Pattens: Medieval Shoe Protection

I recently entered the Ice Dragon Pentathlon Arts and Sciences competition in the Kingdom of AEthelmearc.  I decided to summarize my entries in the next few posts.  I'll post links to the complete documentation at the end of each post.  

Pattens are a type of overshoe worn in order to raise a typical medieval shoe off the ground.  Medieval shoes were not waterproof and with no interior support or heel, it was probably difficult to walk in inclement weather.  Several styles of pattens were present in the 14th and 15th century and could be constructed of wood or leather.  According to Grew and Neergaard, pattens were not common in London until the late 14th century and were used as a fashion accessory of the privileged.

My creation

Leather and Wooden pattens from the Museum of London


This pair of women’s pattens is styled after a late 14th century hinged design.  The base is constructed of wood and the upper is constructed of leather with a sewn decoration of silk thread.  

As the style of shoe I normally wear has a long toe, typical of the style of the late 14th century, I chose to model the design of the wooden base after an example from the Museum of London that also has a long toe.

Using this design, I connected the two sole pieces with a strip of leather nailed into a recess and the seam.

For the upper, I used a leather heel strap made of double thickness stitched together with a binding stitch along the edges.  I chose a heel strap with three anchor points to the wooden base.  I have previously worn pattens with only two anchor points and found they became uncomfortable over time as the leather stretched.  I am hoping this design will provide for support for my foot. 

The pattern for my heel strap

Decorated toe straps from the late 14th century are common.

This embellishment could be painted, stamped, or stitched (the most common). Since there are few remaining threads associated with stitched decoration, I inferred the pattern of stitching.

I modeled the design after an example of a strap from the late 14th century with holes indicating a stitched design with diamonds.

A thin leather strip is attached between the nails and this strap acts a washer to prevent abrasion.



For the leather pieces, I used cow leather that is most likely Chrome tanned due to the thin gray line visible running through the middle of the flesh.  Vegetable tanned leather would have been the most common type of leather available in the late 14th century. 

I used a linen thread coated in beeswax for the binding stitches holding the layers together as this type of thread is strong and the wax repels water.

 Leather finds from medieval York also suggest the use of a plant based thread to sew leather, although the deterioration precluded the authors from specifically identifying a species.


Tests have shown many examples of pattens during this time are wood from the family Salicaceae, which includes willow and poplar.   I chose to use poplar for the wooden base although I do not have the knowledge to identify the exact species. 

The thread I used for decoration is a red filament silk.  This silk only has a slight twist, which is consistent with an example of a shoe from the Coppergate excavation in York.

  As the threads from the extant examples have not survived, I chose to use a red silk thread to mimic the red paint residue identified on other strap fragments.

Embroidered toe strap front (left) and back (right).

In extant examples, the leather is attached to the base using wrought nails.  I purchased the smallest wrought nails I could find with a rose head similar to the nail heads seen in extant patten fragments.  

These purchased nails turned out to have too large a diameter and undoubtedly would have split the wooden base. 

I ultimately used metal tacks that had a very similar appearance, but are much smaller.

The buckle mentioned by Grew and Neergaard in Shoes and Pattens from the City of London Boy’s School site is cataloged in the Museum of London LAARC database.  There are actually two buckles cataloged from this site (Object 1023 &1090) and both are of a lead alloy although no images are available of the artifacts.  I chose to use small lead free pewter buckles from Billy and Charlie’s Fine Pewter Goods.



The leather straps are constructed of double thickness leather stitched with the flesh sides together.  The edges of the pieces are sewn with a binding stitch overlapping the edges.  Although the seam of the extant, hinged patten is of a single thickness of leather, I used a double thickness in order to achieve the proper effect and stability of the piece.

I used a round knife to cut out all the pieces.  My round knife is a modern design, but has a similar crescent shape to knives seen in illuminations of the time. The small flap in the toe strap was cut using a small flat knife.

I decided to sew the silk decoration through only one layer of leather to prevent the silk from being in direct contact with my shoe that would cause deterioration through continued wear.  Because of the lack of threads, the true pattern cannot be verified; however, Grew and Neergaard believe that a back stitch was used to form a continuous line instead of a running stitch.  I am inclined to agree and have used this technique.

I created all stitch holes using a flat awl instead of a round awl, as the holes seen in the extant examples are slanted, not circular.  I found this shape made sewing much smoother than with a round awl, as the needle passed through the leather more easily.

Assembling the Pattens

The wooden base was constructed using modern cutting and sanding tools. 

After completing the leather pieces, I attached the leather pieces to the base.  I used a round awl to create pilot holes before nailing the pieces to the wooden base.

I first assembled the two halves of the base with the leather strip.  The double thickness of leather sits within the recess leaving some space, but this allows room for the nails so they do not dig into the bottom of the wearer’s shoe. 

When attaching the straps, I used the nail holes from extant originals as a guide.  These pieces show two nails holes in the heel strap and three in the toe strap.  A tack was also used to secure the toe strap across the foot as seen in an extant fragment.

The thin ‘washer’ strip was attached at the same time as the leather straps.  I began at the back of the heel and worked my way around the patten.  I also inserted additional nails around the edges to help secure the strip to the edge of the base.



Luisa Cogliati Arano, The Medieval Health Handbook: Tacuinum Sanitatis , (New York: George Braziller) 1976. Ian R. Carlisle, Quita Mould, and Esther Cameron,

Leatherand Leatherworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York, (York: Council for British Archaeology) 2003, accessed February 2013,

I. Marc Carlson, “Leatherworking in the Middle Ages,” accessed October 2012,

Francis Grew and Margrethe de Neergaard, Medieval Finds from Excavations in London : 2 Shoes and Pattens, (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press) 2004.

Mendel Hausbuch, 1426-1549, Amb 317.2 °, Nuremberg City Library, Nuremberg, Germany, accessed February 2013,


Buckle; Patten, 1066-1485, lead, leather, wood, BOY86[1023]<197>,Museum of London, accessed February 2013,

Patten, 14th-15th century, Institut für Realienkunde, Regensburg, Germany,, accessed October 2012,

Link to complete documentation in PDF:

Pattens Documentation