Colonial Williamsburg® The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's Official History and Citizenship Website

CW Foundation navigation

Looking to Buy Tickets & Gifts or Book a Vacation? Click Here

Page content
Reset text sizeResize text larger

An 18th-Century Trades Sampler

a photographic essay by 1999 Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute participants

Introduction / Apothecary / Blacksmith / Founder / Harnessmaker / Milliner
Printer & Bookbinder / Shoemaker / Silversmith / Wigmaker / Summary


Shoemaker's shop

Welcome to one of twelve shoemaking shops in Williamsburg in 1774. This men's shoe shop was owned and operated by Mr. George Wilson. Today you can see shoes being made using the same tools and techniques used by the men and women of the 18th century.

The customer enters the shop and requests a pair of ready-made shoes hanging from the window or ceiling. However, if the customer finds nothing to his liking, he can order shoes custom made to fit his feet. Measurements are taken and the appropriate size last or wooden form is selected, the last is used to shape the shoe, and the construction process begins. From start to finish, a well-trained shoemaker completes a pair of shoes in eight to ten hours, or the equivalent of one work day.

A selection of shoe lasts in various sizes
Marking and cutting the leather

Once the shoe last is chosen, the customer selects a style of the latest fashion. A pattern is cut and fit to the size of the last. The pattern is traced onto the leather and cut out using a knife in a process called clicking.

To free the hands of the shoemaker a leather strap is used as a vice to hold the last in place. The next phase of shoe construction involves stitching the upper to the innersole. The shoemaker's thread is made from several strands of flax coated with pitch (pine tar) to waterproof it. A boar's bristle serving as a needle is woven onto both ends of the thread. After stitching the upper to the innersole the shoemaker cut a second piece of thick sole leather to form the outersole which was then stitched to the innersole.

Adding a heel to the shoe
Stitching the upper to the innersole

A strong thick piece of leather is used to form the outersole and thinner softer pieces are used for the upper and sides of the shoe. The sole is fastened to the last with a few tacks. Then a hand held tool called an awl is used to push holes into the leather to enable the shoemaker to stitch the outersole to the upper. Finally, a heel, cut from scraps of thick sole leather, was added in layers held in place by a series of wooden pegs.

The finished shoes were displayed in the window at Mr. Wilson's shoe shop. Although leather came in a variety of colors, black was the most popular with the gentlemen of 18th-century Williamsburg.

Ready-made shoes on display

Introduction / Apothecary / Blacksmith / Founder / Harnessmaker / Milliner
Printer & Bookbinder / Shoemaker / Silversmith / Wigmaker / Summary