Photo: Elizabeth Pratt

There exists a great wealth of fascinating images and artifacts for anyone who takes an interest in the history of footwear.  You might think of the exotic and elegant thongs worn by the ancient Egyptians, or the slippers worn for centuries over the bound feet of Chinese women, or the beautifully crafted hide Muklucks worn by the Arctic aboriginal people or maybe the dainty silk confections worn in court during the eighteenth century.  On the minds of SONSI members who attended the last event were Ghillie Brogues, not the shiny formalized version worn today but a much older version worn by the Celtic highlanders of Scotland.

Member Hall Train was gracious enough not only to let SONSI members back to his studio but also to teach everyone how to make these fascinating shoes.  Using his skills as a designer, illustrator, model-maker, and creative master of materials, Hall was able to recreate a museum quality replica from reference images of an artifact that was pulled out of a bog in Scotland.  Using this new expertise in ancient shoe making Hall was able to guide each member through the process of custom designing the footwear to each foot.  This process is certainly accurate; using the lines and angles of the foot to create each interwoven flap, allowing the single piece of leather (though the paper and foam stages must come first for perfecting the shape) to form perfectly, without gaps or creases, over the foot.  When spread out the pattern looks like a sort of monster or squashed animal, but folded and laced in to place the look is quite elegant.

A first glimpse of the ghillie brogue, along with the knowledge that it is quite ancient might lead to thinking that it is crude compared to the masses of shiny, individually purposed shoes we possess today.  But the process of creating these shoes reveals how perfectly fitted and adapted they are; from one unremarkable piece of leather, some hard work and a little help these shoes have been demonstrated to be entirely practical for climbing, walking on trails and probably walking through the very bogs that the artifact was found in.  Do any of our masses of shoes come close to this level of efficiency?

Learning (and comparing to our own lives) a relatively ordinary part of ancient life can be very fascinating, there are some brilliant documentaries and miles of museum galleries full of artifacts for this purpose.  But learning through the very processes that would have been used at the time gives a world more of appreciation and insight even perhaps that wonderful sense of connection.  Thanks to Hall and Kathryn for such a fantastic afternoon.  Part two of the shoe making will be on March 17th, please check your emails for details.

– Elizabeth

See more photos of this event.