what is a shoemaker called

Shoemakers: Craftsmen of the Middle Ages

What is a shoemaker called? Shoemakers were highly esteemed craftsmen during the Middle Ages, known for their expertise in creating footwear that was both functional and stylish. They played a vital role in medieval society, providing shoes for people of all social classes, from peasants to aristocrats.

Medieval shoemaking was not just a trade, but an art form, requiring skill, precision, and creativity. In this article, we explore the world of shoemaking in the Middle Ages, from the techniques and tools used by craftsmen to the different styles and designs of footwear that were popular during this period.

Key Takeaways:

  • Shoemakers were highly skilled craftsmen during the Middle Ages, known for their expertise in creating functional and stylish footwear.
  • Medieval shoemaking was an art form, requiring skill, precision, and creativity.
  • Shoemakers provided shoes for people of all social classes, from peasants to aristocrats.

The Role of a Shoemaker in Medieval Society

In medieval times, shoemakers played a significant role in society by providing footwear for all social classes. Known as a crucial profession, shoemaking was learned through an apprenticeship system that often lasted for several years.

Shoemakers were often required to create a variety of footwear styles, from practical and durable shoes for peasants to intricately-designed footwear for nobility. They were skilled at selecting the right materials to use, including leather, wood, and metal, to produce footwear that would last.

During the Middle Ages, shoemakers were highly respected for their work and were considered essential members of society. They worked closely with their clients to create custom-made shoes that would meet their individual needs and preferences. This close relationship often led to strong bonds between the shoemaker and their clients.

The Role of a Shoemaker in Medieval Society

Shoemakers acquired their skills through a rigorous apprenticeship system that usually lasted several years. Young men often began as apprentices to experienced shoemakers, gradually learning the techniques and skills required to produce quality footwear.

Shoemakers’ guilds were formed during the Middle Ages to regulate the craft and maintain quality standards. These guilds imposed strict training and apprenticeship requirements on those who wanted to become shoemakers, helping to ensure that only skilled craftsmen were producing footwear.

Overall, the role of shoemakers in medieval society cannot be overstated. They were highly skilled craftsmen who provided an essential service to all social classes, and their workmanship and expertise set a standard for quality that has continued to be admired throughout the centuries.

Shoemaking Techniques and Tools

Shoemaking in the Middle Ages was a highly skilled craft that required a deep understanding of materials, tools, and techniques.

The process involved several stages, starting with taking precise measurements of the client’s feet and creating a pattern. The shoemaker would then cut the leather or other materials to size and shape, and use a variety of specialized tools to stitch, glue, and bind the different parts of the shoe together.

One of the most essential pieces of equipment was the last, a wooden form that was used to shape the shoe. The shoemaker would carefully select a last that matched the customer’s foot size and shape, allowing for a perfect fit.

The techniques used by medieval shoemakers varied depending on the location and time period. In Europe, for example, the turnshoe method was popular, where the upper and sole were stitched inside out and turned right side out after stitching. In contrast, in the Middle East, the sewn-on-sole method was used, where the sole was sewn to the upper rather than being turned inward.

Other tools used by shoemakers included awls for piercing holes, knives for cutting leather, and hammers for driving in the nails or pegs that held the shoe together. The careful and precise use of these tools was critical to creating high-quality footwear that was both functional and aesthetically pleasing.

Styles and Designs of Medieval Footwear

The styles and designs of medieval footwear varied greatly depending on the social class and purpose of the shoes. Shoes for peasants were often made from simple materials such as wool or leather and were designed for durability and practicality. On the other hand, shoes for the wealthy were often highly decorative and made from finer materials such as silk or velvet.

One popular style of shoes during the Middle Ages was the turnshoe, which was made by turning the leather inside out and stitching the edges together. This design allowed for a snug fit and was often used for hunting or other outdoor activities.

Another popular style of shoe during this time was the pattens, which were wooden shoes fitted with a leather or fabric upper. Pattens were worn to protect the feet from mud and other hazards on the ground and were popular among both men and women.

Shoemakers during the Middle Ages worked closely with their clients to create custom-made shoes that were both functional and stylish. They took great pride in their craftsmanship, often incorporating decorative elements such as embroidery, beadwork, or metal embellishments.

Examples of Medieval Shoe Styles:

Style Description
Poulaine A long, pointed shoe that was popular in the 14th and 15th centuries. Poulaines were often so long that they had to be fastened to the legs with chains to prevent tripping.
Crakow A shoe with a long, pointed toe that was popular in the 15th century. Crakows were often so long that they had to be fastened to the shins with chains or laces.
Chopine A high platform shoe that was popular in the 16th century. Chopines were worn by women and could be as high as 20 inches, requiring the wearer to use canes for balance.
Hessian A boot with a low heel and pointed toe that was popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Hessians were worn by military officers and were often decorated with tassels or embroidery.

Overall, medieval footwear was a reflection of the time’s culture, social status, and practical needs. The craftsmanship involved in creating these shoes is a testament to the skill and expertise of shoemakers during the Middle Ages.

Shoemakers’ Guilds and Trade Regulations

Shoemakers’ guilds were established in the Middle Ages to regulate and supervise the craft of shoemaking. These guilds were responsible for maintaining quality standards, setting prices, and controlling the training of apprentices.

Membership in a shoemakers’ guild was restricted to those who had completed a formal apprenticeship, and master shoemakers had to meet strict standards to become guild members. The guild system helped maintain high-quality craftsmanship and ensured that experienced shoemakers were in charge of training new apprentices.

Regulations imposed by shoemakers’ guilds included:
Price controls: Guilds set prices that shoemakers could charge for their services to prevent price gouging and ensure fair competition among craftsmen.
Quality control: Guilds monitored the quality of shoes to ensure that they met certain standards, thus protecting the reputation of the craft and the interests of customers.
Training and apprenticeships: Guilds supervised apprenticeships and ensured that new shoemakers received proper training to maintain the integrity of the craft.

Overall, shoemakers’ guilds played a vital role in the medieval economy by regulating and promoting the craft of shoemaking. They also helped maintain a strong sense of community among shoemakers and ensured that the craft was passed down from generation to generation.

Famous Shoemakers of the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages saw the rise of skilled craftsmen, including shoemakers who were highly revered for their craftsmanship and expertise. Some shoemakers gained significant recognition for their exceptional skills and contributions to the shoemaking industry. Let’s take a look at some famous shoemakers of the Middle Ages:

Name Country Notable Achievements
Hugues Krafft France Known for creating shoes for the French royal family and high nobility.
Pierre Porret France Created shoes for the Archbishop of Reims and was appointed as the official shoemaker of the King of France.
Kanō Sanraku Japan Known for his intricate and detailed work on leather shoes and sandals, and his designs that incorporated elements of Japanese art.

These famous shoemakers of the Middle Ages not only left a lasting impact on the craft of shoemaking but also contributed to the development of unique styles and designs that are still celebrated today.

Evolution of Shoemaking Techniques Beyond the Middle Ages

The art of shoemaking continued to evolve and adapt beyond the Middle Ages, as innovations in technology and materials transformed the craft. Modern shoemaking techniques have resulted in increased production efficiency and the ability to create shoes with greater precision and consistency.

One of the most significant advancements in shoemaking was the introduction of mass production techniques, which revolutionized the industry in the early 20th century. The assembly line method of production allowed for shoes to be made quickly and cheaply in large quantities, making them more accessible to the general public.

In recent years, advancements in technology have further transformed the industry, with the use of 3D printing, laser cutting, and digital design becoming increasingly common in shoemaking. These modern techniques have allowed for greater experimentation with shoe design and materials, resulting in the development of innovative and sustainable footwear.

Despite these advancements, traditional shoemaking techniques are still employed by many craftsmen today, who value the artistry and precision involved in creating shoes by hand. The merging of traditional and modern techniques allows for a balance between quality craftsmanship and the demands of mass production.

Shoemaking Traditions Around the World

The craft of shoemaking has a rich history, with each culture developing its distinct style and techniques. From the elegant slippers of the Ottoman Empire to the intricately embroidered shoes of China, cultural footwear offers a glimpse into the diversity and creativity of shoemaking around the world.

Region Traditional Footwear Distinctive Features
India Jutti Handmade leather shoes decorated with intricate embroidery and beads
Mexico Huarache Sandals made from woven leather or huarache fibers
Mongolia Deel boots High boots made from sheepskin or leather with decorative tassels and embroidery

Shoemaking traditions reflect the culture and lifestyle of a particular region. For example, the sturdy boots of northern Europe were designed to withstand harsh weather conditions, while the lightweight sandals of South Asia were created for hot and humid climates.

Modern shoemaking has continued to evolve, incorporating elements from different cultures and traditions. Today, many shoemakers draw inspiration from the past, using traditional materials and techniques to create unique and contemporary shoes.

Preserving and Celebrating the Legacy of Shoemaking

Shoemaking has been an essential craft throughout history, and its legacy is worth preserving. With the rise of modern shoe production, traditional shoemaking techniques and craftsmanship have been at risk of being lost forever. However, through the efforts of individuals, organizations, and museums, the heritage of shoemaking is being kept alive.

The preservation of shoemaking heritage is important for many reasons. It honors the skills, achievements, and cultural significance of the craft and provides a window into the past. It also promotes the value of traditional craftsmanship and highlights the importance of preserving artisanal skills for future generations.

One notable initiative in preserving shoemaking heritage is the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery in the UK. The museum has an extensive collection of shoes spanning the last 900 years, showcasing the evolution of shoemaking techniques and styles. It also hosts events and exhibitions related to footwear and shoemaking, allowing visitors to learn about the craft and appreciate its history.

Another notable initiative is the Italian Footwear Association, which works to promote and protect the Italian footwear industry’s heritage. The association supports traditional shoemaking techniques and ensures quality standards are maintained. It also encourages innovation and collaboration between artisans and designers to create modern shoes that incorporate traditional techniques.

Overall, the efforts made in preserving and celebrating shoemaking heritage are essential in keeping the craft alive and reminding us of its cultural and historical significance. Through these initiatives, we can appreciate the artistry and skill involved in traditional shoemaking and ensure its legacy for future generations.


In conclusion, the art and craft of shoemaking played a significant role in the development of medieval societies. Shoemakers were highly skilled craftsmen who took pride in their work, producing custom-made shoes for different social classes. Their guilds helped maintain quality standards and regulated competition to ensure the craft’s sustainability.

The techniques and tools used by shoemakers during the Middle Ages were both innovative and intricate, requiring years of apprenticeship and practice. The different styles and designs of footwear reflected the era’s fashion and the wearer’s social status.

Today, shoemaking techniques have evolved, and modern production processes have replaced traditional craftsmanship. However, the art and heritage of shoemaking remain significant, with diverse cultures worldwide continuing to preserve and celebrate their unique shoemaking traditions.

Through initiatives such as events, exhibitions, and museums, we can continue to appreciate the beauty and history of shoemaking and learn about the remarkable craftsmen who helped shape the craft into what it is today.


Q: What was the role of shoemakers in the Middle Ages?

A: Shoemakers in the Middle Ages were responsible for creating footwear for people of different social classes. They played a crucial role in society by providing essential footwear for people’s everyday needs.

Q: How did shoemakers acquire their skills during the Middle Ages?

A: Shoemakers in the Middle Ages typically acquired their skills through apprenticeships. They would serve as apprentices under experienced shoemakers to learn the craft and gain expertise in shoemaking techniques.

Q: What were some of the techniques and tools used by shoemakers in the Middle Ages?

A: Shoemakers in the Middle Ages used various techniques such as pattern-making, cutting leather, sewing, and assembly. Their tools included knives, awls, hammers, and shoemaking lasts, which were wooden or metal molds used to shape the shoes.

Q: What were the different styles and designs of medieval footwear?

A: Medieval footwear varied in style, shape, and materials used. Shoemakers worked closely with their clients to create custom-made shoes, taking into account individual preferences and social status. Shoes could be decorated with intricate patterns and embellishments.

Q: How did shoemakers’ guilds influence the craft during the Middle Ages?

A: Shoemakers’ guilds were formed during the Middle Ages to regulate the trade and maintain quality standards. These guilds imposed regulations on the craft, ensured fair competition among craftsmen, and protected the interests of shoemakers.

Q: Who were some notable shoemakers of the Middle Ages?

A: There were several famous shoemakers in the Middle Ages who made significant contributions to the craft. They were known for their exceptional skills, innovative techniques, and impact on the development of shoemaking.

Q: How did shoemaking techniques evolve after the Middle Ages?

A: After the Middle Ages, shoemaking techniques underwent significant advancements. Changes in materials, technology, and manufacturing processes revolutionized the craft, leading to the development of modern shoe production methods.

Q: What are some shoemaking traditions found in different cultures around the world?

A: Shoemaking traditions vary across different cultures worldwide. Each culture has its unique styles, materials, and techniques that reflect their heritage and traditions. These diverse traditions showcase the richness and diversity of the craft.

Q: How is the legacy of shoemaking being preserved and celebrated today?

A: Efforts are being made by individuals, organizations, and museums to preserve the heritage of shoemaking and promote traditional craftsmanship. Events, exhibitions, and initiatives dedicated to showcasing the artistry and history of shoemaking are held to celebrate this legacy.