Friday, January 24, 2014

Shoes and The Enduring Flame Stitch

The bargello or flame stich was an important embroidery style throughout the later 17th century and into the 18th.  Indeed, you will still see “flame stitch” popping up on contemporary fashions, such as Missoni shoes and boots. Frequently associated with accessories such as pocketbooks and purses, its appearance on shoes provides a wonderful geometric burst of colors. 

These early 18th century British lachet shoes (c.1700-1729) rely on a bright palette and the thick metallic braid along the vamp to catch the eye, as opposed to the shine of silk brocades or damasks. The flame stitched pattern is of a common "zig zag". Note the Louis heel is also covered with matching needlework, rather than contrasting leather. With a length of 8.5 inches or 21.6 cm., they are roughly a woman’s size 5 (USA), size 3 (UK) or 35-36 (EUR) by today's conversion. (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Acc.# 2009.300.1411)

I find something wonderfully creative about this pair of wool, linen and silk British shoes from c. 1750–69, made a few decades later than the ones pictured above. They demonstrate the persistence of the popular flame stitch, although the pattern is quite complex. It is somewhat disconcerting to have the heavier, textured flame stitched upper contrasted with the smoothness and delicacy of the printed silk covered heel. They run counter to what we think of as the harmony and balance of Georgian shoes - which is probably why I have always admired them. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

An observation on shoe size:

These are especially diminutive shoes: at 7.5 inches in length, they would be a child’s size 13 (USA), or size 12 (UK). This translates to the size of a 7-8 year-old child.

Missoni Flame Stich Slipper

Kimberly Alexander, Ph.D.
Department of History
University of New Hampshire


  1. I fall in love with this flame stitch and I really like to use it, but I prefer to make pocketbooks than shoes :D

  2. Just listening to The Black Moth by Georgette Heyer which is set around 1750-01 and loving the descriptions of the shoes. Lovely to see pictures of shoes of that era.

  3. Thanks for this. lovely pictures and so interesting. Anne Stenhouse

  4. I wonder what the black strip up the center front of the first pair is. It looks like an oil cloth decorative patch, possibly added to cover up a tear or wear on the toes. On one shoe it doesn't quite cover the tongue, and on the other it extends past the top of the tongue.


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