15th century pattens – project documentation

my pattens

This writeup is intended as a run through of how I made my first set of pattens. Upon speaking to Master William de Wyke, he kindly suggested a few things I could try to get a slightly more secure fit for the next pair, which I am quite keen to try when I get a moment (mostly relating to moving the leather section back a tad). This was the documentation I supplied as part of an entry into a local arts and sciences competition, rather than intending it as a step-by-step guide for how to make them; but I’m sure you’ll get a fair idea of their construction from this if you were wanting to make a pair.


 Throughout the medieval and early modern periods, it was a common occurrence to wear slip-on overshoes (pattens) over softer shoes and slippers while outdoors, to protect the softer shoe and foot, and to elevate it above any dirt, mud and dung, prior to extensive paving of roads and streets. Extant pattens, as well as visual representations of them, have been found in Europe, the Middle East and the Far East, in varying forms. These appear to have been worn across most socio-economic groups, although those worn by the upper classes were generally more elaborate in terms of decoration.

Master of the housebook, 1470-90, two lovers   Detail of Augustus and the Sybil of Tiber, c. 1495-1505

Above: a couple of examples of pattens being worn in late 15th/early 16th century German images. (from left): Master of the Housebook, A pair of lovers, 1470-90, unknown artist, detail of Augustus and the Sybil of Tiber, c. 1495-1505.

Goubitz (2011) differentiates between the wood and leather-soled pattens, asserting that the wooden pattens were worn outside, to protect the foot from the cold, sharp objects and effluent, whereas the leather soled-pattens “…by contrast, [were] worn in and around the house. A wooden floor with draughty cracks, or a loam or tiles floor would always be cold in winter, so those who could afford it would wear something extra under-foot” (2001, p249).

As a general rule (and as indicated by extant finds), the shape of pattens in the late middle ages and early modern periods in Europe followed the general outline of the shoes in fashion at the time (Goubitz, 2011, p250) – softly rounded in the 13th century, becoming elongated in the 14th and 15th centuries to fit over poulaines (the flat, pointed shoes so popular at the time), and then shorter and wider at the turn of the 16th century, at the advent of the “cow-mouth” or “bear-paw” shoes so popular in the Tudor period. Several examples of late 15th century styles can be seen below:

SCHONGAUER, Martin, before 1483, the fifth foolish virgin - detail SCHONGAUER, Martin, before 1483, the fifth wise virgin - detail

Above: detail of pattens taken from images both by Martin SCHONGAUER, before 1483 – (left): The Fifth Foolish Virgin. Note the single strap over the foot, and the pointed shape that follows the shape of the shoe. (right): The Fifth Wise Virgin. Note the single strap again, and the flatter soles.

detail from A donor, by Petrus Christus, c1450 Jan van Eyck, The Arnolfini portrait (detail)

Above: more detail shot from paintings, showing pattens with just  single leather strap. (Left): from A Donor, by Petrus Christus, c1450. (Right): Detail from The Arnolfini Portrait, Jan Van Eyck, c1434. Note the tacks used to attach the uppers to the soles, and the buckles at the top of the uppers.

Detail from the Annunciation from the Maria am Gestade altarpiece in Vienna, c. 1460-1470  Detail from St. Valentine healing the blind on an altarpiece at Villnöß, c. 1495-1505  Detail of St. Vigilius by Hans Klocker, c. 1490-1495, institut fur Realienkunde

Above: More pattens! (do you see a pattern? 😉 )
(top left): Detail from Unknown artist, The Annunciation from the Maria am Gestade altarpiece in Vienna, c. 1460-1470. Note the shape of the sole, the buckles on the uppers, and the decoration on both the uppers and the soles. (Top right): detail from unknown artist, St. Valentine healing the blind on an altarpiece at Villnöß, c. 1495-1505. (Bottom): detail on a sculpture by Hans Klocker, St. Vigilius, c. 1490-1495.

The most common styles for this region and time period appear to have had upper straps of leather or cloth to secure the patten to the foot (with either buckles or ties to secure them to the foot and/or ankle – as seen in the various images above), and soles of wood, leather, or later, with a layer of cork sandwiched between two layers of leather. Goubitz notes that “Footstraps of leather or wooden pattens are usually decorated… stamped decoration mainly occurs on leather pattens” (2011, p251). Pattens could feature hinges made of leather and tacks to allow for more movement in the feet while walking, extant examples of these can be found in Goubitz (2011, p261) and Grew& Neergaard (2001, pp96-8).


While some pattens appear to have a fairly low, even sole, others have been found with large, platform-style wedges or circular iron frames attached to the base of the soles.


Following the freezing conditions at La Prova Dura in 2013, I chose to make a pair of pattens based upon mid-late 15th century styles found in German, to provide some distance between my foot and the icy ground. Never again would I have cold feet!  🙂


 As this was my first attempt at shoes or pattens of any sort, I made a decision to keep the materials inexpensive and the style simple, with an emphasis on figuring out the patterning and construction, and getting them to fit properly. I decided to utilise vegetable tanned leather, left over from a previous project for the uppers and straps, and Tasmanian Oak for the soles, with brass tacks to attach the leather uppers to the soles, and brass buckles on the top.


According to Cavasin (1996) vegetable tanned leather was very common throughout this time period and a number of extant leather items (including pattens) exist that use vegetable-tanned leather in this way. I chose vegetable tanned leather because it was a period material, and secondly, because it would allow me to tool the upper with a decorative pattern (many other modern types of tanned leather do not allow this, as they are made waterproof, and generally if you’re trying to get a tooled pattern to stay indented into the leather, you need to wet it first).

In regards to the dye, I must confess to using modern leather dye rather than a period recipe (as this was a test project after all), however the text The Secretes of the Reverend Maister Alexis of Piemont (1580), documents several recipes for leather dyes in shades of reds and browns. Because of this, I felt the dye to be a reasonable substitute for a period dye.

There are a number of extant pattens in museums with leather uppers which have decorative tooling, including the following 15th century examples from Goubitz (2011):

P1040937Above: Sketch of extant tooled leather uppers, taken from Goubitz (2011, p264). Note the shape of the leather uppers, the position on the buckle, and the stamped detail on the leather.
P1040938  P1040939  P1040940Above: Three more sets of examples of stamped and incised leather 15th century patten uppers, taken from Goubitz (2011, pp264-5 and p261). Please note the botanical designs in the strap-end piece in the top left image (around the roundel) and in the example on the right.

While the pattern for the leather tooling I chose was closely inspired by a late 14th century pair of shoes in the Museum of London (Object ID number BC72[83]<1989> if you’re super keen to do a search of their online catalogue), several of the images above from the 15th century do show some form of botanical design incorporated into the decoration, so I did not feel that this was a huge stretch in terms of the 15th century aesthetic when the above designs were considered.


The majority of extant examples of pattens with wooden soles appear to use Alder, although there are a few examples with willow or poplar soles (Grew and Neergard, 2001). As this was my first attempted at pattens, and these woods were a little bit tricky or expensive to find, I chose to go with an alternative option. I chose Tasmanian oak because it is inexpensive, easily available to me, and like the other alder, a solid, yet not-to-heavy equivalent, of a similar light colour. While not exact, I felt that it was a reasonable substitute for an experimental project.


The buckles were some that I had bought some time ago from Medieval Fight Club. Egan and Pritchard (2002) note that copper alloys were used throughout the 15th century (and earlier) and that “limited analysis has indicated that brass, bronze and gunmetal were all used for frames of this series… no chronological trend is apparent” (p76), so I felt that brass buckles were an acceptable choice for this project.

Egan and Pritchard (2002, p72) also provided the following image of several buckles unearthed during an archaeological dig, which resemble the ones I chose fairly closely:


Above: Archaeological diagram of extant 15th century copper alloy buckles, found in Egan and Pritchard, (2002, p73). Note the shape!


The majority of extant wooden soled pattens that I came across had tacks of some sort to attach the leather uppers to the wooden soles. I chose brass tacks that could double as a decorative element (because why not make it look prettier?). As noted above, brass was a fairly common alloy during this period, and as it is relatively strong, I felt it would be an appropriate choice to hold the two elements together. The decorative “flower” element is a motif that appears on many forms of decorative art from this period, including belt mounts and jewellery. There are several examples of extant copper alloy domed belt mounts in Egan and Pritchard (2002) in a similar shape to the head of the tacks I chose (they’re even slightly domed like the tacks).


Archaeological diagrams of extant belt mounts with a similar design on the heads to the tacks I chose. From Egan and Pritchard (2002, p194)

They also depict a leather pouch though to date from the 14th or 15th century with almost identical mounts, showing that these style did in fact appear on leather items:


Another extant belt mount from Egan and Pritchard, (2002, p351).

They also depict a “tack/nail-like object” (p 243) made of a copper allow, with a very similar decorative motif on the top. They note that they are “rather robust compared to other dress mounts, there may be nails with decorated heads and the points broken off” (2002, p242):


Above: Extant tack as depicted in Egan and Pritchard (2002, p242). Very similar in style to the ones I chose for this project.

This combined body of evidence made me quite comfortable with using these pre-made tacks to secure the leather uppers to the wooden base. I also used the same tacks to provide some grip on the base of the wooden patten.

The making process

Initially, I decided to go with one of the simpler styles of pattens, as I had not done any woodwork for over a decade, and my leatherworking stills were still only newish (I had only completed three of four simple leather projects prior to the pattens, which had an emphasis on tooling rather than construction). Because of this, I decided to go with a style similar to the pair below, with a flat and slightly less shaped base:

Late medieval pattens from Lüneburg, Germany Late medieval pattens from Lüneburg, Germany detail

Above: A 15th century patten from Lüneburg, Germany, that inspired the design I used for my set of pattens.

I realised that would need to come up with a pattern for the pattens. To do this, I put on the shoes and hose I would most likely wear with the finished pattens, placed my foot upon a piece of thick card, and traced around the edge of my foot, resulting in a pattern for the sole. As I was wearing 15th century style shoes, the pattern for the pattens’ soles came out slightly elongated, and pointed at the toe (see pic below).

P1030292    P1030298

 Left: Tracing around my foot onto paper. Right: the shape of the wooden sole after cutting out and sanding

I traced the sole pattern onto the wood, and used a handsaw to cut it out. I sanded the edges to smooth them down, and added a small bevel around the lower edge, and rounded the upper edge slightly. I then used chisels to scrape away some of the wood where the heel of my foot would sit (to make it more comfortable than just a flat plank of wood) and hand sanded that back until it was smooth.

P1030300    P1030360

(Left): the slightly beveled edge of the sole. (Right): the segments of the heel carved out for extra comfort.

From here, I carefully marked out where I wanted the tacks on the base to be inserted (mostly around the heel) and hammered them in carefully. Luckily I had made the wooden sole thick enough that none of the tacks protruded through the top of the sole (I hadn’t thought of that previously, I was just lucky like that – but it is a useful consideration for the next pair)!

P1030373    P1030379

(Left): Marking out the positions for the tacks. (Right): the tacks on the soles once hammered in.

From here, I needed to pattern the uppers of the pattens. In order to do this, I placed my foot upon the wooden soles, and used a combination of paper and masking tape to come up with the pattern, as based on the rough shape of uppers on extant examples.

P1030307   P1030305   P1030302

Side and top views of view of the paper mockup used to create pattern for patten.

It resulted in the following pattern:


I marked where they were to be positioned on the wooden soles, for later. From here, I came up with a design for the decorative tooling, then once that was finalized, I transferred the pattern shape and decoration onto slightly damp leather, using a stylus with a small ball-shaped end (so as not to tear the leather). Once everything was marked on the leather, I cut out the separate pieces, resulting in the below pieces:

P1030311 P1030321

(Left):Tooling design for the pattens. For the opposite foot, I simply flipped the design over. (Right): Leather patten pieces all marked out and ready to tool.

I used a curved/bladed knife to incise the pattern into the leather (including the detail on the leaves), then a smooth, angled embossing tool to emphasise the edges and the leaf/vine pattern and to create the relief effect. From here, I used a small, textured stamp to fill in the open areas around the main design.

P1030328    P1030330

(Left): leather upper following incising and embossing, but prior to stamping. (Right): Leather upper shown following stamping.

At this stage, I scraped back a portion of the leather (from the back) for where the buckle was supposed to be stitched on (to create less bulk when the leather tab was folded around the buckle) and stitched the buckle on with a leather needle and unbleached linen thread. I followed this with two coats of Fiebings leather dye in tan, to colour the leather.

Once the dye had dried, I wiped any excess off and marked on the leather uppers where I would be hammering the tacks through and used an awl to create small holes. I positioned the leather uppers on the wooden soles (where I’d previously marked), and hammered in the tacks to attach the uppers to the soles.

shot of the tacks underneath and on the side  detail of the buckle  my pattens

Pictures of the finished pattens.

Assessment of the final product

I’m generally happy with the final pair, although I am still tempted to sand back the front portions of the base of the pattens, to give it a more elegant and less blocky shape. Similarly, I am also considering adding more tacks underneath for grip, or possibly an ankle strap, as I feel I may have positioned the uppers slightly off. For the next pair that I make, I’m going to try and source alder wood for the soles, and possible incorporate a leather hinge, as seen on several other extant examples.



 Cavasin, R., (1996) Leatherworking in the Middle Ages – Period Leather.  Accessed online 13 July 2014, URL: http://www.personal.utulsa.edu/~marc-carlson/leather/pl.html


Egan, G. & Pritchard, F. (2002) Dress Accessories: c.1150- c.1450. Boydell Press in association with the Museum of London, London.


Goubitz, O., (2007), Purses in Pieces: Archaeological finds of late medieval and 16th century leather purses, pouches, bags and cases in the Netherlands. SPA Uitgevers, Zwolle.


Goubitz, O. (2011), Stepping Through Time: archaeological footwear from prehistoric times until 1800, SPA Uitgevers, Zwolle.


Grew, F. & de Neergard, M., (2001), Shoes and Pattens, The Boydell Press, Woodbridge.


Institute of Material Culture of the Middle Ages and the early modern period, (2014), REALonline catalogue, accessed online 13 July 2014, URL: http://www.imareal.sbg.ac.at/home/


Lüneburger Stadtarchäologie, Zwei spätmittelalterliche Trippen aus Lüneburg, Accessed online July 2014, URL: http://www.stadtarchaeologie-lueneburg.de/mag/h-trippen.htm


Master Alexis of Piedmont, (1580) The Secretes of the Reverend Maister Alexis of Piemont containyng excellente remedies against diuerse diseases, woundes, and other accidentes. Newlie corrected and amended, and also somewhat enlarged in certaine places, whiche wanted in the first edition. Translated by William Warde. Imprinted at London, by Jhon Kyngston, for Jhon Wight. Accessed online 13 July 2014, URL: http://www.elizabethancostume.net/dyes/alexis.html


Museum of London (2014) Museum of London Online Collection. Accessed online 13 July 2014. URL: http://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/Online/object.aspx?objectID=object-311157&start=73&rows=1


N.A., Web Gallery of Art, Accessed online 13 July 2014, URL: http://www.wga.hu


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