Iron Age Shoes


Prehistoric Footwear --Willy Goroenman-van Waateringe 
Stepping through Time -- Goubitz/Driel-Murray/Waateringe (highly recommended)

Shoes made before the Romans introduced vegatable tanning were treated with oils, fats or smoking to aid waterproofiing. However these methods meant that the leather only survives in specific conditions. In contrast, the Roman method not only makes the leather more waterproof but also ensures better survivial. This is why we have far more Roman shoes than earlier ones.

Pre-Roman footwear in western Europe is usually of a one piece construction, at it's simplest an oval with slits for thonging up to more complex patterns with excess leather removed for a better fit. Roman footwear, by contrast, is complex as it is made from multiple pieces of leather either sewn or nailed together. Roman footwear is also characterised by hobnails which prolong the life of the shoe on the harder manmade surfaces (metalled roads, towns with stone paths, buildings with stone floors etc.).

In order to make the shoe flexible enough to mould to the foot, then quite thin leather must be used and, since there is no additional hardsole, this means there is very little between your foot and such things as small stones, twigs and other painful items. 

However, they can be padded inside with grass, straw or wool etc. which will add some protection and also warmth. Single need knitting (or Naalbinding) can also be made to flexible textile socks or even simple socks made from fabric.

Shown here are a series of (unfortuntely continental) shoes running from before our period to a little after, but all of the single piece construction that is typical.


When you construct your shoes initially, you will find that they do not seem to look as 'shoelike' as the originals here, this is because leather will eventually mould itself to your feet and that takes time (plenty of sweat and water helps)

These are later period Irish shoes but they show the characteristics of those that are of much earlier dates elsewhere in Europe.

Constructing Shoes 

You will need
  • Enough thin pliable leather (not suede) for both feet. It should be in a suitable brownish colour and NOT shiny.
  • Sharp knife or scissors for cutting out.
  • VERY sharp knife if you are attempting the more complicated designs that involve cutting out shapes.
  • Linen or sinew (artificial sinew is fine) for any sewing that needs to be done.
  • Sinew or leather thonging for the lacing.

It is probably worth producing a pattern first out of some scrap wool or other material. While newspaper has been used for making muliple piece patterns, it doesn't really lend itself to single piece patterns. 

Ash made her shoes by making up a pattern on paper and then moving that to leather and making one shoe

Here is the pattern onto Leather. All that remains to be done is to punch holes in the front flaps and gather them in and then to sew up the back. 
The whole things is laced together with thing.

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As Ash has got better at shoes, she has been able to construct the patterns from a number of finds and also to make them to fit a certain footprint/size. 

More shoes (by Jo)