Introduction: Viking Leather Turnshoes

About: Jack of many trades aspiring to be a Jack of all trades.

My Medieval Reenactment persona is a Viking, so naturally I needed some viking shoes. Since TJ Maxx was out of authentic viking wear I made my own, and I'm passing along what I learned in the process in hopes that it will help some other shoeless vikings, or anyone in need of some simple leather shoes. I also think this is a good project for people who want to try leather work without investing a lot in tools immediately, though it is a bit tricky at parts and might not make the best first project.

My shoes are based on the styles of about 800 to 1100, because they are very simple, and I don't have a ton of shoe making experience, but since you're making your own pattern you can fancy these up as much as you want.

I learned to make turn shoes from this PDF:

It has lots of helpful photos and diagrams, and is worth reading for awesome historical context, more detail on some steps, and a slightly different way of doing certain things. There are also more shoe styles at the end.

Step 1: Materials

For Making the Pattern:

  • A big sheet of paper, newspaper works well
  • Some string
  • Some tape, I used washi tape because it was nearby and pretty but anything will work.
  • A sharpie or other marker

For the Actual Shoe

  • Soft leather for the upper, about a couple square feet. You don't need a lot, but I recommend getting a bit more than you think you'll need just in case you need to re do something.
  • Thick veg tanned leather for the sole, the thicker the better. I think I used 7-8 oz (it wasn't labeled) but 9-10 oz or heavier would be good.
  • Artificial sinew, which is not historically accurate but is much more durable than the more authentic linen or wool. If you want to use linen or wool go ahead, just be warned that many repairs probably lie ahead.
  • Needles, at least two big dull ones.
  • An awl, preferably a very sharp diamond shaped leather awl. You could probably get away with a book binding awl or a nail, but a sharp leather awl will save you a lot of grief.
  • Scissors for cutting paper and leather and/or a very sharp knife for leather

Step 2: Measure Your Foot

Measure around your foot at the ball of your foot (1), and around your foot at the highest point of the arch (2). I just marked those measurements on the piece of string instead of using a tape measure (which I think is much easier). Be sure to keep track of which marked segment of string is which.

Step 3: Make the Sole Pattern

To make the sole start by tracing your foot on your large piece of paper. I recommend positioning this tracing near the top of the paper so you have plenty of room for drawing the rest of the pattern, and on the center fold of the newspaper (as explained below).

Next you draw the center line, which isn't really centered. It's a straight line through the center of the heel and between the big toe and first toe. This is really easy if you traced your foot on the center fold of a newspaper.

Then extend the toe of the sole to a rounded point at the center line. I think the picture says it better than my descriptions.

You'll also want to smooth out the line between the ball of your foot and heel so it's more of a straight line.

Finally, add the heel riser, the rounded triangular shape that extends a bit behind the heel. How long it is isn't super important, I went for a little over an inch I believe, just make sure it's as wide as your heel so that the seams don't dig into your foot.

Notes on the Heel Riser

I was initially really confused by this element of turnshoe designs. It turns out it's a very clever way of making the heel last longer and fit better. It does make the shoe a little more difficult to sew, but it's worth it, in my opinion. Also, it looks kind of cool.

Step 4: Make the Upper Pattern

Now, remember those measurements you made? Time to add them to the pattern! Use a ruler to transfer those measurements to the corresponding spots on the tracing of your foot by drawing a straight line the length of your measurement across the ball of your traced foot and the highest point of the arch.

Next you'll subtract the width of the sole from the ends of those lines based on the center line you drew earlier. At the ball measurement, measure the right and left halves of the sole from the center line. Here I labeled those measurements a and b. Subtract A from the far end of the right side, and b from the far side of the left side. Repeat this process at the arch of the foot, marking all these points.

I'm going to refer to these points as point A, B, C, and D, respective to the measurements used to make them.

The String Pattern

Now take some string and tape the end to the tip of the heel triangle. Run the string around the sole to find the circumference of your shoe sole, then cut it a little longer to be safe.

Now undo the tape and re-tape the end of the string a little below point D. Then tape the string at point A, and create a smooth curve to the toes at the center line, where you'll tape it again. Create another curve to point B, then a straight line to point C.

This next part is a tad trickier. You need to find the distance between the intersection of the arch line and the sole outline and where the triangle starts (red line). Mark that distance from point C on the string. Now find the distance between the start of the triangle and the point on one side (blue line). Mark that on your string from the other mark you just made.

Keep the string mostly straight and then tape it at the first mark. Now make a curved v shape, the point of which is the second mark you made. Tape it all in place when you are happy with your shape, with the rest of the string continuing past the heel in a very slight curve.

Now just trace your string line and remove the string.

Top edge

Make a little semi circle/ u-shape at the intersection of the arch line and center line. I did this wrong the first time, and did it correctly with yellow highlighter. This will make it much easier to put your shoe on and it looks nice. Draw a line between the right point of the U and a point on the sole outline a bit below the arch line. Then draw a line between the end of the line and point D.

Now, on the left side of the sole, draw a slight curve between the left point of the U and the intersection of the center line and heel (Not the triangle). Then make a slight curve that is roughly parallel with the tracing of the string pattern you made.

Some tips for this part:

It's better to have some extra length at the heel end and arch end of the pattern just in case. You can always trim it later. The same goes or the top edge of the upper, if you have extra leather you can always trim it back.

I trimmed the newspaper around my pattern but didn't cut it out completely yet. This is because we need to trace the sole onto the tooling leather and we won't have that shape once we cut out the upper pattern. You could trace the sole onto another piece of paper so you can save both, but I chose not to.

Step 5: Transfer the Pattern to Leather

Time to get the pattern onto the leather, soles first.

We're going to trace the pattern with a pencil after laying it on top of the tooling leather, and to get the leather to take the impression we're going to case it. What is casing? Basically you take a damp sponge and apply water to the leather, then let it absorb for a few seconds. Go fairly light on the water, you need just enough to apply it evenly. Then put your pattern on top of the leather and go around the sole outline with a somewhat dull pencil. Press firmly, but be careful not to tear your pattern. Flip the pattern over to trace the other foot's sole, and repeat.

Now you can cut out the upper pattern, and trace it onto the suede-ish side of your soft leather. Remember to leave some extra length at the ends for seam allowance and adjustments.

Step 6: Cut Out Your Pieces

This part is simple but can be tricky, use a sharp knife or good leather scissors and go as slow as you need to.

The second picture shows the sole on top of the corresponding upper, arranged for sewing.

Step 7: Start Sewing!

Take a length of sinew about 5 feet long, or whatever length you decide is comfortable for you, and thread a needle on each end.

With your sole facing up and the soft leather positioned under it, smooth side up, insert your awl at about a 45 degree angle through the edge of the sole, exiting the edge of the sole into the upper. You don't want to be puncturing the upper at an angle, and this may require some maneuvering to accomplish.

Push one of the needles through the holes made by the awl, and pull the sinew through to the midpoint of the sinew.

Make another set of holes the same way, a little less than a 1/4 inch from the first holes. Stitch through this hole by bringing the top needle down through the hole, and the bottom needle up through the same holes.

Step 8: "Turn" the Heel

Continue stitching in this manner, poking a hole and then stitching through it, as you bend the heel riser to match the edge of the pattern.

Step 9: Keep Sewing

Keep sewing around the sole in the same way. It's much easier after the heel! When you get to the end of the upper sew back over the last five stitches to secure your stitching and then trim the ends.

Step 10: Sew the Other Side

Now you'll sew the other side, starting in the same hole you started in before but sewing in the other direction. When the sides of the upper meet don't cut the sinew, you're going to sew up the side now.

You can secure the ends and stitch the side from the top down, but I prefer to just continue this seam.

Step 11: Sew Up the Side

As you can see, I have quite a bit of extra leather. I just lined up the edge without extra with where it met the other side in a comfortable shoe shape, and stitched there. Before you start going up the side though, bring the lower needle up through the last stitch of the other end of the upper so that your needles are on opposite sides of the side seam. Now you can stitch straight through both layers up to the top. Stitch back about five stitches to secure the side seam and trim the ends of the sinew and leather.

Step 12: Turn the Shoe!

Now the best part, and where the turn shoe gets its name!

Soften the sole under running water or by soaking in a bucket, then turn it right side out. This will require some force, and you may need to use a wooden spoon or other tool to get it all fully turned, pressing the seams outward so they won't irritate your feet. Let the shoe dry completely before wearing it so you don't stretch it out or get wet feet. The second shoe is made the same way.

I made a thick wool felt insole for comfort, which I highly recommend. Just trace your foot on some felt, cut it out and stick it in your shoe.

Enjoy your handmade shoes, and if you have any questions I'll be happy to try and answer them!

Leather Contest 2017

Runner Up in the
Leather Contest 2017

Hand Tools Only Contest 2017

Participated in the
Hand Tools Only Contest 2017