Valerie Renfro

A Pair of Shoes

16th Century Italian Pantoufles 

Being stuck in a bit of a rut with my current embroidery project, I was inspired by the “Perfectly Period Pink” mini-challenge to do something completely different and outside of my comfort zone. I’m hoping that this little endeavour will get the creativity flowing again! My projects are usually embroidery and lace related, but this project involved doing some leather work and using power tools!

I followed the instructions on this website for constructing my shoes. I decided to make this lower heeled shoe instead of chopines for two reasons. First, I am somewhat lacking in grace and thought I might be less likely to kill myself in these. Secondly, I needed easily available materials, which meant using cork yoga blocks which are less stable for chopines but do-able for this shoe.

The pink velvet for the shoes was donated by my friend Christine and was at one time a cape for her little girl. The leather was re-used from discarded armor bits. I feel like Bob the Builder. “Reduce, Recycle, Reuse.” 

Here are some pictures of me working on the project:

Cutting the cork block in half for 2 shoes.

Cutting the excess cork away with a handsaw.

This is what they looked like after the cutting was done. Everything outside the pattern lines was sanded off in the next stage.

Sanding down the cork to shape. After this, I used a Dremel and sanding paper to further detail the shape.

Finished cork bases.

Rough cut leather insoles and leather outsoles. 

Each of the leather pieces had to be cut to size and an awl had to be used to punch stitching holes. The insoles were time consuming to punch because the hole went in the bottom and out the side. A curved awl would've been helpful but they didn't have one at the local leather/craft stores.

The vamp cut out and starting to sew onto the leather, shown next to gold trim.

I hand-sewed the gold trim onto both sides of the ribbon and then gathered it to make it curly.

Attaching the curled ribbon trim to the vamps.

After this point things got down to the wire and I put down the camera and starting sewing like a madwoman! I hand-sewed the velvet to the insoles, which for me was the hardest and most time consuming part of the project. Then, I glued the insoles to the cork bases and let them dry. After they dried, I applied glue to the rest of the cork bases, and pulled down the fabric tight and let it dry. I then added more gold trim around the entire insole because I thought it made it pop a little more. The last step was adding on the out-sole/bottom leather piece and Voila, I had Pink Pantoufles!

A Note about Pantoufles
These shoes were popular in both Florence & Venice and can be seen in both period art and extant examples. They are lower heeled than Chopines and John Stubbes, in his Anatomy of Abuses (1583) describes them as being a finger or two inches or more from the ground, made of cork and covered in white leather, silk or velvet.

These are the pink ones that inspired my choice: Jacopo Zucchi’s The Toilet of Bathsheba painted after 1573, in the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome. (Raised Heels Website)

And another similar pair in white: Giorgio Vasari and Giovanni Stradano, The Arrival of Leo X in Florence
1559-60 in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence. (Raised Heels Website)

And finally, two extant shoes : the first in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the second, which inspired my ribbon design (there are several others done with ribbon as well) is in the Museo Stibbert, Florence, Italy (Raised Heels Website).

Banner image taken from: Domenico Ghirlandaio, Birth of St John the Baptist, 1486-90, Cappella Tornabuoni, Santa Maria Novella, Florence.


© 2001 - 2012 Anabella Wake (Known in the SCA as Bella Lucia da Verona) I hold copyright on all information on these pages, and on all images of clothing/costume that I have made. You are allowed to make one facsimile copy for your own use provided that this notice is included on each page. Please ask permission to copy, disseminate and/or distribute my work - I would like to know when and how you are finding this information of use.