Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Studying Extants

Most museums follow a pretty standard set of protocol when working with their collections. You wear gloves, handle as little as possible, use a pencil instead of a pen, etc. In reference to gloves I recommend reading this article. Many museums are moving from cotton to nitrile and it doesn't hurt to be ahead of the curve (or bring both) when visiting a collection. The most extreme situation I've dealt with so far was no touching of the item (the curator could move it occasionally for me), the interior stuffing could not be removed, and no mechanical pencils or erasers. That last part does make sense since those broken off bits can infest a clean area pretty easily. So, I bring art pencils, and lots of them. No temptation to erase that way! On the other hand I've handled things with bare (clean) hands and even used pen to trace something out on top of the object once when pencil didn't work. The horror! Either way, you need to keep that basic standard in your mind and make sure to ask in great detail what each museums policy is. Or, private collector, as is the case with what I'm showing you.
My kit now includes both types of gloves, art pencils, 11x14 paper, measuring tape, dental mirror, small flashlight, calipers, tweezers, and an eraser to clean up the drawings afterwards.
This shoe I'm allowed to move onto the paper and manipulate as need be. A measuring tape can be used to transfer the details in lieu of tracing. It takes longer, but it's much less risky to fragile objects. When moving the shoe I place my hand in the open space under the sole. The uppers and heel are far more fragile than the sole and it should be lifted by its strongest point.

While there will be multiple angles drawn out, the first I start with is the side angle. Gently laying the shoe on the paper (11x14) and tracing roughly around it. The notes at the top right so far tell me my initials, the drawing number (changes over each year), and the accession number or location of the object.

I then go and fill in all of the visual details. I draw to scale as much as possible, using a measuring tape or calipers.

Then, the most important part- notes. I can't stress how much information you need to write down. More than anything I learned this working on the Marquee. Making something that large stitch for stitch meant we needed to note an absurd amount- down to where and how binding was pieced, what angles the stitches were, the size of the thread, etc. Imagine re-creating the object and walk through what you'll need to know for each step. You may not have access to pictures or the object ever again.

I did drawings from other essential angles and of the details. Since this point I've added more notes: the binding meets CF and is butted and whipped, the fringe is running stitched on 3 spi not showing on the inside, how many threads per inch in the linen, and the dating that is probably around 1785. I'm sure I will continue to think of more things, but this now gives me a standard set of questions I could develop to apply to every shoe I look at. Fortunately, this is in my collection, so I can reference it as often as need be. It also means I can show you plenty of images of it.

I wish I knew what museum had de-accessioned this, but it's not a numbering system I'm familiar with. It's a bit of a sad shoe, with the silk shattering and the fringe falling apart. But, that makes it perfect for study. I can see the whittaw reinforcements through the holes, count the exposed stitches where the fringe once was. I do wish I knew what was once attached to it's vamp, but that will take some study and an educated guess I think. My next step with this shoe is to create a custom bag to keep the shape inside and use conservators thread to tack the fringe back together.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Wear and Tear

Spending the better portion of 8 months in 18th century attire meant that I put a fair amount of wear on my shoes. Even the newer ones. I figured this would be a good time to show you how much abuse these shoes can take before needing repairs or retirement. Of course, this isn't really comparable to 18th century wear since they weren't walking on paved roads, brick sidewalks, and gravel everywhere they went.

We'll start with the oldest pair that was worn. Technically my second pair, but the first didn't fit well enough to be worn often. So, a reminder of where they started out:
 Fortunately for me (I can't say the same for the shoes), these were almost entirely worn during my evening programs job of walking a fairly consistent route down the street every night. I was able to add up the number of nights I worked with an idea of how much I walked every night. It came out to about 500 miles. On pavement. Also, they went through a massive flood more than once- puddles past my ankles.
The damage is almost entirely to the soles. The wool uppers are a little pilled and stiff, but the stiffness is because of the whittaw lining and the paste between the two layers got soaking wet. The only other damage is due to my choice of stitching method at the side seam, which I've since changed. The soles, however, are completely worn through. If I had decided to save them earlier I could have "clump soled" them, which you'll see later. I also could whiten the heels with pipe clay- the cleaner heel I simply washed off and burnished a bit to fix it as an experiment.

Same construction method, but with far less wear are my red shoes. They don't look much different from their start except for the soles. I've worn them a number of times, but they haven't been meant for long-distance walking in the same way. The cut you see on the sole isn't from wear, but a mistake in construction (common to start with, thankfully I've moved past that!). I'm almost done with a pair of overshoes to fit, so there won't be any more wear on these!

Now, the workhorse. Again, the uppers look just broken in. I've blacked them once to bring back some shine. The soles, however, have had numerous surgeries. The most common fix for shoes is to add on a new heel cap. You simply peg and paste this piece on top of the old rather than removing the stitched on cap. Sometimes I'll peg on a piece even before wearing so I don't have to worry about wearing down the leather too far. I don't know how many times I've replaced that cap on these- maybe 6? They're also clump soled. Meaning I wore down the sole really thin and stitched a second sole using the edge of the first as a sort of welt. It does make them a bit thick soled, but they're for wearing hard. And believe me, I have.

The most recent pair has seen it's share of walking around as well. You can see some pre-emptive heel caps on them. The sole is simply sueded at this point, no major wear. I'm only wearing them a couple times a month now, so they'll last a few years at this rate.

The last pair is a sort of control. The slippers have only been worn indoors (save one short trip that answered why you don't wear slippers outside). Though, that does still mean about 150 days of wearing for about 8 hours on pine floors. I'd wear them everyday if they dealt with carpet better. I haven't even sueded the soles completely and the ribbon wear is because it's antique silk ribbon, pretty but fragile.

Also, the Shoe Timeline print and digital file are up on the Etsy site now, along with a few markdowns:

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


Just a quick post to let you know that I've released a book about turn shoe construction. It's not meant to be instructional, but it covers the topic pretty well. I hope to eventually write a very in-depth book on the process, but the feedback on this will help to know what needs to go in it as well as knowing if there's any demand for it. Check it out and if you do purchase a book or download the PDF I'd love to hear your thoughts!

I'm still working on printing the Shoe Timeline image. Turns out, my *ancient* (four years old) printer doesn't communicate with Windows 7 very well. Shocking. Most things print fine, just not borderless or 13x19. Oh, wait, those are both what I'm trying to do.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Those are so 1776.

Unfortunately there are so few surviving examples of shoes compared to what there truly was and most portraits don't show the feet clearly. But, every once in a while, there's enough of a trend visible that even we can notice it today. Take for example this particular style of ladies shoes. There are numerous surviving examples, some even are dated because of weddings, and at least a couple of portraits! I'm hoping to continue finding dated extants and imagery of this style so the others can be given much more specific dating than the decade or two cushion usually afforded.
The consistencies I noticed were not only the bouquet embroidery on the toe, but both figured silk and contrasting straps/heels seemed very popular around this time as well. While those by themselves are posts for another day, they do tie in this style to a more specific time period.
You'll notice that the two portraits and the pair that mentions being from a wedding are 1775, 1776, and 1777. Some are dated later, and perhaps could be remnants of a popular style, but I believe that the concrete dating could provide major evidence to move that estimated date slightly earlier. Also, notice the major discrepancies in dates of similar styles from the same museum. I'm still looking for more extants and more portraits, but at the moment I'd feel safe putting any of these as 1775-81. Honestly, if going by heel and toe shape, if that dating does hold correct, these might even be brought down to a  two or three year range.


I'm definitely disagreeing with that date.


Pair of woman's shoes

Pair of woman's shoes

Pair of shoes

File:John Singleton Copley 002.jpg

Johan Joseph Zoffany, The Gore Family, 1775

Interestingly enough (and muddying the easy dating) the embroidery on the toe of the vamp continues through the 1780s and perhaps is part of what starts the 1790s trend for the cut-out work on the toe in leather. I can't say with consistency yet, but both of these pairs have a much more laddered style of embroidery compared to the bouquets of the 1770s. Perhaps changing with the toe shape? Or perhaps this particular pattern change is mirrored in fabric as well?
shoes 1954.915.jpg

Monday, December 30, 2013

Timeline of Shoes

I've been working on this for a couple of months now (including the post disappearing before I sketched all of the shoes and having to find them again). I wanted to have a timeline that showed the changes in style in a very coherent and gradual way. I tried to pick out styles that were not only very typical of their time (for English or American), but could show change from one style to another. And, above all else, be sure to reference what museum the images came from!

Met Museum 1984.141

Met Museum 2009.300.1480

Russian Shoe Museum id 1723

Russian Shoe Museum id 1411

Russian Shoe Museum id 1574

Russian Shoe Museum, id 1322

Russian Shoe Museum, id 1030

Met Museum 2009.300.4743

Russian Shoe Museum, id 1412

Russian Shoe Museum id 945

Met Museum 2009.300.1406

Russian Shoe Museum id 990

Met Museum 13.49.30

Russian Shoe Museum id 949

Russian Shoe Museum id 973

Russian Shoe Museum id 1134

Russian Shoe Museum id 1037

Met Museum C.I.43.65.3

Russian Shoe Museum id 1587