Sunday, September 18, 2011

Making Shoes (Poulaines): Step 2 - Felt Slippers

Continuing from Step 1... now I have another duct taped foot from my always-patient daughter (she actually thought it was fun to make another duct taped foot!), which I stuffed with newspaper to give it the right shape.[1]  I wanted to see what would happen if I used my original duct tape pattern to make a poulaine without using the last and what would happen using his methods and making a pattern from the last.  I've been given to understand that the shoe is much less accurate without a last and that makes perfect sense, but I like to experiment.  So...

Step 2a...

I took my original duct tape pattern and cut out two pieces of regular everyday felt you can buy from just about any hobby/craft store -- the really cheap stuff.  I extended the toe on the pattern to make them more 'poulaine' in shape and realized after I was done that the patterns weren't going to line up exactly, but I figured it was felt.  It was an easy fix compared to leather.  Then I started to sew them together and realized I was sewing them the wrong side out (as you would turned shoes) and the London extant example shows the stitching on the outside, even if none of the artwork depictions indicate the same thing.  Somehow I doubt that showing the seams on shoes was all that important to artists (they're only shoes).  What's interesting is the site I was using for the construction of these shoes is also using the turned shoe method.  Which is correct? According to Footwear of the Middle Ages, in defining a 'welt',


3. After about 1480, this refers to a narrow strip of leather placed outside the upper on a non-turned shoe [not inserted between like above with a turnshoe] and sewn simultaneously around the lasting margin (q.v.) of the upper during Inseaming [q.v.] joining it to the insole edge or to a "rib"(see "holdfast") raised on the flesh side of the insole near the edge. The sole is then stitched to this welt by a second seam. (see Welted Construction) [Thornton/Swann, 1983]. It is sometimes referred to as a "Rand"(2), when folded under after sewing, presenting a rolled edge. This continues into modern shoemaking where the welt refers to the strip that begins approximately at the heel-breast on one side and continues around the forepart, ending approximately at heel-breast on the other, and should not be confused with the Rand, the strip around the heel.
Further down the page when defining 'welt construction', he says,
2. This method of shoe construction appears to have been developed in Germany by around 1480 or so, and introduced to England by c.1500. These techniques formed the basis of all shoe-making well into the modern era, and, although no longer the mainstay of shoe-making in this era of exuded plastics and molds, this path is still followed by an impassioned minority.
So 'inseaming' is period for my era and place.  Perfect.

In any case, I continued using the turned-based method (well, not strictly turned; it's material, I made a 1/4" seam).  It was a really quick sewing project and before I had the toe completed, I wanted to test out the fit and, go figure, it didn't fit her arch, but then I thought that might be an issue in any case.  We are a family of high-arched individuals, BUT it showed me that though freehand works, it's definitely not the most accurate.

Step 2b...

Next, I took more felt and used the duct-taped foot to make a new pattern.  You have to be real careful with the duct-taped foot, because it's somewhat squishy.  As long as it's not necessary to put a lot of pressure on it or to do anything to the duct-taped foot itself, it maintains its shape fairly well.  Making the pattern this way was a bit more tricky.  I had to drape the felt around the foot and make sure it was going to fit around the ankle to the heel as well as to the point of the toe without too many wrinkles.  I can see why they tack the leather to the last to get this part to work correctly.  Unfortunately, smoothing out the felt wasn't the hardest part, it was making the fabric match at the back of the heel and leaving enough for a seem at the bottom edge.

I figured out my pattern and cut out the felt.  The upper was definitely larger than my original pattern, which is a good thing and was expected, though I may be over-compensating since I made the last one too small, but at least with the last I can use that to test my felt slipper's size instead of bugging my daughter. :D  I sewed the upper and sole together, but, being inconsistent (I didn't sew the seam the same this time), the shoe was definitely larger than her foot, but with a little altering, I could make slippers like this to fit her feet.  She could only wear shoes like this around the house, but she appears tickled by that idea.

My current conclusion is that I really need a wooden last if I'm going to make shoes the right way.  Duct tape makes the job more difficult than it needs to be. A wooden last would make this job both easier and more consistent.  I have very little carving skill, but that's going to have to be my next step if this project is going to move forward.


1. My husband suggested using plaster of Paris to fill the duct-taped foot, but my only concern would be maintaining the shape of her foot while it set.  Also, I didn't want to chance the duct tape leaking.  Maybe I'll make a third foot to experiment with the plaster, but at this point, I think it would simply be a waste of time.

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