Glossary of terms

A glossary of terms used in shoe making and leather trades

Bottoming
the shaping of insoles, heels and soles. The ‘bottom’ is the under part of a shoe.

Clicking
the process of cutting out the parts which make up a shoe upper.

Closing
the process of sewing together the parts which make up a shoe upper.

Cobbler
a repairer of shoes.

Cordwainer
an older, alternative name for a shoemaker, often implying a more skilled craftsman. High quality Cordwain or Cordovan leather, made from the hide of the mouflon (a hair sheep), and later goat and cattle hides, was made in Cordoba in southern Spain. It was imported in large quantities in the medieval period.

Currying
the currier cleans, softens and reduces the thickness of tanned leather using knives and oils. This improves the leather’s appearance and makes it supple.

Fellmonger
a dealer in hides and skins, who would prepare the skins ready for tanning.

Finishing
the processes involved in tidying the finished shoe and making it ready for sale. This involves trimming, scouring, colouring and polishing the shoe uppers and the edges of soles and heels.

Forepart
the front of the shoe.

Last
a model of the foot which acts as a mould around which the shoe is formed. From an Old English word for footstep.

Lasting (or making)
the process of attaching the uppers to the sole and heel. The leather is stretched over the metal or wood last and sewn.

Patten
an overshoe used to protect indoor shoes from muddy ground.

Rand
a strip of leather sewn into the seam between the upper and the sole and heel to help make the shoe more waterproof and to add strength to the seam. ‘Rand’ is the Dutch and German word for ‘welt’ and the two terms are sometimes confused.

Skiving
the process of cutting leather to reduce its thickness.

Stiffener
provides support and shape to the inside of the heel. Made from fabric or fibre board impregnated with waxes or plastics.

Straights
boots or shoes where there is no difference between left and right.

Tanning
a chemical process which converts raw animal hide or skin into leather by impregnating it with tannic acid (usually oak bark), fish oils and animal fats (Chamoising), or alum and salt (tawing).

Toe puff
stiffening for the toe end of a shoe to help protect the wearer’s toes.

Turnshoe
a shoe made inside out.

Upper
the parts of a boot or shoe which cover the top of the foot.

Vamp
the front section of a shoe upper.

Veldtschoen
an Afrikaans name for a shoe where the upper is flanged outward all round the shoe (instead of being ‘lasted in’). A water resistant shoe suitable for golf and country sports.

Waist
the narrow part of the sole under the arch of the foot.

Welt
a heavy leather strip shown round the margin of the upper, joining it to the insole. The sole is then attached to the welt with a second seam. Welted shoes were introduced in Britain around 1500.

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4 Responses to Glossary of terms

  1. Marcia Sayre says:

    Can you tell me what skills are in this ninth century quotation: “Cut the skills and the hides properly.” Thanks, M.

    • Staffordshire Museum Service says:

      It could mean shell – Old English ‘sciell’, ‘scill’ or ‘scyll’. Shell and leather would both be expensive materials and care would be needed to leave as little waste as possible when cutting out shapes, whether for shoes or decorative use. Would that make sense?

  2. pirrie Shiel. says:

    Thanks for the informative site
    I have occupations in the 19th century
    shoe binder
    shoe fitter
    shoe needle fitter can you help with an explanation please

    • shoead says:

      Binding and closing are the same process, i.e. sewing together the cut pieces to form the upper. Binding seems to be the older term. In mid-19th century Stafford closers tended to be men, while binders were usually women.

      Shoe fitter and shoe needle fitter are I think synonymous – this is a job associated with the introduction of the sewing machine from the 1850s. Shoe fitters helped the machinist by holding together the pieces of the upper while they were sewn together. Usually, two fitters would hold together the pieces of leather, while the machinists did the guiding and treadling.

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