Shoes by Robert

Just a Tracery

In late October, 2019, a post by Dordrecht Ondergronds made its way around Facebook. Their submission illustrates and talks about some 14th-century shoe restorations by Marquita Volken, an expert on leather shoes. They are gorgeous. And inspirational enough to lead to my next project.

For this pair of shoes, I chose to use rather thin leather - the thinnest I've ever used - because of the need to cut most of it away in a delicate pattern. Some time ago Tandy had a great sale on full-sized hides and I bought two without any specific projects in mind, shoes or otherwise. Unfortunately I did not record details about this purchase. The type of tanning used is not clear to me: the cross-section lacks the differential coloring of chromium tanning. It's soft and supple and very stretchy. For my purpose I decided it does not matter, but I apologize for the lack of detail.

The thinness of the leather led me to stitch the upper's side by pressing a bit of each part against each other, rather than butting them together as usual. I used a standard saddle stich for that. The seam projects into the shoe, but it's so minimal, flexible, and soft that it's not noticeable.

After cutting the leather to remove the open bits, there were many "jaggies" and tiny bits of "fluff" that protruded from the edges of the cuts. Trying to remove these manually with a sharp knife or scissors might work, but is certainly tedious. As a way to make this task faster, it seemed reasonable to try applying short bursts of flame from a hand-held butane torch. This worked perfectly: quick passes burned them right off and cleaned up the edges of the cuts in a few seconds. If you try this, err on starting too far away, and make quick passes so as not to burn the leather you want to keep. Burning away the leather will make a bit of a stink, so open windows are recommended.

These shoes were designed to be worn with brightly colored hosen and as can be seen the lower image on the right, those do make the tracery show up well. Although this leather is thin, I have found these shoes to be far more durable than expected. I've worn them on several occasions, inside and out, on grass, dirt, and concrete. I've jumped into and out of pick-up trucks and vans to load and unload them, and the shoes have not failed in any way, despite the seeminly delicate design. The leather apparently is stretchy enough to absorb any strain from those vigorous activities.

Last updated Sept. 5, 2022.

The original restored shoe (source: Dordrecht Ondergronds).
Transferring an approximation of the design by eye.
Copying the design to the other shoe by using a gold marker.
Both uppers cut out.
Soles added.
The delicate designs stand out well on colored hosen (source: Susan Verberg).