"The Swiss vacation"


I do not tend to take too many days off, as my hobby is closely connected to my work, and my work is the dream job I really really enjoy. This winter was somehow different for me, as I finally got the reason to travel south in direction to Switzerland. As I joined the Archaeological leather group (ALG) two years ago I found out that most of the people that write the articles I use for my work are real people :) And as I had the right direction, I gathered my courage to write to one of ALG members Dr. Marquita Volken (as she is The Person I wanted to talk to for a long time and a great role model in many ways possible) and made my first visit to her museum in March. We had a long long talk about (mostly) medieval shoes and accessories, ways of making the stuff, and she mentioned her giving courses on conservation, only if I could get my hands on some archaeological material.

I planned to get things together for autumn and try to figure out a way to make things happen. But I am very lucky for my parents and my husband's support in the crazy ideas I get sometimes, and my father made me go earlier, as in these times it is hard to plan anything in advance, I just went almost straight away and returned to the place of crime at the end of April. One other person I owe my thanks for support in this adventure is Dr. Aleš Hoch from Jihlava museum, who provided me with archeological leather from Brno and Třebíč to work with on very short notice and had a big deal of understanding of my enthusiasm for this trip in general :)

In my eyes drawing and handling archaeological leather was something really helpful in recreating medieval leather artefacts and I had hopes that it would improve my views on medieval shoes and accessories and help me replicate them better. So the first impulse was to go just to have the experience of the actual process, see how the period pieces were made, and have a better understanding of those drawings I collect in the archaeological articles. In the end the whole adventure exceeded everything I could have ever hoped for. I spent 10 unbelievable days learning about cleaning, conserving, drawing and recognising archaeological leather, and expanding my horizons in leathercraft and medieval shoemaking in general. My approximately 10 hour "work" days were filled with information, craft, drawing, learning, chatting and laughter and leather conservation processes. 

The archaeological material I worked with is from recent excavations from Třebíč and several pieces from Brno. Especially the pieces from Třebíč were very fragmentary, but the bigger the challenge the bigger the gain? I don´t know :D (definitely did not know after spending too many hours on one of the special ones with no great output to prove it :) ) We conserved all the pieces using the "Goubitz method" and mounted one of the more complete pieces on a shoe form, ready for an exhibition, in a similar manner as the pieces from Dordrecht were shown in their exhibit "Leven van leer" last year. And I am very happy about the outcome.

After washing, drawing and letting the leather to conserve we had some time to play in the shoe museum. Even my own research led me to discover that using the period accurate tools (such as lasts / sewing forms) is really unavoidable in the process of replicating the correct feel of the object, but being able to try the difference of using bristles versus needles and damp versus dry material in one session were quite a jump in the view of replica making and getting closer to the period accurate detail for medieval pieces. Even though I will probably not be able to apply all these methods in my regular day to day production any time soon for the reasons of them being more time consuming hence more expensive for the end customer, I am looking forward to experimenting with them more and maybe using them for the exhibition pieces for museums or really hard core demanding reenactors if I will get the chance and right customers for these kind of projects :)

The urge to study after being out of the school system gives one a greater appreciation of teachers. Finding a good teacher in the subject of archaeological leather (where even the number of people studying it is not very high) and finding one that is a shoemaker and a craftsman at the same time is even more rare. I found this teacher in Marquita, and I will be forever grateful for this opportunity. Marquita and her husband Serge work with leather (and archaeological leather) for over 30 years now. They created together a Centre for Calceology and Ancient Leather in Lausanne city centre in one of the old houses, and filled it with craftsmanship, period technologies and tools, archaeological leather and the science behind it and compliment each other with their specific skills (and time schedules :) ). She herself is responsible for several bibles of archaeological leather (like Archaeological footwear which will have a second volume in few months or Covering the blade) going in footsteps of Olaf Goubitz, who wrote the first bibles commonly used by leather craftsmen trying to make medieval equipment for reenactment (Stepping through the times or Purses in pieces). You can click the covers to get to the online book shop...

I hope, that it was not the last time I had the opportunity to work with archaeological artefacts, and even though I went there just to learn about these things in general I want to try to set up a workspace for conservation too in autumn, and do some more work in this direction, as it is a fascinating subject, and following the example of ALG members could be a lifetime thing, if one is lucky enough <3

I had a blast, and the hospitality of both Serge and Marquita Volken made my stay in Lausanne the best holiday I could have dreamed of. I learned a ton, I came home with much more than I expected and I owe them both a lot. Thank you again. And if any of my readers ever go to the south of Switzerland, go and visit this place. (Just book your visit first at least through their facebook page) There is a lot to learn, a lot to see and it is a great experience when Marquita or Serge guide you through their fortress of leathercraft and calceology.