Iron Age Shoes (previous 'viking Shoes')




Edited to add: Due to alle the comments regarding the title of this instruction, I've changed the name to 'iron age shoes' which might be more historycally correct.

I learned to make these by using my own foot as a template. Therefore, all the measures given here are highly approximate. If your foot diverges a lot from mine (European size 39, long and narrow/slender), some sewing experience might come in handy. That said, there's no reason to be too specific in making these. As you can see, the 'laces' can be loosened or tightened to fit, and the basic idea is really very simple.
The photo here shows my own, good old shoes, made in 1997. I always use them with these thick, felted socks inside; to me, they're part of the shoe. They are soft, comfy and I simply love them. Based on my original 11 year old, several times altered, water damaged drawing, I have made a kind of template as a sort of guideline. You'll find it at the end of this tutorial. I had to scan it in two operations as it was so big, then paste the parts together on my computer, so this adds to the imperfection. You should go for the thick, black lines and not pay too much attention to the rest :)
Important: Look through all the photos before you start drawing!

Step 1: Supplies

A large piece of leather, about 2,5 - 3 millimeter thick.
X-acto knife or sharp scissors.
An awl or other tool to make holes in the leather.
Pen or pencil.
A cutting board (I use a wooden one).

Step 2: Before You Start

By following the description, you should end up with something that looks like this (never mind the red dots in the picture - they will be explained later). The uncut shoe is my left foot (wrong side out), but the cut, dark one is my right foot shoe (right side out).

Step 3: Draw Your Foot

You start by purchasing some good leather about 2,5 - 3 millimeter thick. Thinner than this will be like wearing a thin but stiff plastic cover on your foot. Not good.
Start with drawing a line around your foot.

Step 4: Mark the Center Point

Then mark the center point under your forefoot; the part that you use to kick off when you walk. (Wow. Pay attention. More bad English will follow). Using a ruler, draw a vertical line through this as shown.

Step 5: New Line

Draw another line under this one. Using my foot as a measure, this will be approximately 2,5 centimeters below the first line. Yours might be different, but take a look at where the line is placed on the foot; just below the big knuckle on the inside of your foot. The top line is just above it.

Step 6: 'toe Allowance'

Draw a line about 1 cm outside the foot line, around the toe area. Omit the bumps (your toes...)

Step 7: Mark the Fan

Mark several points about 5,5 cm outside of this again. Draw a line through the points (I forgot to do it at this point and did it later on, see below. It's hard making a tutorial; you have to think in logical steps instead of doing the messy thing you usually do!) .

Step 8: Draw Heel Cap

Draw the heel cap, about 2 cm wide and 4 cm long. Mark three lines (the dotted red lines) - these points mark the end of the heel part (the bottom line), and also between the 'ears' that comes next (the two upper lines). Again, there is little point in giving measures here, but look again at where the lines are placed on the foot. And remember it's all very approximately. The shoe can be made with both two or three 'ears'. These are made with three. If you're good at measuring with your eyes only, this step can be omitted completely.

Step 9: Draw the 'ears'

Here comes the free hand drawing. Sketch up the 'ears' using a soft pencil. I have given measures here; again, only guidelines. I have marked the outer most point of the ears with red dots. You can (barely!) see here where the three lines from the previous photo are; in between the three ears, and at the end of the heel ear.

Step 10: Draw Ears, Solid Line

When you are happy with your drawing, make a more solid line.

Step 11: Draw the Fan

The next step can also be omitted, but is helpful as a visual guide: Using a ruler, draw a fan from the middle point of your forefoot to the line you made 5,5 cm outside your toes. In addition, you will draw lines in the 2,5 cm area below the toe area, as shown. This will be the 'fingers' that wraps around your toes. As you can see from step #2, there is some space between some of the 'fingers' in the top section of the fan. There's no rules to this; the point is just to make them fit nicely around your toes. The only thing I would make sure of, is not to cut the fingers slimmer than 1 cm. But differing somewhat from each other in size is not a problem.

Step 12: Cut

Start cutting.

Step 13: Cut the 'fingers'

And here's why drawing the fan can be omitted (at least by me); you might just decide to ignore the lines while cutting. But they're good as a visual aid. Cut he 'fingers' up until the 1 cm line, as shown by the red dot at the tip of the knife.

Step 14: Punch Holes

Cut the fingers so that they seem functional, with a little space between some of them. You might wish to round off the tip of the fingers just a little by cutting the corners, but this is optional.
In this picture, I have tanned the leather, rubbed it with beeswax, and punched holes in each finger, ear and along the heel cap(s). EDIT: I'm lying. There's no holes in the heel caps. Go back to picture #3, click to enlarge, and use the red dots as a guideline to making the holes.

Step 15: String the Heel Cap, 1

As you see, there are five holes in the side flaps, and four on each side of the middle piece.
Pull your leather string through the two bottom holes in the middle section, as shown, so that the string have equal lengths on both sides of the cap. I cut my own leather strings, but you can buy pre cut strings for this.

Step 16: String Heel Cap, 2

Then, from the inside, pull the string through hole number one in one of the side flaps. Next, twist it to the inside and pull it back through hole nr two in the middle section, as shown in the next picture.

Step 17: String Heel Cap, 3

Push the string through hole nr 3 in the middle section, and at the same time, through hole nr 2 in the side flap (see next).

Step 18: String Heel Cap, 4

Then 'sew' back through side flap hole nr 3 and middle section hole nr 4; pull tight and it will look like the next picture.

Step 19: String Heel Cap, 5

Repeat on the other side and cross the strings (see next).

Step 20: String Heel Cap, 6

Cross again on the inside of the cap, and pull through the last two holes.

Step 21: Inside View

Inside view.

Step 22: Tie a Knot

Tie a knot, and you're done.

Step 23: Stringing the Fan

Draw a leather string through the holes as shown here and in picture #1, and try the shoes on (preferably on your own foot and not on your kid's :) )
The worst mistake you can make is cutting the length too short (too long is not a problem; just cut the heel to fit) or make the fan fingers too short so it won't wrap around your toes. If this is the case, give them to someone with a smaller foot and try again :)

Step 24: Template

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154 Discussions


2 years ago



3 years ago

This seems so cool, but I'm having a lot of trouble finding the leather.
Does anyone have any pointers? Maybe where to order it online?
I live in Vienna (Austria), so the comments on where to find leather in the US haven't helped me much, unfortunately .

1 reply
Lionel Twain

2 years ago

During the summer of 1991, I worked for the woman who owned Medieval Moccasins while she was at the Michigan Renaissance Festival and she did not seem to be too protective about the patterns. During the week, while the festival was not going on, we could work on them anywhere we pleased, as long as we got the work done. I would work on mine down by the lake or around campfires or around the glass blower's booth.

The woman who owns the company now is her daughter (she was only ten when I made the moccasins). I haven't worked at or attended a Ren Fest in years, but I have heard that she is very unpleasant to work for.

Regardless, I remember having seen the same design fifteen years before I worked for MM. She didn't invent the design.


2 years ago

Good tutorial. Tho my pair got to short for my on the heel. I think I misscalculated at some point and didn't think of that I got pretty flat feet så I would have needed around a 7 heel flap instead of 4. But learned something in the process so :)


2 years ago

Iron age cobblers had a rough job.


2 years ago

Iron age cobblers had a rough job.


2 years ago

Iron age cobblers had a rough job.


2 years ago

Iron age cobblers had a rough job.


4 years ago

Your tutorial is wonderful! Seriously though I had the pattern drafted in15 mins and is cut out and sewn in 20 mins! ( I am a fashion student ) SUPER COMFORTABLE. I am going to rip off soles from cheap ballerina flats to glue/sew on the bottom for long term wear. Plus I cut insoles out of an old yoga mat to make them super cushy. I used thin leather cause I could not afford thick leather and dye but with the soles attached they should be fine.
I had a pair of Irish dancing guilles that looked just like these. I literally wore everyday until they dissenter-grated. Unfortunately they got discontinued plus I could not afford the 50 bucks for them. So it is wonderful that I found this tutorial! I now can have an endless supply of these in color, coutured to my exact foot size and shape and only 7 dollars at the thrift store for the leather jacket. Thanks again for this GREAT tutorial and for all those people out there that have to put there hateful two cents in,this is a shoe tutorial not a history lesson.
Happy stepping

Ps I have picture of them but when I use the internet version it will not let me post anything not even words and he app will not let me post pictures... Once I can find a way I will post pictures. Thanks!

1 reply

Reply 3 years ago

I wear a side seam moccasin all the time (a similar enough shoe for purposes of the comment) and when I first made them I was told to wear them as is for a short while to mark my tread pattern then cut out a piece of leather the same as the tread pattern and use a contact adhesive to glue it on. When you wear a hole in the sole, use a hair dryer to heat then pull off, cut another leather sole and glue it on in its place. I've just worn my first sole hole (took a month of wearing constantly) so I'm ready to resole. :)


3 years ago on Step 24

This was a fantastic tutorial, thank you so much for the clear pictures


9 years ago on Introduction

I have made many pairs of these. We do reenactment and they are my favorite shoes. We have made ours out of about a 8-9 oz latigo that is pre-dyed as part of the tanning process. This seemed to wear better than tooling types of leather. We had tried using deerskin but it seemed too elastic and the shoes stretched. I use a pair of those athletic insoles for extra cushion and arch support. We wear ours with either wool socks done in nalbinding (a type of knitting) or felted wool liners. The beeswax helps with waterproofing and traction. The easiest way is to rub the beeswax into the leather like it is lip balm and then use a lighter to waive near it to melt the wax so it absorbs into the leather. Be careful not to start your shoes on fire wax burns. Those people asking about the origins. I think they were from an anglo bog find that was very early dark ages. I have also seen the same shoe in some of my Viking age Irish archaeology books. Of course there are also the well established gillies shoes also. As for the medieval moccasins person, they are full of it. But the notion that she is bullying people, I will make sure I tell everyone I know not to do business with her.

2 replies

You can also use a blow dryer to heat the leather. I used to do this with my hiking boots when I was weatherproofing them.


Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

You can also get the leather to absorb the wax by putting it in an oven set to a very low heat, or even microwaving it a bit... less danger of scorching than using a lighter.


4 years ago on Introduction

I really like htese! I have seen pictures before, but your instructable is really good! I have to know though: how did you come about the felt socks? I've never seen anything like them and can't find anything on google. Did you make them? If you did, can we get an instructable? if you didn't make them, can we get a link to them for buying?


4 years ago on Step 24

Thank you! Amazing tutorial! Nearly number 1 on my Next-things-to-do List ;)


5 years ago on Introduction

I've seen something pretty similar in the Roman museum at Caerleon. That puts the basic design back another 1000 years.


6 years ago on Introduction

I've been looking at different styles of minimalist running shoes, and found this instructable invaluable in my first efforts at making my own.  I made a pair from a cheap floor mat (around $4 from lowes) because I didn't want to waste good material on freshman efforts.  The laces I swiped from my chucks. 

They ended up surprisingly comfortable for floormat shoes (where any comfort probably rates as surprising).  with sock, the nerd factor skyrockets, but so does the genuine comfort.  Do I have the moxie to rock this look?  We'll see. 

I made a simpler fan toe, and the result is a hybrid of this instructable and something like a BeNat shoe. 

Next step, run in them a little to see if I can cripple myself with blisters, and then when I recover, start looking for a source of cheap or scavable leather.  Current thinking is to paint one side with something like truck bed liner or some other paint-on tough and grippy material, and then make them soft-side in for more comfort.  


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