Constructing Leather Roman Military Boots (Calcei) – Part One: Pattern Making

Ryan Noel's handmade Roman Caligae (leather hobnail sandals)I figured I’d switch gears from embroidery and touch on a topic that has been rather popular for my readers; Roman footwear. I should note that when I started typing this article I had intentions of providing all the steps in one post, but I’m barely halfway through and it’s already over 1000 words. So, I’m breaking it into a couple different articles; beginning with the pattern making process, followed by the calcei construction, and I’ll even be throwing in a Roman-related giveaway.

My previous articles talked about the construction of a pair of Roman Caligae (shown on left), Calcei, carbatinae, and trying out a duct tape pattern. I said I’d post an update when we had the patterns cut out of leather and it’s been a year and a half soooo, better late than never! As per usual, Ryan works faster than I can photograph, so excuse the gaps in pictures, but I’ll try to include links to the sources we referenced while constructing this pair.

Back tracking a bit, there were quite a few ‘newbie’ problems with the caligae; They turned out way too big, the hobnails went in crooked, and they had shifting inner soles. Live and learn. We had never made leather shoes before, but we at least know to not make the same mistakes twice. We opted for the duct tape pattern for the next pair, in this case the Calcei. I’m sure professional shoe makers are probably laughing at our duct tape method, but honestly it’s quick, effective, easy, and above all else, it’s a very custom fit. Plus, this is a hobby for us and I have no intention of becoming a professional shoe maker.

Calcei Duct Tape Pattern

As I said, the second pair completed was a pair of Calcei. It’s a roman military cold weather boot. In hindsight we really should have started with these due to the ease of construction and uncomplicated design compared to caligae.  It’s a more ideal style for beginners to try in order to get used to forming leather into a 3-dimensional shape. I left off on the step of drawing the design on the duct tape form. . .

Roman men's military boots duct tape pattern.

Pattern Adjustments

Once you have the design drawn onto the duct tape, you cut it out. The way you do this is by slicing out exactly where your sole was and cutting the pattern open along the green line shown above (The green line being the visual center of your foot). The pattern should lay [relatively] flat though there will be some puckering around the toe areas. Try to ignore that as much as possible. You’ll want some heavy duty card stock or thick paper (bristol board works well) to trace the duct tape pattern onto. I should also mention that while you’re cutting and tracing, be sure not to rub off your calibration marks and to freshen them up if they begin to fade. Once you have them traced onto your card stock pattern you’ll be safe, but until then, make sure not to let them disappear.

Chances are you are going to have to make a few minor adjustments to your pattern if the cutting process resulted in some funky edges. Ryan had some issues with the heels of his due to shifting and bending the sole during the duct taping process. You can see below the difference between the duct tape cutout and the final altered pattern.

Right Foot Calcei Pattern

You will also note the pattern is bigger than the duct tape form. So let’s break it down to what modifications you need to make to your pattern:

Calcei Pattern Modifications

1. Smooth out your lines, removing any really odd chunks that got chopped due to an error, like the heel on the right boot on Ryan’s, and make the ankle/top a graceful curve. Be sure to compensate your addition/removal on the sole pattern as well. Also, try to stick to the rule of not deviating from the duct tape pattern by more than 1/4″. (Or you’ll fuck it up!) 😀

2. You need to be able to extend your tabs so if when you press your duct tape pattern flat, the tabs seem to overlap or one gap is larger than another, even them out, but keep them about 1 inch deep. *TIP* I drew one side then used tracing paper to transfer the identical tabs to the other side, making sure they’ll line up when the shoe is closed.* When modifying the tabs, BE SURE not to move the top tab, and that the length of the toe is IDENTICAL, so don’t cut into that at all.

3. Once you’re happy with your shape and lines you can move on to adding to the pattern. DON’T move onto these steps until you’re absolutely sure you’re done tweaking because otherwise you’ll be doing things twice. First thing you’re going to add is the 1 inch extension onto all the tabs.

4. Next add 1/4″ onto the top of the toe for seam allowance.

5. Finally, add 1″ along the entire bottom

Take your time on the pattern because it’s really the most important step. If it’s wrong, all your work will be for a pair of ill-fitting, P.O.S. shoes!

If you have any questions regarding the pattern making process, or pattern modifications feel free to leave your comments/inquiries in the comment section below. Check in regularly for part two in this series and for a chance to win a certain cleansing product used by Ancient Romans!

****UPDATE!!! Check out Part 2 of the Calcei Making Process here!!!****

11 Responses

  1. Looks like I found this just as it heats back up ready for the next step. I’ve made foot patterns for mocassins

    1. Yes! 😀 I have it mostly done and since my stats seem to be increasing for this post I guess I should actually finish part two! So glad people are showing interest in our projects. Thanks!

    1. Apologies for my slow reply. Excellent question! Basically what we did was trace off the soles of our feet onto a sturdy piece of paper (such as bristol board, or poster paper) and cut it out, taped strips of duct tape on the bottom of the tracing with about 3-4″ of tape on either side, then you’ll want to use an old pair of pantyhose – put it on your foot, put your foot on the tracing, then tape the strips to your foot. It’s better to have someone else do this so you can keep your leg nice and perpendicular to the floor because if you have a bent ankle, it’ll distort the pattern. It’s also important to note that when you are lifting the initial strips of tape attached to the tracing and taping them to your foot, you don’t want the paper to bend; make sure you’re not pulling too hard and distorting the paper.

      You want to cover your foot with about 4 layers of tape so try to be organized about it and maintain the shape – you don’t want funky lumps! Also, don’t tape so tightly that your foot starts to throb. 😉 Tape a bit further up your leg (an inch or so) than your boot is going to be. Once you get it all taped up, you want to cut it off. We cut down the inside of the ankle and a little bit along the sole – do just enough cutting to slip it off your foot. You can then tape it back up once you get it off to keep it’s shape.

      Now you can draw your pattern right on the tape form – sharpie works well and can rub off if you want to make changes. When you’re satisfied with your drawing, add several calibration marks around the outside of the sole – they need to kind of wrap around that edge so when you cut out the sole, you’ll be able to align it again with the uppers. Draw a line straight down the center of the top of the foot. After marking, cut out the sole (as close to the paper sole as you can). Cut out the shapes you made for the boot style and lay it out flat (ish – since it was formed to your foot, it’s not going to be perfectly flat). Then from here the pattern adjustments are described in the post. . .

      I hope that answers your question, but if you have more questions let me know. Sometimes visuals help, so I could potentially do a whole separate post about the duct tape pattern if there is enough interest. Thanks!

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