Shoes for 1870's ballgown, 2018
My costume for the Prior Attire Victorian Ball in Bath needed shoes. Of course, late Victorian evening shoes are not terrible unlike modern pumps, and don't even show much under the sweeping skirts (except in the throes of vigorous waltzing) so I could have just worn modern shoes. But all of the shoes in my closet were too high or open toed or somehow wrong, so it became obvious that I would have to get something new anyway.
The thought of another shoe-remaking project naturally entered my mind early on, but this time I resisted it for a while. After my last, mostly successful but laborious shoe project, namely the matching embroidered satin shoes for Robe a la Francaise I had sworn not to touch shoes for a while, at least a few years. Of course 1870's shoes might be a bit more simple, with no buckle straps to construct etc. But still I first tried to find ready made options.
My internet searches and checking a few brick and mortar stores confirmed the same thing: I could either purchase good replica shoes that would cost some money, or settle for a halfway okay pair of modern pumps for a lesser sum, or then just spend a bit of time and make dirt cheap ones. I decided finally on the budget option, as the shoes would really be a rather inconspicuous part of the outfit.
|I was so short of the
ballgown satin that I ruled out totally matching shoes
at once, so it would have been convenient to pick a
color that would go with other future dresses too. Black
would have been something of a safe bet, I guess, but I
felt it to be too dark for the soft pastel overtone of
the whole outfit. Cream white might have looked better,
matching the gloves and lace fan, not to mention that
the "Ladies' and Gentlemen's Etiquette" from 1877
recommends white satin boots to be worn with a ball
gown. But then again I was rather sceptical about white
fabric shoes staying white, and wanted to go for some
more practical color instead.
And then there was this very pale lilac satin available: It harmonized with the dress fabric, had a light look without being white and would probably disguise dust stains.
consideration I decided to use the reverse side of of
the satin in top. It had a duller, less plastic sheen. I
had also learned from my last satin shoe project that
shiny fabric highlights every bump and wrinkle while its
much easier to get a neat finish with matte fabric.
I was lucky to find a 2€ pair with a low heel and rather square toe, that had a look not that far removed from period shoes. They also fitted my feet perfectly.
Apart from being a little worn the shoes were in good condition and of better quality than I have usually used for my re-make projects, just old-fashioned. This time I actually felt a little bad about demolishing them with scissors and screwdriver. The quality of the construction was also obvious as they didn't fall apart as easily as cheap shoes usually do.
|As stated above, the
shoes had a very good shape to begin with, so I didn't
plan massive alterations this time. I did, however, want
a bit more periodesque shape for the heel.
|A heel curved at the
back and sides but at a straight angle at the front
seems common in 1870's shoes. I peeled off the leather
covering at the heels and shaped them with a grinder
until I got them to the desired shape and roughly
|The toe was decorated
with strap and tiny buckle that I got straight rid off
with scissors. The toe also had a decorative stitched
surface bordered by a raised seam. I glued an extra
layer of rather thick leather to flatten the surface and
disguise the seam. I also cut the vamp into a more
curved shape. The side seam place is marked with white.
|I drafted the cover
pieces with muslin as usual. Again I used the heavy,
napped fusible interfacing to absorb most of the glue
and give a smoother finish. The interfacing does not
generally reach the seam allowances, though, so that the
seams will lie as flat as possible.
|I began the covering
with the heel. As the grinder had left the surface a bit
uneven I added a layer of muslin to smooth the surface
under the final top layer of satin.
|Smoothing the fabric
over the lower, sturdier heels was easy compared to he
curved heels I had done on the Francaise shoes. I did,
however, face a new challenge: This was a first pair of
shoes I have done where the outsole does not continue
all the way down the front edge of the heel. This meant
the heel covering would have to reach the front side as
well. With fabric covering that meant turning the seam
|Well, I did not get
this part quite perfect, and the edges don't lie quite
smooth, but then again it's a place not very visible
when wearing the shoes so I did not lose my night's
sleep over it.
The happy surprise with the heel was while re-shaping it, I noticed quite by accident that it was just a bit loose. I was able to lift the heel with a screwdriver just enough to tuck the raw edges under it at the top edge.
|I usually just cover the heel fabric edge with the counter tops, but this always leaves the joint of the heel a bit heavy and clumsy, so this was clearly an advantage and resulted in a much neater finish.|
|As the shoes wouldn't
have buckle straps I reversed my usual order of glueing
on the tops by beginning with the back rather than toe.
I tried the satin pieces on, checked the line of the
heel edge and pulled the lower edge slightly tighter
with the help of a gathering thread. Due to the outer
sole / heel construction the seam allowance also had to
turn more sharply at the heel join than usually.
|I first glued the
seam allowances to lie flat, then applied glue on the
whole piece. I matched the back seam carefully at first,
then smoothed the fabric down towards the toe.
|Making real seams on
the sides of the uppers would have been beyond my
skills, so I just turned under the seam allowances on
the toe part which I glued on last. In 18th century
shoes they cover this join by a tape, which is amazingly
|The fabric edges on
the toe are gathered and turned under the sole as usual.
As you can see from the pictures, this time I did not
remove the outer sole completely, as its end was placed
very securely under the heel and I had no desire to tear
the shoes apart more than I had to. I got the outer sole
loose enough that I could tuck all the fabric edges
under, and then glued it back on.
|I finished the edge
with self-fabric bias tape. Then there was only the
final touch of the ubiquitous fabric rosette left. I
decided on rather simple double bows. On
this, a bit later pair the bows are made of two
different materials, which inspired me to use different
sides of the same material to get a very subtle twist.
It might be a modern touch, but I like the look.
|To form the bows I
sewed two bias loops and basted them together. On the
underside I basted a small piece of bias tape left over
from edging. The bias tape gathering the bow is sewn on
the vamp at one end, the tape at the back of the bow
glued over it. The other end is turned over the shoe
edge and glued on the inside of the vamp.
|The finished shoes
are a nice addition to the ball toilette. I have to
confess that in purely aesthetic terms, they are not my
favorite shoes ever, they are a bit too girlish for my
taste, but still I think they more or less right for the
period and that's the main thing. The color harmonizes
well with the dress and they are not too conspicuous in
The color I chose might not look that good with other possible future dresses I might want to wear them with, but then again they were not that time-consuming to make and the biggest expense was the glue, so it doesn't matter that much if I'll end up using them with only this one dress (which I like very much).
The best thing about these shoes may well be that they are amazingly comfortable to wear. At the ball I danced a lot at I did not have think about my shoes for once, nor did my feet felt tired at the end of the night.
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