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Hinged Pattens

Updated on July 13, 2011

Patten Documentation

This is the historical documentation for a pair of medieval hinged pattens which I made for myself. Of course, after lots of work--which included having my USB key die, so I had to stay up really late the night before an event to retype it--they cancelled the Arts & Sciences competiion at the event I was attending. So I just started wearing them instead.

I should point out that since this documentation never went through the judging process, it may not pass muster, so quote at your own risk.

Written Documentation

What Are They?

These are most commonly-referred to as pattens, or, more specifically, hinged pattens.

Pattens in the middle ages came in two functional styles: hinged and solid.

They came with various forms of risers for height, including:

1) wooden wedges with one at the heel and one at the ball of the foot (and occasionally one at the toe as well);

2) a metal riser;

3 & 4) no rise at all (the patten is a solid block of wood (3) or leather (4) only one to three inches thick);

5) a solid platform of more than three inches in height, often sculpted, which is more commonly known as a chopine.

All pattens had at least a toe-strap/toe-cup. In some cases the toe-strap was adjustable. Some pattens also had a heel strap which functioned as a heel cup (such as on the leather pattern), or sometimes the heel strap or an attached lace came around the ankle and fastened like a modern sandal.

(Image from: Footwear of the Middle Ages. “Pattens, Clogs and Wooden Soled Shoes” )

Why Were They Worn?

Pattens are the medieval equivalent of galoshes. Shoes in the middle ages were all leather and probably none too waterproof. Pattens kept your shoes up out of the water, and thus kept your shoes and your feet dry. And for women, the extra elevation helped keep the hems of their dresses out of the mud and muck and wet.

For the re-enactor, they have two added bonuses: they reduce the wear and tear of your leather-soled reproduction shoes and they keep you from feeling rough terrain (such as gravel) through the thin soles of your shoes. I say these are benefits for re-enactors because I don't know how much of a benefit they were to medieval people. Compared to the price that re-enactors pay for reproduction shoes, most shoes in the middle ages cost people much less money, so there was probably less worry over wearing them out. I cannot find the reference now, but I once read that the life-expectancy of the average medieval shoe was estimated to be between three to four months.

Secondly, medieval people were used to walking around in leather-soled shoes all of the time, and their feet were probably tougher for it (just as people who walk barefoot develop less-sensitive feet). So they probably didn't appreciate the comfort of pattens too often, as we today do. (Gravel was also not very common in the middle ages, as it is today.)

Regardless of whether or not medieval people also liked to reduce the wear on their shoes and bruise their feet less, they certainly wore pattens for another reason: fashion. The decoration on many of the pattens found in the Museum of London digs[2] would seem to indicate they were a dress accessory in their own right, and later the invention of platform pattens-more commonly known as "chopines"-took pattens completely out of the realm of practical and turned them into pure fashion and a symbol of status.

Who Would Have Worn Pattens?

Because of their utilitarian nature, everyone would have worn pattens (with the wealthy wearing the most decorated and/or least practical styles). However, Shoes and Pattens theorizes that pattens first appeared among the nobility, then were quickly thereafter adopted by the rest of society.[3] In medieval paintings, men are just as likely as women to be depicted wearing pattens.

When Were They Worn?

"The earliest patten fragment in the collection [of the Museum of London] is part of a plain toe strap... dating from the early 12th century, but the earliest complete patten... belongs to the early 13th century. ... By far the largest group of wooden pattens may be assigned to the second half of the 14th century."[4] The Museum of London only reports pattens through the 15th century--because that is the upper limit of their studies in the Shoes and Pattens book--but pattens certainly existed into the late 18th century,[5] so I think we are safe in assuming they covered the periods in between.

The presented pattens, based on their style, would have been most commonly found in the early 15th century, although they might have also been seen in the late 14th.

Where Were They Worn?

England, Germany and Italy all have extant examples (as presented in the “Pictorial Documentation” section attached), while Dutch, French, Flemish and Bohemian artists all depict them in paintings in the 15th century. Perhaps a better question would be “Where were they not worn?”

The presented pattens were copied from a display patten in the Museum of London, however I seriously doubt that the English had a patent on this style of patten.

How do Mine Differ from Medieval Pattens?

Soles: My soles are made of pine (pressure-treated 1x6 if you wish to get technical). I made them from pine because it is not only an affordable, readily-available wood, but for me it was completely free (as I made these from scrap).

The pattens recovered in the Museum of London digs consisted of beech, willow, alder and poplar.[6] And it wasn't until the mid-15th century that regulations were relaxed in England allowing the limited use of aspen, due to its favored status for (more useful) arrows.[7] Pattens made in other countries may have been made from different woods, depending on what trees were available.

Some of the woods used in English pattens was not very durable,[8] but all of it was lightweight, which implies that lightness was the first requirement of wood for a patten-something which the pine soles of my pattens accomplish.

I stained my soles in the hopes that it would better preserve the wood, however Shoes and Pattens is curiously silent on whether or not any of the pattens discovered appear to have been stained or painted. In the painting Conversation (see the last picture in the "Pictorial Documentation" section), the seated man's pattens appear to have black soles.

Hinge: "Normally the hinge was a double-thickness leather strip...."[9] However, Shoes and Pattens shows two hinged pattens with only a single-thickness hinge. This is in addition to the display patten in the Museum of London which I copied (thus why I only used a single layer).

Nails: I used steel nails as God-only-knows where you could now find iron nails, such as they used in the middle ages. However, my steel nails are starting to show some rust which adds historic character, I think. Actually, they are carpet tacks, which I chose because I thought their irregular heads made them appear handmade.

Leather: Again, Shoes and Pattens is curiously quiet as to whether or not the leather on the extant pattens appeared to have been dyed or left a natural state. On more than on picture that I found, however (not included here), the toe-straps of pattens appears to be black, or at least dark. Other pattens, however, appear to have light-colored leather.

"In the 12th and 13th centuries, and again in the early 15th, the straps were plain, but the broad bands of the late 14th century provided an ideal opportunity for embellishment. Nearly all carry some decoration, however slight. One... has a narrow vertical stripe, once painted in brilliant red."[10]

So, as an early 15th century patten, it is not out of place that my patten should bear no decoration, however, I think it could have also decorated it with stamps and/or paint and/or decorative stitching of the leather around the edges and it too would not have been out of place for its time.

Because it can not be known how much the leather shrank or swelled in its burial,[11] there is no weight/thickness that can be gauged from the extant pieces, other than to say they are from "stout cattle-hide",[12] which is the same as what I have used for mine.

Ankle strap: Made to match the Museum's display piece, with the exception that I only did one line of stitching instead of two at the ankle strap. This was failure on my part to see two lines of stitching on the picture I had in the garage with me, and had I another pair to make, I would do two lines of stitching for durability.

Toe Strap: Again, I copied the toe-strap of the display copy at the Museum of London, which split the toe-strap and had one strap on either side of the hinge. However, where toe-straps exist or show clear evidence of existing in the extant hinged pattens featured in Shoes and Pattens, the toe-strap is always placed forward of the hinge.

Personally, I greatly prefer this style of having the toe-strap on either side of the hinge because, to my mind, it makes more sense from an engineering standpoint. When the foot exerts upward pressure on the toe strap, the pressure should be fairly eventually distributed to the sole on either side of the hinge, lessening the strain on the hinge itself.

I broke with the Museum's replica at the fastening of the toe strap. The Museum's replica had a slit with a fastening nail, as do all of the pattens in Shoes and Pattens which have an adjustable toe-strap. However, I immediately saw the great disadvantage to this, as the replica's fastening nail was missing and the patten did not work at all without the nail to hold the toe strap together. I asked myself, "What are the odds that I will lose that stupid nail?" I decided the odds were very high, so I went with a buckle instead.

I am still perplexed as to why the slit-and-nail method seems to have been the exclusive method of fastening toe-straps on pattens. Shoes from this time period exhibited buckles more than any other time before,[13] so the argument that buckles were expensive and not in much use doesn't seem likely.

As it stands, I have several different pairs of shoes, which makes the adjustable toe strap handy, and I have not seen any reason why a buckle should not be used; it works (and stays attached).

Buckles: Buckles on shoes (there are no buckles associated with any of the pattens featured in the Shoes and Pattens book, although it is assumed that some must have had buckles at the ankle straps) were of iron or lead alloys (although one that was found was copper), and a number of them were plated with tin, which should have given them a silver appearance.[14]

My buckles are made of... something. My husband reckons they are an alloy of whatever was laying around cheap. "Pot metal" he calls it. One set of buckles is brass-colored, while the other set is nickel-colored. This is because I used buckles recycled from old belts (recycling being very period, mind you) and I couldn't come up with four buckles of similar size and shape in the same plating. So I came up with two of brass and two of nickel that were pretty well matched, and I put the two brass buckles on one patten and the two nickel on the other. To keep things even, I used brass-colored rivets on the patten with brass-colored buckles and nickel-colored rivets on the other.

I used a strap-catch with the buckle at the ankle straps because 1) I had them (the buckles I used at the toe-straps did not have matching catches, unfortunately) and 2) I like them. I have seen no evidence that strap-catches were used in conjunction with buckles on shoes, however they were used on belts, as evidenced by one on Katherine Beauchamp's belt on her tomb effigy in St. Mary's Church, Warwick, England.

(Note that there is one catch visible over one of her flower rivets. After studying an enlargement of this picture, I have decided that there had to have been a second catch just before the turn in her belt and that this has broken off the effigy.)

Rivets: While sewing a leather strap onto itself in order to affix a buckle, or threading a buckle onto a strap and tying the strap off on itself by way of a slit in the strap, appear to have been the most common methods of affixing buckles, one buckle and strap found in the Museum of London digs did contain a single rivet.[16]

My husband, an armorer and blacksmith, tells me that rivets in the middle ages would have been iron. Alas, mine are quick rivets-made from whatever quick rivets are made of. Even if I could have procured an iron rivet, hammering them on an anvil until they flattened out properly is not my idea of how to get a pair of pattens made before my husband returns home to find me using all of his power tools and leatherworking equipment (with the heavy hand and naiveté of someone who has used neither before).

Bonus Explainer: How Do You Walk in the Things?

For any style of patten-either with a rise or without-that lacks a hinge, it is required that there not be an ankle strap (although there can be a heel cup), because the heel itself must rise off the sole of the patten in order to flex the foot in any way approaching a normal manner. In short, these shoes function almost identical to modern flip-flops.

When a hinge is present, the heel of the shoe may be secured to the foot and the hinge allows the sole of the patten to flex as the foot steps, thus allowing it to function similar to a modern rubber sole. However the hinge must be placed exactly under the ball of the foot, for it is this part of the foot which flexes the most.

For pattens with a modest rise, either from an iron ring or a wooden wedge, you actually strike the ground with the back edge of the sole or the back edge of the riser, then rock the foot forward.[17] Even my no-rise pattens bear out this wear pattern if you examine the bottoms. There is wear on the outside edge of the heels were I strike the ground with that side of my foot first (I do this more than most people), then wear again at the leading edge of the hinge, as that edge takes my full weight just before the other side of the hinge comes down-a bit more solidly. Then there is a small amount of wear at the very tip of the toe as I push off going forward.

Both the hinged and the raised pattens allow something very close to a normal gait while wearing them. In fact, I had no trouble at all adapting to wearing mine (although I think the lack of arch support and the slightly unnatural way my arch has to flex while in them is the cause of the arch strain that I had after wearing them and walking in them intermittently for about 5 hours).

Chopines, however, did not allow for a very natural gait while wearing them. They all lacked an ankle strap, for the heel had to move, but because of their often precarious height, there was little to no ability to rock the foot from heel to toe, as is natural, and so the foot must have had to have been put down rather solidly. I imagine women would have taken small steps and had a shuffling gait (shuffling because of the effort it took to hold those large ones on!), not unlike that of Morticia Addams. So it should be no surprise that with the higher platform soles, women required a servant to help steady them as they walked.[18]

What I'd Do Differently

My pattens work quite well with my 18th century moccasins, but not very well with my medieval shoes. This is probably because my moccasins come up much higher on my heel--about where the strap on the pattens hit. My medieval shoes, however, sit a bit lower and are a bit looser in the heel. When I walk in the pattens, my shoe ends up sliding off my heel, so I don't wear the pattens unless it's going to be very wet and I don't have far to walk.

I would like to make myself another pair--one without an ankle strap--to wear with my medieval shoes that don't work with the sandal-style.

Also, walking in the sandal-style pattens can cause foot fatigue--especially in the arches--because they do not flex with the foot. This alters your gait slightly and causes the fatigue when you walk any distance. I think the flip-flop style pattens would greatly reduce this problem, as the foot can flex independently of the patten’s sole.

Pictorial Documentation

Museum of London Replica

This patten was part of an interactive display. I assume that it was based on some extant patten in their collection, although it was not represented in their book Shoes and Pattens. However, that does not necessarily mean that this patten is not based on something in their collection, as I saw things in the museum which are not detailed in any of their books, and likewise not everything in their books was on display.[19]

Italian chopine from 1580-1620

As you can see, this chopine has ceased to be practical; not only is it harder to walk in than less elevated pattens, but it is completely covered in velvet and lace (I believe the round objects to be metal studs, like upholstery tacks). This was footwear that was meant to be worn indoors, not outside in filthy streets. No doubt it was worn for the same reason women wear high heels today.[20]

Compare these modern shoes to the velvet Italian chopine.

Compare these modern shoes to the velvet Italian chopine.
Compare these modern shoes to the velvet Italian chopine.

Chopines from 16th century Venice

They are 22 inches high.[21]

And just in case you think medieval people were weird for wearing chopines....

And just in case you think medieval people were weird for wearing chopines....
And just in case you think medieval people were weird for wearing chopines....

Patten from Lueneburg, Germany, 14th or 15th century

A patten with an odd arrangement of part of a buckle and a fastening-nail.

According to the Babel Fish translation of the German website where the picture was located, the white part is metal and they refer to it working as something like a buckle.[22]

The Fifth Foolish Virgin

German copper-plate engraving from Germany, dated to before 1483. Martin Schongauer, artist.

Note her pattens, which have even longer toes than her shoes. They are still practical enough to wear outside, although the fashion of the elongated toes just barely makes them functional.[23]

Pattens with a metal sole from the American Revolutionary War

There was one patten from the Museum of London digs which also had a metal base, although in a different configuration. Note the wear on the heel which shows that the wearer first struck the ground with her heel (pattens having become almost exclusively a woman's accessory), thus rocking the pattens back to front as she walked in order to obtain a more natural stride.[24]

A hinged patten from the Museum of London digs

Missing its toe-strap. Its hinge is of a single thickness of leather.[25]

Patten Toe Strap

A detail from an extant patten showing the two sections of the toe strap, separated, then fastened together with the nail.[26]

Extant Patten from Museum of London Digs

An extant hinged patten with a non-adjustable toe-strap, which has been split on the sides, presumably for a purely decorative effect.[27]

Leather Patten

Several layers of leather were cut, compiled and stitched together.[28]

It has been theorized that this style might have served as a sandal (albeit you still wore your hosen while wearing it), rather than as a patten.[29] While there are pictures of people wearing a patten sans a shoe, it is not possible to tell if their hosen is soled. In some cases hosen had soles and were worn as a shoe; it would only stand to reason that people who wore their hosen as a shoe would also wear a patten over said hosen for the same reason people wore pattens over shoes.

Conversation

15th century, possibly French.[30] The man on the right is wearing slipper-like pattens, but no shoes.

Endnotes

  1. Image from "What Are They?": Footwear of the Middle Ages. "Pattens, Clogs and Wooden Soled Shoes"
  2. Shoes and Pattens, p. 99
  3. Ibid, p. 91
  4. Ibid, pp. 91-92
  5. Collector's Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Revolution, p.124
  6. Shoes and Pattens, pp. 97-98
  7. Ibid, p. 99
  8. Ibid pp. 98-99
  9. Ibid, p. 93
  10. Ibid, p. 99
  11. Ibid, p. 138
  12. Ibid, p. 99
  13. Ibid, pp. 2-3
  14. Ibid, p. 75
  15. Image from "How Do These Differ from Medieval Pattens": From the author's personal collection.
  16. Shoes and Pattens, p. 75
  17. Ibid, p. 93
  18. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Chopine."
  19. From the author's personal collection.
  20. The Bata Shoe Museum. "Chronicles of Riches."
  21. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Chopine."
  22. Lüneburger Stadtarchäologie. "Zwei spätmittelalterliche Trippen aus Lüneburg"
  23. WebGallery of Art. "The Fifth Foolish Virgin."
  24. Collector's Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Revolution, p.124
  25. Shoes and Pattens, p. 98
  26. Ibid, p. 96
  27. Ibid, p. 96
  28. Ibid, p. 96
  29. Ibid, pp. 91, 101
  30. Conversation. Description of the picture from: Mesterínde Karen Larsdatter. "Pattens"

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