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Guide to Viking turnshoes.pdf

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Guide to making replica Viking turnshoes.
Made traditionally the pattern does not need to be very
accurate as the leather can be trimmed to shape to fit
the wooden last. In simplifying the construction to
avoid using wooden lasts, accurate pattern making is
vital and so the outer edge of the upper must be exactly
the same length as the outer edge of the sole. Before
cutting your leather think about where you do and do
not need to leave a seam allowance. If you are sewing
a thick sole with an edge/flesh stitch (see later) you
won’t need a seam allowance on the sole. However it is
most probable that you will need to allow approx. half
a centimetre outside of the outline of the upper to allow
the shoe to be sewn together and turned. As mentioned,
the height of the shoe up the side of the foot is not
something that needs to be cut exactly at this stage.
Most Viking shoes were cut to about the height of the
ankle but as the exact height and shape can be trimmed
after the shoe is sewn and turned it is merely advisable
to leave enough height to provide plenty of leather.
Each style of shoe has it’s own idiosyncrasies when
cutting a pattern. I have for this introduction focused
upon perhaps the most typical; A simple slip on slipper
constructed from a separate sole and upper made with a
side seam and characteristic heel riser. These shoes are
wide spread geographically and cover the main period
of Viking occupation in England. Subtle variations may
include the shape of the throat and they may or may not
be fastened with a draw string about the ankle. If you
can make a pair of these shoes then you should have
learnt enough to cope with other different styles
Accept that you will not get a perfect fit with the first
pair of shoes you make. Note also that with wear your
shoes will stretch, so what may start out a little tight
may soon end up a little too loose. As you wear your
first pair of shoes, jot down where you need to add or
remove a fraction of a centimetre of leather. Go back
and amend your paper pattern prior to making a second
pair of shoes. Date and keep all your old paper patterns, along with all the notes about how each fitted.
They will form a useful reference each time you need
or wish to make new pair of shoes enabling each pair
to be modified to get a better and better fit.

Page 4.

Having drawn our pattern we need to think about the
leather we are going to use to make the shoe. Most
types of leather available in the modern world will be
unsuitable. Mainly because most modern leathers are
extensively dressed to produce a very smooth, polished,
shiny surface which may also be dyed an even colour.
Having dealt with many genuine Viking turnshoes
when working as an archaeological conservator I can
state with a fair degree of confidence that we need to
be using leather with a slightly more irregular surface
texture, grain pattern and growth marks. I have two different friends both of whom make a full time living out
of making reproduction shoes for re-enactors, both of
whom claim that they can’t sell shoes made from these
“character” leathers as their customers dismiss them as
looking “cheap”. Consequently don’t assume that the
shoes you are trying to make should be like those for
sale at re-enactment fairs. These people make what their
customers will buy and struggle with the educational
aspects of persuading people to buy what’s authentic.

We also need to think about the method of tanning used
to create the leather. Modern nickle/chrome tanned
leathers won’t soften when soaked, making it difficult to
turn thick shoes. Traditional veg-tanned cattle skin will
soften in water making it easier to work with. Cordwain
(sheep/goat skin) showed a brief spell of popularity in
England around the twelfth/thirteenth century and was
more popular in Scandinavia, but nevertheless most
turnshoes were made from cattle hide. As far as we can
tell, and allowing for a fair bit of variation, uppers were
typically thin, less than 2mm thick whilst the soles were
a little thicker at around 3-4mm. Given the surfaces we
tend to walk on in the modern world, most re-enactors prefer more substantial shoes with thicker uppers
and a sole about 4-6mm thick. Turning a shoe made
from thick leather is difficult, making good veg-tanned
leather essential. Veg-tanned leather will normally be
available in un-dyed and un-waxed condition which is
how we want it. The final colour and appearance of the
leather will darken and change a lot once we “stuff”
and waterproof the finished shoe so don’t feel you need
to buy dark brown leather to make dark brown shoes.

Miniature artist, sculptor and traditional craftsman