Monday, January 9, 2012

Trending - 18th Century Shoes

Last summer I was fortunate enough to be able to take a shoe making workshop with Mr. Walker, one of the shoe makers at Colonial Williamsburg. (More on the workshop later. If interested, Diary of a Mantua Maker has some excellent posts about her shoe making experience here.)

In doing some shoe-related research since the workshop, I started noticing a trend in a particular type of fabric used in 18th century shoes. The fabric is silk with a small diamond, or spotted, shaped pattern to it. I have counted at least six pairs of shoes, mostly in ivory, made from this type of fabric. But I'm sure there are many others out there.

Manchester City Galleries, 1947.918
MFA, 43.1724 a,b
MFA 44.531a-b date, 1780-85
 It may be hard to tell in the images here, but these examples all have that small diamond pattern. I have found that many online galleries, such as the MET and MFA, have fabulous zoom features. Here is a good upclose image of the diamond pattern, actually more like spots in this example. It's also a nice closeup of the detail on the toe. The design appears to be worked in small sequins, or "spangles", instead of embroidered with silk thread like the examples seen above.
MET 13.49.30a, b
MET 13.49.30a, b
One of the things I find fascinating about these shoes is that they all date to the second half of the 18th century or later. There are definite distinctions in each decade of the 18th century, as there is are in every century. In the 1770s and 1780s smaller prints and stripes became fashionable. No more large floral styles of the 1740s and 1750s; although you do see many examples of gowns restyled using older fabric. (Hallie has some great posts about that here, here, and here.) It makes sense then that the fabric for shoes would follow that of the gowns they would be worn with. Another trend I have noticed in these later 18th century shoes, is a complimentary color being used for the heels and straps. Here are two examples. I adore the black and pink!
Manchester City Galleries, 1968.71
V &A, T.472&A-1913
Here is another example in a lovely mint green. Very simple but very pretty too.

MET 2009.300.4373
Eventually I will finish my own pair of 18th century shoes. (And blog about them.) For my first pair (I do plan on making more than one pair, someday ;) ) I selected a blue worsted wool. The wool is much easier to work with than silk for an inexperience shoe maker. Or so I'm told and more than happy to believe. :) Any costumer who has worked with silk taffeta can tell you it can be a bit fussy at times! In any case, if I do decide to reproduce any of the above example I think I've already found the perfect fabric.

Off White Silk Figured Taffeta from Renaissance Fabrics
It's available in a couple of colors but the ivory could be dyed to any color. I've ordered from Renaissance Fabrics before and really like their silks.

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