Thursday, August 31, 2017

Making Scythian boots, part III

The leg lining, attached with a double running stitch.  Tests show that the lining will stiffen the entire area that it's stitched into, so for flexibility and the option of tightening the boot around the ankle, the lining had to be cut off.  Extra rows of quilting within the lined area don't appear to be necessary, but could be added in the future even after the boot is constructed.

Putting stitch holes in the leather layers with just a hobby awl was much easier and faster than with the latigo sole.

Along complex curves or where clamping isn't possible, it's much easier to temporarily pin the leather pieces than to glue them, although this should be avoided when possible.

The foot is attached with two rows of double running stitches, then the leg is slid over the edge of a table to glue up the welt.

Laying the glued pieces out to dry.  Possibly just placing a large book, a plank or other heavy, flat object on the boot while it's still over the table would work best, but it's not that difficult to just arrange it so that the welt sits flush against the leg while drying.

Since the welt is likely to be a high-wear area, I attached it again with two rows of stitching.  The second edge had to be glued up by pinning at roughly two-inch intervals and squeezing glue between the pins (this photo is taken halfway through the process).

It's harder to stitch the second row because it's often hard to see the holes by looking down the boot leg.  As an alternative, one can poke the awl back into the holes and feel where it protrudes, then slide the needle down to where the awl is protruding through the leather.

The toughest part was trying to close the gap at the heel.  Because the welt is attached entirely on the outside, there's a hole where the back end of the sole, the back corners of the foot and the bottom of the welt come together.  I tried to ameliorate this by whipstitching the welt to the sole using the preexisting holes that attach the sole to the foot.  However, perhaps it would be better to put the welt between the sole and foot when they're first being stitched together, before the foot is turned rightside-out.

The finished first boot.  Although it looks okay at first glance, there are several things I don't like about it:

Firstly, the middle of the instep just before it meets the leg is too low and pinches the top of my foot painfully.  This may be the result of my tailoring in part II where I wanted to get rid of excess material around the arch.  I don't think that a softer leather would help, because the linen thread wouldn't stretch (something that must not have been apparent when the felt pattern was loosely basted together) and in any case this foot is already made from the relatively elastic part from the hide's belly.  Only a fuller cut would really help.  Possibly the curved stitch where the instep meets the leg should be cut higher.

Second, the toe is too low.  That angle in the profile is my toenail pressing against the inside.  Again, this may be because I cut away the "excess" length back in part II.  If so, it may indicate that the original Missouri River patterns were, as I first suspect, too small.  It's a very good thing that while I did mark the felt pattern with the revised lines, I didn't trim it, so it still has the pre-tailored shape.  I will have to go through the entire bootmaking process again without the extra trimming and see if I can confirm these suspicions.

Lastly, aesthetically, the brown color is too dark and the "natural" linen thread too light, making for a very odd look with the bright line cutting across the leg just above the ankle.  To achieve this kind of very dark brown, a hide would either have to be heavily dyed or smoked for an excessive amount of time.  I think that a more natural smoked color (buff, goldenrod or golden brown) would make these boots much more plausible for portraying a person of middling economic status.  Many buckskinners say that white leather was historically preferred for special occasions and that most leather would have been smoked - perhaps the Chärchän Man's white boots and red jacket were the equivalent of being buried in a formal suit today.  The fil au chinois "natural" is off-white, whereas unbleached linen and hemp are beige - however, I'm not sure where to find truly unbleached linen thread at this time.  Regular brown may be another acceptable option not because it's necessarily more correct but because it would stand out less.

In conclusion, while I have the basic steps down, it's clear that more experimentation is needed to turn out a pair of wearable boots.


  1. I find boots are always trial and error, no matter how well you plan them - I've made two pairs now. The first one was made using the pattern from a cheap pair of Ugg style boots that I took apart, and like yours, the seam was on the back of the heel (I didn't add the reinforced heel on the outside, which the ugg boot had, because it looked too modern). In wearing, I found this seam to be a weak point, and the heel constantly split and had to be repaired. So for my second pair, I reversed the design to put the seam on the front, so that the back is one continuous piece with no weak point. The toe of the boot attaches at the sides with diagonal seams, which meet the vertical seam at the front of the sock. The 'hole' where all the seams converge is therefore at the part of the boot where there is least stress from wear. However, like you I also found this point was a bit low, and although it doesn't pinch, it makes it hard to get my foot into the boot. The back of the boot is now completely sound, and the only problem I have is the same one that affects modern ugg boots - your heel tends to flatten the back of the boot and you end up walking on the sock rather than the sole! Because there is such a thick seam around the sole of mine (I always cut an insole that is an inch bigger than the sole, than fold it up over the upper and stitch all layers together for extra strength and waterproofing) it makes them uncomfortable at the back, but making them bigger wouldn't help, as your foot would still slide back.
    Anyway, it's interesting to see the different ways that they can be constructed, and the challenges that poses. You'll have to let me know how they wear :)
    Oh, by the way, if you want to tone down the stitching a little, you could always paint / dye it? I did that with mine - I used 'natural' linen but it was too bright, so i just got some diluted acrylic paint and gave it a once over :)

    1. Good ideas. I went for back-seamed construction because that's how the moccasin pattern went and because (at least some of) the ones from Pazyryk were back-seamed, but I'm sure there was no one rule about how to do it in period either. Many modern Steppe boots as well as Southwestern-style boot mocs are seamed on the sides, as are pretty much all the standard mid-calf, pull-on cowboy boots, though side welts might be unsightly.

      I used the welt because I have much thinner heels than toes and expect to have to tie bands around the ankles if I'm going to do much walking or running in them (same reason I didn't line the ankle part of the leg, to keep it soft and flexible enough for the band to scrunch it close) and the welt gives a relatively flat seam that doesn't dig into my achilles tendon when pressed against it. Perhaps it'll also make the seam stronger in the long run? or maybe weaker, dunno yet... I imagine tying the ankle would keep your foot from sliding back as much.

      Since the left is pretty uncomfortable as is, I'm planning to test out improvements on the right, then do a final pair in a more natural color and maybe a stretchier material - elk splits aren't too pricey in the States.

      Now I'm curious for more details about yours. How did you stitch up the sides, and did you turn them after attaching the sole?

    2. Ah, you're actually trying to use an authentic pattern - I was just going for comfort and durability! But undoubtedly there were numerous ways of making boots, and they must have used trial and error themselves to an extent.
      The way I sewed the side seams was very basic - no overlap, just butted the two edged up to each other and blanket stitched em. It might not have been too comfy on the inside, were it not for the fact that I also lined them with sheepskin :)
      As for turning them after attaching the sole... I've never used this method when making boots. I made em the right way round because the seam around the sole is on the outside anyway. You can see the construction method quite well in the photos in my facebook album -
      New and old ones next to each other:
      I've now added the same trim to the new ones, so they look pretty similar, but the shape of the boot is really quite different due to the different placement of the seams.

    3. Under construction:

  2. Sewing the toe onto the sole:

    1. Thanks. Very sturdy-looking, probably much more so than the ones I'm making here. You appear to be using veg-tan? I imagine it'd be trickier to achieve butted seams using a thin, soft split, especially if you pull the thread tight like I do (just a habit -- bad or good, I don't know).

      I do have to ask one other thing though: With this type of construction, how do you keep from walking on the sole stitches? That is, I think, the actual reason for the moccasins' inside-out construction, although it's kind of hard to explain in words.