One, Two, (Three) Buckle My Shoe

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Can you tell from my recent posts that I have plenty of time at home right now to catch up with my creative work—both sewing and writing? Today’s small project was switching the buckle from the single brown antique child’s shoe to the blue pair to make a match.

I found this adorable pair of Victorian blue leather child’s shoes several years ago. When I bought them, the left shoe was complete with soft metal buckle and original lacing. The right shoe had no buckle and was laced with a modern cream colored narrow ribbon. Wanting to improve the pair closer to original condition, I diligently searched for an antique replacement buckle, or for single shoes that would supply the needed buckle. Eventually, I found a sale-lot of single antique doll shoes, including one with the buckle I needed. Unfortunately, when I received them, I found that the buckle, though the same style, turned out to be smaller than the one on my blue child shoe. I sewed it on anyway, and made a new twisted crochet cotton lace for the right shoe. As you can see, the lace that I made is too light in color. Perhaps a tea bath could solve that problem. . . .

Finally, after another year or so of not really searching, I came across this single brown child’s shoe with the same style buckle. This time, I made sure that it would be the right size before purchasing. Since the shoes themselves are similar, but not identical, they make for an interesting comparison of this type of Victorian children’s shoes. These shoes are a common style for children that were made from around 1860 to 1900.

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Shoes were not shaped to fit the right and left foot until the 1850’s and later. Before that time, people shaped their leather shoes and boots to their feet by soaking them in water, then wearing them until they were dry. On my shoes, the sole of the single brown one shows minimal, if any, shaping as a left shoe. The larger blue shoes are just discernible as right and left.

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My camera is not capturing the true colors. The brown shoe is slightly lighter than shown here, while the blue pair is also lighter; more of a cadet blue.

The brown shoe is 4 1/2 inches long at the sole, and the blue pair is 5 inches long. Both shoes here are machine stitched. A machine for sewing shoe soles to the uppers was patented in 1858. Before that, making shoes was a craft, as they were made by hand, and sewing a hard leather sole to the upper took much effort.  Remember the visit of the shoe cobbler to the Wilder farm in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book, Farmer Boy? Wilder describes in detail how the cobbler made shoes for the family right there in their home.

Both of these shoes (above and below) have decorative variable zig-zag stitching surrounding the lacing and tops. Metal grommets are used for the lacing holes. Also of note is that the brown shoe is higher in front at the top, while the blue pair is slightly curved across the top. The brown shoe has a two part upper, while the blue shoes have a third part for the toe.

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Another intriguing difference is that the brown shoe has a tongue, while the blue shoes lace without a tongue underneath. I could not find a reference about when shoes for children in the 19th century began to have tongues. It is my understanding that laced shoes without tongues are generally earlier than those with tongues. However, other features of the brown shoe would indicate that it is earlier than the blue pair.

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Here is the pair of blue shoes with the right-size matching buckles. I like how they display much better now.   —And what to do with a single brown Victorian child’s shoe?

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Fear not! A single shoe (sans buckle) can be brought to good advantage in a home filled with Victorian antiques and dolls!

Carte-de-Visite toddler girl wearing white lace shoes (2)

This Late Victorian to Edwardian era girl wears white shoes similar to the ones I have shown. Hers appear to have hard leather soles with a low heel.