Late 6-7th century shoes from Sutton Hoo Sf9 Mound 1

If you are on my Facebook list, you’ve seen this post before, about a year ago. It’s a long story, I’d been wearing my old Parliament Street shoes for a few years, hoping nobody noticed that they were 3-600 years more recent than the rest of my gear. I was also having a whinge about not having accurate socks and came to an agreement with Jenny Baker that I’d make her a Rus knife in exchange for a couple of pair or nailbanded socks. The socks arrived, they were a perfect size but so thick my shoes no longer fitted. I’ve passed the old shoes on to Owen, who’d outgrown the ones he’d made when he wore size 5 (which I think have been passed on to Sven or someone).

I found the Sutton Hoo picture in a book while I was looking for something for Glenda, I’ve done some more research and found the embroidery on the toe was most likely done in linen, and that the shoe either had a binding thread, or was cloth lined.


Late 6-7th century shoes from Sutton Hoo Sf9 Mound 1,
reconstruction by Rogers. Found on top of the coffin,
one had folded tablet-woven wickelbands inside.

Construction is virtually identical to shoe (find 756) from Parliament Street in York, so I simply modified the patterns I had for that one. Pete Beatson’s covered the construction nicely in his webpage so I won’t cover it again here. I’m basing the stitching on Parliament Street as that is more accessible than the Sutton Hoo dig report. Sole is attached to the upper with (synthetic) sinew using grain/edge stitches on the sole and grain/flesh on the upper at a 6mm pitch. Side seam and top edge/binding are done with edge/flesh stitches in linen at a 3mm pitch.

Sutton Hoo shoe Sf9 mound 1

All the parts laid out next to the pattern.

I’ll cut the eye in the front of the shoe when the shoe is complete and I’m happy with the location.

Sutton Hoo shoe Sf9 mound 1

The upper showing the grain/flesh holes for attachment to the sole and the edge/flesh holes for the side seam.

The lasting margin (distance between the stitching and the edge) is the same as the thickness of the sole leather. This makes the seam not intrude into the shoe when it is turned.

Sutton Hoo shoe Sf9 mound 1

The sole showing the edge/flesh holes.

I try to get the awl to go through the full thickness of the corrium (flesh layer) and come out just at the base of the skin when I’m doing these stitches. It gives a more secure attachment as it uses as close to the full thickness of the leather as possible.

Sutton Hoo shoe Sf9 mound 1

The shoe is stitched inside out and then turned when all the seams are finished.

I’m about a third of the way around and am using sinew to attach the sole. The side seam aligns with the instep on the inside of the foot to minimise tension on the seam.  Let’s assume for the purpose of the exercise that I’ve finished one. Yes, I know there’s five more stitches to go on the side seam, but just go along with me for once. Yes, I know I made a mess of  the pattern and the back of the side seam is 3mm higher than the front, I’ll fix that after the stitching is done but before I turn it.

Sutton Hoo shoe Sf9 mound 1

(Allegedly) completed shoe, side seam is at the instep and is done using hand twisted three-ply linen thread. One of the socks responsible for all this nonsense is in the foreground.

Sutton Hoo shoe Sf9 mound 1

Inside of the side seam.

Here you can see how the thread passes through the edge of the leather but never comes through the surface. The missing stitches are to illustrate the way the edges meet and have nothing to do with me breaking a needle, running out of thread or being fed up and wanting to go to bed.

Sutton Hoo shoe Sf9 mound 1

View of the sole, stitched with sinew

The thread goes through the flesh side of the leather and out through the side. It then neatly pierces the upper from one side to the other, then turns around and has another go. Its tied at an arbitrary 15 stitch interval… Or 20… or in one case, 10. When I tie a knot at the end of a length of thread, I thread both free ends onto a needle and pull them both through the nearest hole. A bit of tension then pulls the knot into the hole and the tails get cut off. That way there’s nothing to cause blisters and I look cleverer.

Now all I need to do is turn the shoe the other way out, dye the leather, wax the leather and do the embroidery… and then the other shoe. I’ve managed to get away with shedding only a small amount of blood, mostly from stab injuries.

Sutton Hoo shoe Sf9 mound 1

The opening near the toe cut and the side reshaped to fix the mistake.

Sutton Hoo shoe Sf9 mound 1

Soaking the shoe in barely warm water before turning.

For best results, it has to be really soaking wet, damp leather will stretch, really wet leather won’t as water gets between the fibres and stops them sliding over each other.

Sutton Hoo shoe Sf9 mound 1

Starting the turn.

Sit the shoe in your lap with the heel pointing towards you. Stick both thumbs in at the toe and push it in, then simply keep rolling the leather with your hands…

Sutton Hoo shoe Sf9 mound 1


Until you get to this stage where the toe is fully turned and the heel is just about to go. Turn the shoe around and roll the heel in towards the middle of the shoe. The back should pop round with minimal stress on the seams and without stretching. There. That was easy! I don’t know what you were complaining about.

Sutton Hoo shoe Sf9 mound 1

The turned shoe.

Now the shoe is the right way out, just go around the seams and ease any twists or bumps. Make sure it looks like a shoe should and leave it to dry. There’s another step when it is just damp, as you do want to stretch the upper around a bit where it reaches the sole. Dyeing it while still damp also helps level out the dye.

Of course, when you’ve forgotten about it and let it dry completely you need to do things differently. You’ll need some additional equipment: a hammer; an iron shoe-makers last and; a stolen squirty bottle from the ironing.

Sutton Hoo shoe Sf9 mound 1

The implements.

You could use a bent piece of metal instead of the last, it has to fit inside the shoe and be secure enough to hammer on to.

Sutton Hoo shoe Sf9 mound 1

Seam between the sole and the upper.

Once the shoe’s been turned, all the seams tend to stick up in an uncomfortable manner. The next step is to dampen down the seam inside and out, and gently hammer to compress it until the seam becomes flat.

Sutton Hoo shoe Sf9 mound 1

Outside, hammering the sole seam.

It also seals the edges of the shoe on the outside. This is part way round, I’m hooking the seam up onto the top surface of the last and hammering down towards the edge to draw it all together.

Sutton Hoo shoe Sf9 mound 1

This is the inside at the same spot as the photo above.

Sutton Hoo shoe Sf9 mound 1

The sole seam compressed and the upper dyed.

Once the seam’s flat, dampen the upper down and rub in a coat or two of leather dye. You can use other things like woodstain, but it does tend to dry out the leather and make it brittle. Once this is dry, you can do any additional sewing, such as binding stitches around the throat or any decoration. Rub with a beeswax polish before wearing to get a bit of softness and waterproof the shoes. When you put the squirty bottle back, remember to clean off any incriminating leather dye first.

Sutton Hoo shoe Sf9 mound 1

Binding in progress.

I’ve done the edge binding on the upper shoe only, so you can see how it evens up the opening. It also stops the upper stretching when you wear them for a while.

Sutton Hoo shoe Sf9 mound 1

Close up of the binding stitch.

There is a thread running around the top of the upper, the whip stitches hold it in place.

Sutton Hoo shoe Sf9 mound 1

The embroidery.

Finished! The embroidery is  handspun undyed grey wool, I’ve used the same stitches as on the Bayeux Tapestry, where the thread goes in and out through adjacent holes in the leather so the minimum is inside the shoe. Glenda helped with the left one. All they need now is a bit of beeswax to make them more waterproof.

Sutton Hoo shoe Sf9 mound 1

Patterns and changes.

What would I do differently next time? Extend the short side C by about 15mm and move the slit back to the position shown by arrow A. Probably pay more attention to the centre of the toe and let the side seam sort itself out. If you are making one yourself, adjusting the width BB increases the height of the shoe over the top of the foot.

Sutton Hoo shoe Sf9 mound 1

Close up of the stitching. The long ones near the toe are 40mm, much longer and I’d have to couch them.


Beatson, P., Shoe from Parliament St York 

Cameron, E., Carlisle, I. & Mould, Q., Craft, Industry and Everyday Life: Leather and Leatherworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York: Leather and Leatherworking in Anglo-Scandinavian & Medieval (The Small Finds). YAT 17/16, 2004

Rogers, P.W., Cloth and Clothing in Early Anglo-Saxon England AD 450-700. Council for British Archaeology, 2007.

Tweedle, D. Finds from Parliament Street and Other Sites in the Ciry Centre, The Archaeology of York, The Small Finds YAT 17/4, 1986.

Confession is good for the sole

I have a confession to make: I’ve been cheating. I’ve glued shoe soles on instead of doing it the right way.

A bit of background first – I offered to resole a pair of commercially made seventeenth century latchet shoes for a friend who’d worn through the supplied soles very quickly (I think they were harness butt rather than sole leather). I don’t know who made them, I was told they were bought over the Internet from someone who claimed that she’d made them and they were completely accurate other than machine sewn seams in the upper. The website now seems to be dead and she isn’t responding to email any more.

The shoes turned up and I started work. Through the innersole I thought I could feel tacks holding the heels on. I little more investigation revealed the “innersole” was a thin garment leather layer glued over the structural innersole. A hard plastic innersole as used in modern street shoes. The upper was the right shape, but had simply been wrapped around the edge of this hard plastic sole layer and had been machine sewn in place. A leather intermediate sole had been stitched on, giving the appearance of a welt from the edge, but there was no real welt. An outer sole had then been glued down on the outside of this and the heel then built up using glued layers on the glued sole layer. Needless to say, it didn’t last long, only a couple of wears but still managed to wear most of the way through.

I rebuilt the heel using glue to hold each lift in place until it was high enough with the outer lift of sole leather, then drilled and fitted oak pegs to secure it properly. I can justify this because we know that seventeenth centure cordwainers used a paste to do exactly the same thing. I then fitted a half-sole in sole leather. With glue. My reasoning was that the construction was pretty dodgy, other bits were glued, it wouldn’t matter if this was also glued. If I’d taken the reasoning to the next step, I would have concluded the sole had come off for this very reason. Of course I didn’t think it through, with the obvious result.

This plaster cast of Henry VII's tomb effigy clearly shows the groove in the sole for the stitches. I know this is a little early but it's the clearest image I have of the practice. V&A Museum.

Those of you who do turnshoes can ignore this bit and keep attaching clump soles with tunnel stitches. To put the sole on a welted shoe properly, a slit is cut in the sole and the stitches come from the welt, through the sole layers and get burried in the slit. Each stitch gets tied in an overhand knot that is slid into the hole in the sole layers so if one stitch breaks, the whole sole doesn’t come off.

Cutting the slit for the stitches. The sole was loose at the toe, so I started there.

When the stitching is done, the sole is dampened and the slit is hammered closed. This protects the stitches from wear, yet results in a secure and stable attachment that’s easily undone when the sole wears out. I hate doing it, almost more than making patterns for uppers. Unlike most of my other posts, this isn’t easy. You have to push the awl through 7-10mm of hardened leather and get the point to pop out in the width of a knife cut. I know some people who use a small nail and hammer, and I’ve used a 1/16″ (1.6mm) bit in a powerdrill to do the holes, but these methods don’t have the accuracy required.

The sole stitched on, with the slit still open.

The boomerang shoes ended up on my doorstep again and for pennance I’ve sewn the sole on properly. Did I mention they don’t have a welt? The upper goes right to the edge of the sole, meaning there is nowhere for the thread to come out on the top, I had to go diagonally through both sole layers and bring the thread out at the very edge of the upper, in the process expanding my vocabulary and breaking the point off my awl a couple of times. I’ll be making a new one from a sharpened diamond-section 4″ nail once my hands have healed enough to be able to grip things again.

Finished sole with the slit dampened and hammered closed over the stitches.

5500 year old shoe found in Armenia

I know it’s a bit out of the scope of this blog, but CNN are today reporting on a leather shoe found in a cave in Armenia. It has a single piece upper with back and front seam and is strikingly like some of the shoes reported in Viking-settled areas, particularly Ireland.

The full report and photo is here.

A ceramic leather jack

We were in Geelong last weekend, it’s the second largest city in Victoria and was nearly the state capital but missed out on account of the normal intrigue and nepotism that seems to accompany these things.

On Saturday we went with a friend, the Evil Andrea, to The Lorraine Rosenberg Ceramic Reference Collection and Library, upstairs in Moorabool Antique Galleries. On the floor in the third cabinet along was a  ceramic copy of a leather jack. I’d heard of these but never hoped to see one in the Antipodes. The remarkable thing about them is how accurate the reproduction is. The stitching is clearly shown with the correct pitch, the handle shape is consistent with the age of the decoration and the angle at the back where the body meets the handle is beautifully figured. It is about the same size as the ones I’ve made (one for the aforementioned Evil Andrea’s husband, James) with a volume of about a quart so is likely to be a full-sized copy of whatever the original one was.

Salisbury Leather Jug, the object in the foreground is an English slipware costrel of ca 1550.

They are mould-made, so there’s a slight ridge running down the front, and another running down the handle where it looks like the two pieces of leather in the handle have been brought together.

Front view showing the mould seam.

The decoration is on what I would consider to be the sides rather than the front where it more usually appears on the leather examples. This may be artistic license to avoid the mould seam running through the incised design. The primary decoration is a crown over the initials CR (Carolus Rex) above the date 1646. Obviously a reference to king Charles I, the significance of the date eludes me unless it’s a seditious reference to Charles’ surrender at the end of the Civil Wars. The secondary decoration is an abstract symbol, possibly the maker’s mark.

The "back" of the jug showing the mark.

On the base is the information about the pottery and the registration number for the design, making it post-date 1842 when the registration system came into force. Of course, Sodd’s Law applies and the number shown doesn’t match the registration mark standard. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were from 1846 but the letter G may indicate 1863 or if we ignore the letter and just look up the number, 1885.

The base showing the manufacture and registration details.

The glaze is a deep brown rather than black, much closer to the colour an old jack fades to unless re-blackened, but may simply be due to the difficulty is producing a good, colourfast black on a low-firing clay such as earthenware until comparitively recently.

Thanks to Moorabool Antique Galleries for allowing me to photograph the jack and putting up with me carrying on like a madde person about it.

Matt’s Mary Rose Bracer

Matt sent me a couple of photos of the bracer he made with James based on the photos in the Archery Leatherwork Gallery with some dimensions from the Mary Rose Artefact Database. I think the original is find number 80A0901, the museum display didn’t have them properly labeled when I was there in 2003. Here is one of his photos and the text from the email about how it was done.

Matt's Mary Rose Bracer

Here are the pictures of the Mary Rose Bracer I created.  I scaled it up slightly to work for me.  Six inches instead of five.  We made the stamp out of wood with a dremel tool.  Started with a round piece of maple and removed the inner circle and then used a cutting wheel to make the lines.  Was pretty easy once we figured out how.  The bracer was cut from a piece of oak tanned leather between 8-10 ounces thick.  I used a swivel knife and a straight edge to do the central design.  The straps were put on with copper rivets and that is pretty much it.  Thanks for sharing the pictures of the find on your blog.