Vernet 1814: Boots - Part 2: A Tutorial

April was a quiet month, but here I am again...this time to show you how I made the soles of my Vernet boots, and how I attached the boot uppers to the soles.  If you remember, I made a huge mess with the looked like I'd been gnawing on the leather with my, I consulted a leather expert.  There's a place in Lexington, KY called The Last Genuine Leather Company. Out of frustration, I walked in with my boot uppers in one hand, and a copy of Every Lady Her Own Shoemaker in the other, and begged for help.  Thankfully, the staff of The Last Genuine Leather Company were humble enough to share their skills and expertise with me.  Their decades of experience in leather working had made them craftsman of the highest caliber.  

The first thing they did was direct me to the correct tools, and the proper type of leather.  The leather is sturdy, but thin and easily pliable.  All that was needed was a small bit of cast off scrap leather, which they gave to me free of charge. 

I traced around my shoe last to create the shape needed for the soles, and then used an exacto knife to carefully cut them out.  Be sure to use small, shallow strokes when cutting.  It will take several trips around the sole to break through the leather.  Putting a lot of pressure into it, and trying to get through it in one cut only makes you more prone to mistakes and injury.  The rough side of the leather will be on the inside of the boot, and the smooth side will be on the outside.  But, when sewing the sole to the upper, everything will be turned inside the rough side will appear to be on the outside of the shoe until you are done and turn the shoe. 

*Blah...I can already tell that this is going to be hard to explain.  If I'm not making myself clear, please feel free to ask questions in the comment section.*

They sold me four tools, all of which were necessary, in my opinion.  I'm sure the women in the early 19th century didn't own all of these tools, so props to them for doing this without the aid of these life savers.

To trim and clean up the edge of your leather sole, I used this hoof shaped tool. Not only does this tool give your shoe a neater appearance, but it also makes it easier for you to insert the awl in a later part of the process.

 The next tool carves a small ditch around the sole.  The width from the edge is adjustable, and you pull the tool instead of pushing it.  It cuts through the leather like a knife through butter, but I did have to go over it three times to create the depth I wanted.  It creates a "U" shaped ditch, instead of the "V" shaped ditch described in Every Lady Her Own Shoemaker, but I'm not splitting hairs over this discrepancy.

The awl that is used to pierce the leather is different from the one I use for sewing fabric.  It is a flat, sword-like shape, and dangerously sharp.  I hardly had to apply any pressure to get through the leather.  To prepare the sole for sewing, I pierced the awl into the beveled side and up out of the "U" shaped ditch.  I did this all the way around the sole, making each hole about 1/8th inch or less apart from each other.

This tool is a combination of awl and needle.  It slides easily through holes that are already made, but isn't strong enough to go through the leather if it isn't already pre-punctured.  I used this to sew the upper to the sole.

 It's your choice to use either fake sinew or waxed shoemaker's thread...either one will work.  I chose a fake sinew.  It is, however, too thick to be worked with as it comes, so I split each thread into three pieces once it was cut off of the role.  One third of each thread was all I needed to provide a sturdy stitch.

When you are ready to sew, turn your upper inside and and slide it down onto your shoe last.  Place the leather sole (inside out...or rough side out) at the bottom of the last.  Everything sort of slides around and is hard to keep in place as you are sewing.  The right thing to do would be to nail the leather onto the last, but I just couldn't be bothered with this step.  I did use a safety pin to keep the toe of the upper down over the last, as it was the most slippery and tricky part to stay put.

For reference, these pictures give you a good idea of where your stitches will go.  You will be sewing from the ditch through the side of the sole and fabric, and then vice-a-versa.  Start from the heel and work your way up one side, ending at or near the toe, then repeat for the other side.

It is extremely difficult for me to explain in writing HOW to sew the upper to the sole.  I'm a very visual person, and would prefer the pictures speak for themselves, but I will try to sum it up in words as best I can.  I've drawn a diagram because it can be a bit hard to see where the thread is going in the pictures.  Begin by cutting off a long piece of thread, about two feet in length.  As you begin sewing, the thread will be folded in half, so really you are working with only a foot of thread, but you will be using both ends simultaneously. 

I found it easiest to re-puncture the leather with the awl three holes at a time, as the leather often closes up on itself after some time...making it harder for the needle to slide through.

 **Begin at the heel, not the side like my picture.**
Pierce the needle through the outer edge of the fabric, through the side of the leather(through a hole), and up out of the ditch.

Place one end of the thread through the needle.

Pull the need back out of the fabric, bringing the thread with you.

Now, even out the thread so that you have equal amounts of it sticking out of both through the ditch, and one through the side fabric.

Place the needle back through the fabric and side of leather in the NEXT hole...attach the end of thread on the ditch side...

...and pull it back through.  You should now have both ends of the thread on the outside edge of the fabric.

This time, put the needle through the same hole, but coming from the DITCH SIDE first through to the fabric side.  Place the OTHER thread end...the one that was in the first hole...through the needle and pull it back through.

If you've done it correctly, you should have switched the two ends of your thread, and there should be loops on either side.

Now, pull the ends of the thread and the loops will into the ditch, and the other into the side of the fabric.  Repeat this process over and over until you reach the end of the thread or the toe of the shoe...whichever comes first.

When you reach the end of the thread, bring the outside (fabric side) thread end back through the leather and tie the two ends into a very sturdy knot.  The knot will hide down in the ditch.

You can see here a little bit of what the thread looks like when sewn.  It really does hide itself well...not to mention this will all be turned right side out later and you will never see it.  Make sure to trim the extra string when you finish the shoe.

Leather side...done.

Cloth side...done.

Now it's time to turn the shoe.  I've heard so many horror stories about this process, but because my fabric was a soft silk, and because the sole of my boot was so thin and soft, I didn't have any problem with this step.

Open the shoe, and begin by pulling the heel of the shoe down over the last.

Remove the last.

Here's the boot inside out.

Start with the heel area, and carefully work the fabric down over the heel.

Bend the leather back at the heel...

...and slowly work your way down the sole, toward the toe...

...peeling the fabric down inch by inch...

...until you reach the toe.

The ball of the foot was the hardest part for me.  Keeping the leather sole fully bent backward made it easier to maneuver.

And there you have it...smooth side of the sole is out...

...and shiny silk fabric is out.  Boot completed!  *ALMOST*

Let's not forget the lining for the inside sole (like I did.) Turn your shoes BACK inside out...I know, I know...REALLY!?  Trace your shoe last onto a piece of linen or cotton, and cut out one shoe liner for each boot.

Glue down the extra or overlapping upper fabric to the inside sole, then glue the sole lining onto the sole.  I just used a common glue stick.  It seems to be working very well...but only time will tell if it holds up.

Now turn your boot BACK to the right side, and voila!!!  It's done!!  They look floppy now, but they fit like a glove when on my feet.  They seem so delicate, I can't imagine any 19th century lady doing much walking or dancing in these.  They are definitely a rich person's "throw away" type of shoe...meant to be fashionably worn once or twice and then discarded.  In Every Lady Her Own Shoemaker, the boots are made with leather uppers or foxing.  I'm certain that those shoes would last a frugal woman a much longer time. Vernet's Merveilleuse were not concerned with frugality.  Their cry was "give me frivolous fashion, or give me death!!"  

And can't see them on my feet yet.  Patience dear one...winter is coming!


flyingdreams said…
Wow, I'm impressed! So much work, stuck now in these shoes! I'm looking forward to more!

Greeting, Kerstin
Dear Jenni,

My goodness, you did it. You did it. You did it!

Wow. Those tools are fantastic -- very glad you made that visit to the folks on Southland. They are so nice.

Can't wait to see them on!

Oh, I forgot! Have a look at these overshoes to be worn with the little flat boots. They offer some protection, at least. From the Met.


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