Materials (per pair):

Sole: vegetable tanned leather, 2.5-3 mm thick.
Upper & heel stiffener: vegetable tanned leather, 2.5 mm thick.
Thread: raw linen or equivalent. Nylon is not recommended.
Thonging: 5-6mm leather lace, 45 cm length.


Shears or blade for leather cutting
Stitch marker
Awl (diamond section blade)
Saddler's needles (ie. blunt) and wax.

Skill Level:

Fairly easy. A good first shoe pattern.

Shoe (756) with single piece wrap-around upper from Parliament St., York.
For right foot. Cattle hide. Dated 10th to 13th century (unstratified).



This pattern is for a type of early medieval (l0th to 13th cent.) shoe that is distributed widely in North Western Europe, examples are known from York, England as well as Hedeby/Haithabu in Germany and Svendborg in Sweden. The shoe (Find no.756), sole (757), and upper (819) are described in reference [1].

A triangular internal heel stiffener is present on some shoes of this type, but may be omitted. For much useful information on medieval shoe construction, see reference [2].


1. Work out pattern size by measuring a tracing of your foot against the supplied outline. Scale the pattern to your size on an enlarging photocopier. Cut out the pattern and check the fit. A cardboard and stickytape model is a good idea. Mark pattern onto flesh (rough) side of leathers. Supplied pattern is for a right foot, turn it over for the left shoe. Cut out pieces.

2. Marking the lasting seam. This is the seam that joins the upper to the sole. Starting at the toe, and using the stitch marker mark stitch positions about every 7.5 mm along each side. Count the stitches to make sure there are equal numbers on matching sides of the sole and the upper (see Pattern).

3. With awl make stitch holes along the lasting margin in sole and upper. On the upper and the (optional) heel stiffener, the hole goes straight through both sides of the leather. On the sole, make 'edge-flesh' stitches. This means going in the flesh (rough) side of the leather and out through the edge (see Diagram below) - so the stitches won't be exposed on the bottom of the shoe.

Lasting seam (exploded view). The seam is stitched while the shoe
is inside-out, and later 'turned' right way out.

4. Stitching the lasting seam. The shoe is assembled inside out. Match the stitch holes in the grain (smooth) side of the upper to the holes in the edge of the sole, as in the Diagram above. Starting from the toe, saddle stitch back towards the heel. Use a sturdy thread, double it if necessary, and wax it thoroughly. About every ten stitches, pull the stitches tight and knot the threads. This will keep the seam tight, and stop it coming completely undone if the thread breaks. Saddle stitch back towards heel for short distances on alternate sides. Stop on 'short' side a couple of stiches short of end of seam.

Continue on 'long' side from toe towards the heel. If a heel stiffener piece is to be added, just stitch it into the lasting seam as you work around the heel (grain side of stiffener goes to flesh side of upper). Hopefully the heel positions on upper and sole will match up. Carry on stitching to the side seam join in the upper. Trim off any excess upper so that the leather butts neatly together. Stitch over the join to complete the lasting seam.

5. (Optional) Sew down the heel stiffener. Use the whip stitch shown in the Diagram below, or tunnel stitch. A light thread and curved needle is recommended.

Binding stitch for holding down heel stiffener. The stitches do not
penetrate to the outside of the shoe.

6. Side seam. This is a 'butted seam'. See the Diagram below. Butt the edges together (A to A', B to B'). Mark stitch positions about every 5 mm along the seam. With an awl, punch matching holes in from the flesh sides and out of the edges (the stitch should not show on the outside of the finished shoe). Saddle stitch the seam, again pulling it tight every few stitches and tying. A finer thread is recommended for this job.

'Butted' side seam (exploded). Seen from the shoe's 'inside'

7. Turning' the shoe. The shoe should be pliable enough to turn right way out. Start at the toe. [NOTE - If the leather is really stiff, a brief soaking in cold water will help. Unfortunately it will probably shrink and turn hard when dry, so avoid doing this if possible. Stuff the shoe with paper while drying or it will lose its shape].

8. Make two small slits on either side of the slash at the instep, as marked on the pattern. Thread the thonging through and try on the shoe.

9. The shoe is dyed and dressed. (Optional) The ankle opening can be reinforced with a decorative edge-flesh whip stitch (5 mm stitches). Finished!

Different styles are possible. For example, cut the foot opening lower on the instep (no slash needed) and place slits so that the thong can be tied in front of the ankle, as in this child's shoe from Coppergate:

Child's shoe with single piece wrap-around upper from 16-22 Coppergate, York.
For right foot. Knotted thong in situ. Dated 10th century. Credit: Interim.

Peter Beatson


[1] Tweddle, D. (1986). Finds from Parliament St. and Other Sites (Archaeology of York, vol. 17: 4). London: Council for British Archaeology, pp.242-249, 260-263.

[2] Grew, F. & de Neergaard, M. (1988) Medieval Finds from Excavations in London 2: Shoes and Pattens. London: HMSO.


Copyright Peter Beatson 1993, webbed 1999-2000.
All rights to materials herein belong to the original owners.