Saturday, June 29, 2024

Exhibition Spotlight: 18th Century Shoes on view at the Woodman Museum

By Kimberly Alexander

For Stratham, New Hampshire shoemakers such as Samuel Lane and Josiah Brown, tailors like Samuel Watson of Dover, and printers of newspapers, broadsides and books, linen played an important role. Often, in its ubiquity, it goes unmentioned and unnoticed in historical records. 


For example, the linen was used as the ground for embroidered shoe uppers and linings and embroidered samplers; it was employed also for interior lining material on waistcoats, jackets, and stays. Separately from clothing items, linen thread and cloth had scores of utilitarian purposes, used for grain sacks, thread for stitching, tape for binding; even linen rags for making paper were a sought-after commodity by newspaper publishers, printers and booksellers.


Join me for a look at three pairs of shoes featured in Combing History: Flax and Linen in New Hampshire.


Wool Shoes


These late 18th-century brown-black woolen shoes were likely made in New England, possibly in New Hampshire. The wearer and the maker are currently unknown. The wool upper retains a bit of a sheen, associated with popular calamanco uppers, and they are lined with locally produced linen. A "transition" style of shoe, the pointed toes and lower heels give a nod to fashion circa the 1780s-1790s. On the other hand, the straps or lachets, requiring buckles to affix them to the foot, carry on an earlier tradition. They are amply sized, well-finished, and may have been the "best shoes" of a "middling” sort, or perhaps they belonged to a woman who wanted a more traditional shoe. 


Loan courtesy of the Irma Bowen Textile Collection, University of New Hampshire, Archives and Special Collections, Museum #438. For more:


Photo, Astrida Schaeffer; Courtesy UNH Irma Bowen Clothing Collection

Embroidered Cream Silk Shoes


Made in Boston, Massachusetts, this pair of elegant silk shoes with embroidered toes are lined with linen and feature diminutive string ties rather than the straps for buckles as seen in the adjacent woolen shoes. They are also a transitional shoe from the late 18th century. In both pairs of women’s shoes, as well as in the red silk shoes (adjacent), linen is used for lining and backing, and linen thread is used for sewing and for ties.


Loan courtesy of the author.


Red Silk Shoes


Although the maker and wearer are unknown, these vibrant and stylish red silk satin, linen-lined buckle shoes, c1780s, were possibly made in England and likely worn by a woman of means in New Hampshire. The architectonic, balanced color scheme and smooth satin surface is indicative of the transition away from the heavy embroidery and richly decorated silk brocades from earlier in the 18th century associated with the Rococo style, shifting to the burgeoning, Neoclassical influence of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.


Loan courtesy of the Moffatt-Ladd House and Garden, Portsmouth, NH. 


For more on Georgian Shoes in America:


The shoes on view here, in addition to dozens of others, are discussed in Treasures Afoot: Shoe Stories from the Georgian Era [Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018. Honor Book Award 2019, Historic New England.]


For more in the UNH Flax-to-Linen Project

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