I have a question regarding shoemaking. Many contemporary diaries and letters refer to highborn ladies making shoes as a pastime during the early 19th century. It seems that even the Duchess of Wellington got into the act sometime later but I can find nothing more concrete than this passage from Alice Morse Earl’s Two Centuries of Costume in America: “In Mrs. Gaskell’s My Lady Ludlow we are told that my lady would not sanction the mode of the beginning of the century which “made all the fine ladies take to making shoes.” Mrs. Blundell, in one of her novels, sets her heroine (about 1805) at shoe-making. The shoes of that day were very thin of material, very simple of shape, were heelless, and in many cases closely approached a sandal. . . . I have seen several old letters which gave rules for shaping and directions for sewing party-shoes of thin light kid and silk. It is not probable that any heavy materials were ever made up by women at home.”
I’ve seen another passage from a contemporary letter which relates how a group of women chipped in on the cost of hiring themselves a master in shoemaking to come to one of their houses in order to give the group lessons on the art. Does anyone have any more information about this unique occupation? Victoria seems to think that the ladies worked on the decorative uppers, rather than actually constructing a shoe, but we’d be grateful for any information or research leads you can provide.