a shallow channel. One might expect such a tool to be a sort of hooked gouge, or perhaps a tiny spoon-carving knife.

After a couple of weeks of experiments, web searches, close reading of the usual sources, etc., I had a eureka moment, and applied a technique from my earlier leather embroidery. Specifically, I made two parallel incisions, bent the leather over a dowel, and then used a very sharp knife held in a paring grip to shave off the leather between them. This resulted in the perfect removal of just enough top leather to reveal the suede below, within a straight channel.

To properly size and position the design, I sketched it onto the card-stock pattern used to cut the leather, then pricked the corners of the elements through it onto the upper. I then used a sharp knife and straight edge to make incisions connecting the corners of the to-be-scraped areas, and a scratch awl to draw the borders.

To remove the surface area, as mentioned earlier, I carefully made small cuts with a sharp thin knife just under the surface, going along both incisions while peeling it back. To make the cross-hatched decoration I used a very sharp incision knife free-hand.

After decoration, I stitched the quarters to the vamp with edge-edge stitching and added a latchet to one side, per the surviving examples.

With most types of turnshoes, the sole is stitched entirely to the upper before turning. With shoes this long, however, it would likely prove very difficult or impossible to turn them. Indeed, a surviving pair provides evidence that this was not done. Instead, most of the sole/upper seam was stitched, with a gap at the toe. After turning, then, the long point of the shoe's upper was stitched to the sole. The thread is a bit more visible here as a result, but almost entirely hidden from view when the shoes are worn.

As for the two-part sole, a surviving shoe has been cut and stitched that way. It may have been a repair, or a way to economize on leather. Either way, I chose to emulate it in this pair in order to stay true to the archaeological record.

A linen reinforcement cord was added along the opening on both sides of each shoe in order to stiffen it and help it keep its form.

I stuffed the toes with wool so that they would hold their shape.


  1. Long, pointed shoes such as these came into and went out of fashion at various times, hitting peak popularity roughly 1360-1420 and again in the second half of the 15th century.
  2. The term poulaine (Middle French for “Polish”) may have arisen from shoes worn by ostentatious courtiers who accompanied Anne of Bohemia, King Richard II’s wife, daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, whose territory bordered the area.
  3. In England people called them cracows, after the city in Poland. Again, though, it’s not certain whether the term was in use before Richard and Anne married.
  4. During their last phase of popularity, one would call them pikes or peaks or points.
  5. Usually the long toes were stuffed with moss, but other materials such as wool or cloth scraps also served to help them keep their shape.
  6. Sometimes they were worn with pattens as long as themselves.
  7. Medieval clergy railed against these shoes, comparing them to claws or horns of devils.
  8. The rather waisted sole in this style of shoe was normally made in two pieces, either to help with flexibility or to facilitate repair.


Grew, F. and M. de Neergaard, 2006. Shoes and Pattens (Medieval Finds from Excavations in London), rev. ed. Boydell Press.

Museum of London web site, accessed 11/18/2018:

Volken, M., 2014. Archaeological Footwear: Development of Shoe Patterns and Styles from Prehistory til the 1600’s. SPA Uitgevers.

See also "Why Were Medieval Europeans So Obsessed With Long, Pointy Shoes?"

Last updated May 30, 2019.

Poulaine pattern.
Studying the decoration.
Removing the surface to show suede below.
Decorated quarters.
Upper decoration in progress.
Upper decoration complete.
The original in the Museum of London.
Reinforcement cord.
Devil's claws indeed!