Mar 12 2011


Published by at 5:08 am under Animal Materials

Footwear must be one of the most abused items in a practicing primitive´s kit – I for my part have certainly worn down a number of moccasins. Walking barefoot whenever possible helps to cut down on how often footwear needs to be repaired or replaced. The Ojibway people of this area had a reason though that they used moccasins: When walking/running off trail, one repeatedly encounters sharp objects like twigs that can easily cause a serious injury – something that people who need to move to hunt, trap, gather and explore can´t afford to happen too often.  I had to learn this lesson the hard way, thinking my feet could get used to a little bit of discomfort. Enduring discomfort is one thing, dealing with a deep stabbing wound is another. Anyways, here are a couple of examples of footwear that are part of my equipment:

A pair of winter mukluks that I finished earlier this winter. This is the  “puckered-toe” style that Natives in this area typically used.  Two long lacings on each mukluk can be wrapped around several times and tied off to secure it to the foot. A drawstring on the top prevents snow or debris from falling in (which usually is not a problem since the upper part of the mukluk is overlapped by pants or leggins anyways). The material is buckskin (grain off); I placed the sole in the thicker area of the hide, for the uppers a thinner piece is sufficient. For the sewing I used artificial sinew.

The same mukluks after a winter of heavy use. They´re still in very good shape, and besides reenforcing some of the stiches (after the buckskins streched some of the seams were not completely tight anymore) no repairs were necessary.

Winter conditions are usually more gentle on footwear, and so a pair can last for a while. This style of mukluks is mainly suited for cold temperatures – once the snow gets wet, the mukluks and eventually the stockings and feet will get wet, too. One of the (many) projects I´d like to work on is to make some more water-resistant boots e.g. made with beaver fur. If it happens I´ll post about it here.

A pair of summer moccasins made from grain-on buckskin that´s been treated with pitch and oil. To increase their durability, I´ll probably sew on one or two more soles of buckskin to the bottom. Soft grass stuffed inside provides some extra comfort and insulation, especially when the moccasins get soaked in wet conditions.

In any case, it makes sense to have at least two pairs available so they can easily be switched out when one needs to be repaired etc. On rough and hard surfaces (rock, asphalt) moccasins naturally wear out much faster, which is why I switch to a rubber-soled commercial style in those areas…


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10 responses so far

10 Responses to “Footwear”

  1. Dubisaxelon 12 Mar 2011 at 7:13 am

    Thomas, how does one sew a second sole onto a pair of moccasins? Secondly, where did you get your rubber-soled moccasins?

  2. Thomason 12 Mar 2011 at 3:49 pm

    Greetings Dubisaxel,

    one of the best ways I´ve found to attach additional soles to moccasins is to cut the additional sole (or soles) slightly bigger all the way around so that they overlap the side of the moccasins by an inch or so. That way the seams are on the side instead of the bottom and wear out much slower. Easier yet would be to just sew a sole to the inside, though I prefer to protect the original moccasin by adding to the bottom.
    There are a number of other ways too – I´d be curious to hear if other people have experience with this and like to post their comments or suggestions here…

    I´ve usually gotten rubber-soled mocs from local stores (gift shops etc.), though you can definitely get them online too. One company is called Minnetonka Moccasins – – they have a fairly good selection of different styles, and I find them to be pretty comfortable and durable. With a search engine you´ll probably able to find a few others too…

  3. Moranaon 15 Mar 2011 at 3:48 am

    Tar det på norsk, jeg..
    Når du behandler skinn, behandler du det med dyrets hjerne eller andre oljer og fettyper?

    Jeg vet ikke om du har lest bøkene til Jean M Auel. De handler om steinalderen. Mange bra tips for å lage forskjellige ting.

    Ha en fantastisk dag!

  4. Thomason 15 Mar 2011 at 4:33 am

    Hey Morana,

    my norwegian is a little out of practise these days but I didn´t have too much trouble understanding this 😉

    I´ve worked with a number of different tanning agents so far – brains are my favorite one when it comes to brain/fattanning (you may have heard about other styles like barktanning or urinetanning, but that´s another story yet). Eggs are fairly good too, and some pelts (like racoons) have a natural oil in them that works well for tanning,so you don´t need to add anything in that case(I just recently tanned a couple fatty racoons with nothing else and they turned out quite soft). I have used some oils like olive oil with limited success, I find that they work better when they´re mixed with eggs or brains. Liver was used in some cultures too for that purpose,though I haven´t tried it before (I usually prefer to eat it 🙂 ).

    Thanks for the book tip. I´ve (partially) read some of Jean Auel´s books, and although they´re fictional there is certainly some information about how our stone age ancestors lived…

  5. Moranaon 15 Mar 2011 at 10:02 am

    Takk for svaret, Thomas.
    Jeg leste også noe om bruk av ammoniakk. De tok vare på tiss til det naturlig ble ammoniakk og gned det inn i skinnet. Etter dagens normer, ville vel de færreste prøvd dette, og jeg husker ikke helt hva det gjorde med stoffet. tror kanskje det ble mykere eller noe. Beklager at jeg fortsetter med å skrive på norsk, er flinkere til å ordlegge meg på norsk.


  6. Thomason 15 Mar 2011 at 6:04 pm


    my understanding is actually that ammonia is both used in traditional urine tanning (ammonia is naturally occuring in urine) and some commercial tanning methods.
    It´s certainly interesting to see how many ways there are to soften skins…and urine is certainly easily available!

  7. Markoon 16 Sep 2011 at 4:34 am

    Hey Thomas, these are great. I’m a braintanner, forester, and traveler. I love what you’ve done with this website. I’ll be teaching my first braintanning workshop this spring, really excited.

    Anyway, these boots look fantastic. I’ve been messing around with moccasin designs, but I’d like to try something like your boots. Any chance there’s a design you’d be willing to share with me? I’ve got a bunch of deer skins (grain off) sitting around to experiment with.

    Hope to hear back!


  8. Thomason 14 Nov 2011 at 6:30 am

    Hey Marko,

    just saw your comment while going though some older posts, must have missed it the first time…

    I´ve been doing a fair amount of improvising with my footwear based on some of the styles I saw in both commercial and homemade footwear…both the moccasins and the mukluks I´ve wrote about are of the “puckered-toe” style which was common amongst the Ojibway people, with the typical “puckers” (small folds) along the toe seam as a result of how the sole and the insert are sewn together. I can´t provide any detailed patterns or measurements right now, although I´ve seen and read a number of different moccassin books that have some of those details.
    One that immediately comes to my mind is called “Craft Manual of North American Indian Footwear by George M. White” which I can definitely recommend, the other titles I´d have to look up.

    I´m also planning to replace the soles on my mukluks (worn through by now) and potentially make a back-up pair of mukluks for this winter.
    This time I want to take some pictures of the process too and post them here which might give you a better idea of what cuts etc. I´m using for mukluks.
    A few pictures can probably explain it much better than I could here in words.

    Exciting to hear about your barintanning class…let me know how it goes!
    Hope this was somewhat helpful and if you don´t see a mukluk post for a while, feel free to remind me 😉


  9. Evanon 11 Nov 2012 at 4:57 pm

    I am planning on making myself one of these and am going to line them with some sort of a removable coyote pelt sock. Since they will be used only in the snow and on ice, do you think I will be needing an extra sole with the liner.

  10. Socks Blogon 03 Jun 2017 at 3:17 am

    Enjoy Nature Walks With Muk Luks

    […] . Etter dagens normer, ville vel de færreste prøvd dette, og jeg husker ikke h […]

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