Irish Bog Shoes
Brígiða Vadesbana (Brenda Gerritsma) Feb 1, 2008 For Avacal Principality A&S Championship
A variety of footwear was available in the Viking Age; tanned leather slippers, rawhide slippers, bag-like shoes, turn-shoes and boots. 1 For the most part they are made with hide, tanned or not, and are relatively simple in appearance, in most cases with no exaggerated toes or tooled leather, and no fancy stitching, though all of these were possible and were occasionally found. 2 Shoes were made to measure for the wearer, 3 but there was rarely a difference between left and right shoes when first made, though they would stretch to fit one foot or the other through wear. 4 The shoes in common use would have been slip-on or secured by a simple toggle-andthong or tied thong, 5 Many of these shoes, especially the earlier ones, were made of a single piece of hide, secured by thongs which also strapped them to the feet. 6 A Merovingian pair of shoes (pre-8th century) is made from a single piece of hide with cutwork loops for thongs. Another one-piece shoe has a front vamp seam and thonging around ankle. The Drumacoon shoe my pair are based on is of this sort.7
Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 123-4 Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 161 3 Ewing, 2006 pg 59 4 Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 161 5 Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 190 6 Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 123 7 Walton-Roger, 2007 pg 221
By the Viking Age most shoes were turn-shoes, with an upper and sole joined inside out and stitched with leather thongs. These shoes have leather soles and are flat-bottomed, typically ankle high, and often have a wrap-around upper. Some may be thonged over the instep. 8 Stitching was generally all the way through the leather for the uppers (a fleshgrain stitch), and through only the top of the leather for the soles (a flesh-edge stitch). In the 9th and 10th centuries shoes were often sewn with a hide thong, which got thinner as time went on, and was eventually replaced by wool or linen thread, first only for the seam on the upper, and later for the sole as well. 9 Turn-shoes were worn by both men and women. They typically had a straight-sided sole with a triangular piece extending up the back of the heel, and were made from two pieces, with thicker leather for the sole, and thinner leather, often goatskin, for the upper. The most common type was an upper attached to the sole, with a seam either running up the front of the shoe, or up the side, connecting the edges of the upper together. 10 Tanned leather shoes were probably rarely found on the poor, rawhide shoes being the more likely type to be worn. These shoes were made with fresh skin, the fresher the better, and were shaped from a simple rectangle or oval, a little bit longer than the foot, and twice as wide, the edges laced together with a thong and gathered like a bag around the foot. They were usually worn with the hair side out, and possibly stuffed with moss or hay to pad them and keep the feet warm. One type of rawhide shoe was pierced to let water run out when walking through bogs. 11 Tanned leather was a long and smelly process, but is necessary to make the hide stable under warm moist conditions, and to allow it to be wetted and dried repeatedly. The basic methods used to do this were the same from Greco-Roman times to the 18th century. 12 The hide of the animal is composed of three parts, only the middle of which is utilised in leather. The outer layer is the layer with the hair and root system, the inner layer is a fleshy fat, and the centre is the main skin structure.13 Skins were first trimmed and washed, often by immersing them in a nearby stream. Then they were treated to remove the hair, by folding them hair side in and keeping them in a warm place until the hair roots start to rot and fall out, a process which could be encouraged by sprinkling the hair side with urine, or by soaking the hide in an alkaline bath of wood ash or lime. When the hair was loosened, the hide was spread over a beam and scraped, on the hair side with a two-handled blunt knife, and on the flesh side with a sharp one. The hide was then soaked again and scraped with a dull scudding knife.14
Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 160-1 Ewing, 2006 pg 59 10 Ewing, 2006 pg 58-9 11 Ewing, 2006 pg 123-4 12 Cherry, 1991 pg 295 13 Cherry, 1991 pg 295 14 Cherry, 1991 pg 296
The next step was to wash and ‘open’ the skins, which could be done with an alkaline bath of bird droppings or dog dung to remove the lime and give the hide a softer, more flexible grain, or with an acidic drenching using liquors of fermenting barley or rye, often with stale beer or urine added, to remove the lime. 15 Skins were then washed again and the hide was divided according to the quality (partly due to the fact that coarser grains soak up more dye). The skins were immersed in a light tanning solution and constantly agitated until they were uniformly coloured. After that, they would be laid in pits in alternating layers with a vegetable tanning material (usually oak bark) and covered in cold water. The amount of time spent in this tanning process depended on the thickness of the hide, the tanning materials and the hide properties, but the average was one year. 16 When the hides were finished tanning, the rough, dry leather had to be turned into soft flexible material. They were dampened with warm water and pummelled or trampled, and scoured with stiff brushes or smoothed with a stone or metal-bladed slickers. To make the leather a standard thickness it could be shaved. The shaved hides were washed again and worked on wooden or stone benches with stones, slickers or brushes to flatten or stretch them, then impregnated with a mixture of tallow and fish oils. The skins were piled up to allow the fats to penetrate evenly, then hung in a warm room, where the surplus grease was removed. If making a firm leather, the hides were simply hung to dry and season. For a softer, finer leather they could be worked again on a flat table with a stone, or softened by drawing over a blunt blade. They were then coloured or surface polished with a smooth stone, if desired. 17 My Shoes My shoes are a simple type of one-piece leather bag-like shoe sewn with a leather thong. Sadly, I wanted to make a turn-shoe, but the project was apparently cursed and everything that could go wrong with acquiring the necessary tools, supplies and research, did go wrong. Most importantly, I did not receive the needed information on HOW to stitch turn-shoes in time. So, I winged it, with a pre-10th century “Drumacoon” bog shoe. In fact, they were intended to be my practice shoes to become accustomed to working with thicker leather than I have worked with before. The leather was sold to me as oil-tanned, which the seller suggested as I told him I hoped to wear the shoes outdoors. I have since found out that almost all modern oil-tanned leather is actually tanned by the modern chrome tanning process, then impregnated with oils. I’m not sure which this is. I’m also unclear as to whether it’s dyed, or if that is the colour the oils turned it.
Cherry, 1991 pg 296 Cherry, 1991 pg 297 17 Cherry, 1991 pg 298-9
It’s about 2 mm thick, which is a bit thin for shoes, though fine for me personally, as I’m in the habit of walking barefoot most of the time anyway. It is, I think, appropriate for sturdy uppers, once I construct a pair of turn-shoes. The shoe pattern is a simple arch shape, about twice as wide as my foot and about half again as long. It was cut out with a knife, as were the holes for the thongs. The thongs I cut myself from the longer scraps of hide, though I had some difficulty with thongs from one piece, which kept snapping as I tried to lace the shoe with them. I’m not sure if this was due to a flaw in the leather at that point, or if there is a grain to the leather (like with wood). I’ve used three thongs, one for the heel, one for the vamp seam, and one to go around the foot. The diagram I was working from does not indicate a thong going around the ankle, and the photograph of the shoe in the Hald book is missing the ankle thong, and I cannot see the vamp seam thong to tell if it is meant to be separate or not. The lacing was more difficult than I thought, and I’m unhappy with the way the heel sits, but overall it was an interesting first attempt, and I’m looking forward to trying a more advanced shoe, once I finally get the book I’ve been waiting months for! (Grrrr!)
Bibliography Carlson, I. Marc. “Footwear of the Middle Ages”, 2005, Feb 22, 2008. < http://www.personal.utulsa.edu/~marc-carlson/shoe/SHOEHOME.HTM> Cherry, John. “Leather”, English Medieval Industries: Craftsmen, Techniques, Products. ed. John Blair & Nigel Ramsey. Continuum International Publishing Group, London. 1991. Ewing, Thor. Viking Clothing. Tempus, Stroud. 2006. Hald, Margrethe. Primitive Shoes: An Archaeological-Ethnological Study Based upon Shoe Finds from the Jutland Peninsula. The National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen. 1972. Owen-Crocker, Gale. Dress in Anglo-Saxon England. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge. 2004. Walton-Rogers, Penelope. Cloth and Clothing in Early Anglo-Saxon England. Council for British Archaeology, York. 2007.