Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Crafting Shoes for an 18th Century Lady

Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Susan reports:

Whether it's 1770 or 2010, ladies have always loved their trendy shoes. As we've learned in Colonial Williamsburg, making 18th c. ladies shoes were a specialized trade, and the shoes were often sold in their own shops, separate from men's shoes.

Shoe making was also a trade that welcomed female craftspeople, with women documented as being not only shoemakers, but owners of shoe making shops. It was also a highly skilled trade to learn, with apprenticeships of seven years. An accomplished shoemaker could produce a hand cut and sewn pair of shoes in about eight hours' labor. (Shoe makers in the 18th c. are not to be confused with cobblers. Cobblers only mended shoes, and were regarded as less skilled. By the mid 19th c., when factory-produced shoes were putting the skilled shoemaker out of business, they, too, began to repair shoes, and the trades of cobblers and shoemakers merged into one.)

The majority of 18th c. English women wore plain black shoes (similar to these, right, that are worn by most of the interpreters in CW) on a daily basis. In addition to leather, the uppers of women's shoes were also made of colored wool fabric, or calimanco, a glazed worsted woolen. Stylish ladies craved more decoration. Ladies's magazines of the time offered embroidery designs for DIY embellishment at home, with the finished pieces then brought to the shoemaker to be made up. Other ladies chose patterned silk brocades for shoes to compliment their gowns.

We've posted earlier about the beautiful embroidered flats made by the CW mantuamakers. Here we can see a heeled shoe in progress at the shoe maker's shop. The heels were carved from beech, a wood chosen for being lightweight but hard, and then covered with leather or cloth. The rest of the shoe would be constructed from the heel and sole upwards, fitted and designed for the individual customer's foot and taste. Often the mantuamaker would supply the embellished silk upper, and the silver or brass buckle that closed the lappets over the tongue would be purchased from a jeweler. When done, this particular pair will have yellow leather-covered heels and silk uppers. We can't wait to see them!

But if you're eager for a pair yourself, check out this pair of antique silk brocade originals, left, from the 1720s-40s, spotted by one of our readers (thank you, Chris) on eBay. Be aware, though: looks like you'll have to supply your own buckles.

18 comments:

Le Loup said...

Good post, very interesting. Thank you.
Regards.
http://livinghistory.proforums.org/

BWS said...

Great post!

nightsmusic said...

I'd never heard of a female shoemaker. Hmmm...could conjure a good character now, couldn't it? Of course,I know some people *points finger at TNHGs* who could really do a character like that justice

Am I subtle enough? ;o)

Beckah G. said...

This was so interesting! I'd no idea there were women shoemakers. And I really want a pair of those shoes! Can't wait for the ostriche feathers you're promising next.

Rowenna said...

Great post! I'm covetting a new pair of shoes now...will content myself with blacking and polishing my old pair :)

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Lovely coincidence - there's a great post over on History Myths Debunked about whether "Pop Goes the Weasel" is a cobbler's work song, with more info about the shoemaking trade in general:

http://tinyurl.com/25g3m63

Lexi Best said...

Another term for shoemaker is cordwainer. I know this because my daughter is determined to go to Cordwainer's College in London. This is also where Jimmy Choo went.

The term comes from a Cordoba a source of top quality leather, thus a worker in leather.

Given our previous discussion on the distinction between tailors and mantua makers I wonder if women made both cloth and leather shoes.

Saw a fantastic show at the Bata Shoes museum on shoes through the ages a few years back.

Karenmc said...

One of my ancestors, the first in the direct family line, to come to America, was a cordwainer in London in the late 1600's. I finally looked the term up (I thought it had something to do with winding ropes on a ship). Imagine my surprise when the definition had to do with Cordoba leather. I realized that my ancestor was a skilled craftsman rather than some flunky on a ship.

Another ancestor, a woman, was described as a tailoress, not a dressmaker.

Lisa said...

Great site,fantastic shoes.

Lexi Best said...

@Karenmc Isn't it fascinating to find out such things?
I had an ancestor who was a fashion pirate. She'd go to Paris in the mid 19th century to see the latest and rush back to be the first with the new looks.
I love the stories about the women walking up the steps at the Opera in their big hoop skirts. They would wear nothing underneath them and gentlemen below would get an eyeful.

Katherine said...

Thank you for the post, Susan! As mentioned above I agree that it would make an interesting story. :)

Susan Holloway Scott said...

I just found this link, put up by the Honourable Cordwainers' Company. I'm guessing they understand the finer differences between shoemakers, cobblers, and cordwainers. Interesting, too, that their current crest features both male and female cordwainers:

http://www.thehcc.org/backgrnd.htm

http://www.thehcc.org/logo.htm

Sarah Elizabeth said...

Thank you for noting my eighteenth century silk brocade shoes listed on eBay. I feel it important to let you know the shoe have matching pattens which makes them so rare. Also, they have been deaccessioned from a major American museum. You can view them at:

www.Antique-Textile.com

Susan Holloway Scott said...

You're most welcome, Sarah Elizabeth. I hope you find a good home for the shoes - they're lovely.

Boots Shoes said...

I always like long boots shoes because long boots really very attractive

Karen said...

Interestingly, the Annals of Philadelphia recall that fabric shoes, rather than leather shoes, were the norm -- see http://larsdatter.com/18c/womens-shoes.html (which also shows a LOT more extant fabric shoes than leather) -- though 18th century re-enactors are more likely to wear leather shoes rather than "pliable woven stuff"!

The V&A has a c. 1725 book which includes patterns for embroidering shoes, too.

ladies shoes said...

i really happy to see it.
i was looking for such ladies shoes. so thanks for sharing such kind of shoes.

Natural supplements said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
There was an error in this gadget
 
Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket