My husband has always been an outdoorsman. He loves nature and all things natural. So, it was a “natural” (pun intended) leap from that to his interest in the mountain men of the 1800’s.
Last year, on our annual trek to the mountains, we stopped at Bent’s Old Fort and my husband’s fascination grew. (It really is an awesome and incredibly educational site in case any of you are needing a field trip!)
He decided to grow out his hair and sign up for a summer event at Bent’s Fort where he gets to be a trapper for an entire weekend and learn the ways of the mountain men. It is actually considered a continuing education course and he will have to take a pre and post test (been a mighty long time since those college days!)
He is incredibly excited about this opportunity, but there is one very interesting aspect of this trip that has posed a challenge…EVERYTHING visible must be AUTHENTIC. That means that his clothes, razor, canteen, knife, EVERYTHING must be made from the same materials they would have been made from back in the 1800’s. No tennis shoes, no jeans, no modern weapons, no modern anything (unless you cannot see it).
Herein lies the challenge…don’t know many mountain men with a size 14 foot. Actually, I don’t know many men period with a size 14 foot. While my husband has only minimal trouble finding shoes these days (I remember the days when we would walk into the shoe store and ask for whatever they had in a size 14 and be lucky to have more than one style to choose from!), finding authentically crafted 1800’s footwear in a size 14 is literally IMPOSSIBLE.
However, my ever-resourceful husband was not deterred. “We’ll just MAKE them,” he declared!
He settled on making moccasins for a variety of reason and began scouring the internet in search of a do-it-yourself shoe pattern. He spent hours cutting out patterns that were supposed to fit his feet. I would sew them up with a heavy-duty twill to check fit, only to find that every single pair fell short of perfection. In fact, none of what he found online actually worked for his foot.
He finally landed on a simple pattern from a book at our local library (as soon as I find that book, I’ll post it here!) He cut it out on a brown paper bag, I sewed up a twill pair, and the shoe fit!
From there, he had to purchase the materials to make these moccasins. It required:
a glover’s needle
a skein of synthetic sinew
leather for the sole
leather for the upper
a Poundo board (optional)
(He chose a hard, but pliable leather for the sole and a leather that resembled deer hide for the upper.)
As you can see, the sole is a traced copy of his foot with a bit extra all the way around. (seeing this makes me think it has to be his oddly shaped foot that kept the other patterns from working!) The upper is the same copy but with extra on the back end and a split up the middle. There is most definitely a Right and a Left and both these he marked in pencil on the inside. Then, he used the leather punch to punch holes all the way around the sole of the moccasin.
Next, came the stitching. That was my job (and what a job it was!)
You start at the toe and whip stitch to the back of the moccasin, then repeat down the other side. This is no easy task. Since he had punched the thicker leather, I was able to pull my needle through there, but the upper leather was not punched (nor could it be since it needs to be eased a little to match as you sew.) I ended up pulling it through with pliers at each stitch. When my hands wore out, I sewed and my husband pulled the stitch through. I did the sewing in bits and pieces because of this. Quite often I had to stop due to pricking myself. One time I stitched halfway down one side before realizing I had the sole on wrong and had to undo the whole thing. This project was most definitely made up of blood, sweat, and tears.
You then cut the leather that is leftover on the back to make fringe.
And here’s the final product!