Winter Boot liners
With the onset of winter the warmth of the summer sun is becoming but a fading memory and the shortening days mean less time to get out and enjoy the world. The longer nights though provide us with a good opportunity to finish off existing projects that have been placed on the back burner since spring and make a start on new ones. The prospect of colder and wetter weather allows us to turn our attention to keeping ourselves warm while out this winter on overnight trips or simple day forays.
When considering the preservation of body temperature one of our main considerations is our extremities. Should these begin to fail us then it can have far reaching consequences way beyond simple cold fingers and toes. Maintaining the dexterity of our hands and feet is one of the most important survival practices that we can pursue. Everything that we do when outside in a remote setting or in a wilderness scenario requires concentration, coordination and subtle muscular control and none of that is possible once our hands and feet begin to slow down and cease to function.
Of the two sets of extremities I would value our hands most, for their ability to perform such a wide range of complex skills but secondly it is our feet that allow us to get where we want to go and should the need arise, get us back to safety and civilisation.
In January Adam and myself will be heading off to test out a broad range of home made kit along the frozen water ways that surround the village of Kloten in the Bergslagen region of Sweden. With the average winter temperature sitting at -9 for this time of the year, and likely to drop well below this, it is extremely important that we both take very good care of our feet. For those of us used to the cold wet conditions of the UK this might sound like a very daunting and uncomfortable prospect due to the low temperatures but in fact we do have some advantages. The cold itself will in fact help us to stay warm. What! I hear you cry, how on earth can it help to stay warm whilst it’s getting colder? The key is in the ability for the moisture, in this case snow, to penetrate your clothing and make it wet. This simply is less likely to happen at temperatures as low as -9, as moisture immediately freezes. As a result how we go about keeping our toes toasty warm is a simple, ingenious method passed down through the centuries. Through wearing woolen socks, boot liners and a breathable outer layer which is hard wearing our perspiration is allowed to escape while at the same time insulating us from the cold.
During this blog I intend to take you through the process of how to create your own woolen boot liners that you can use with moccasins or modern boots, depending on the situation you are in.
Firstly before we start this project we are going to need to get hold of some material from which to make our liners. Ideally we want to source some medium to heavy weight woolen cloth. An ideal place to source this kind of material will be your local charity shops, these usually have a range of old wool blankets that are perfect for the job. I wouldn’t get too hung up on the colour as you can always dye them to a more suitable one once at home. The key thing to check is the wool content of the material. Like I said, ideally we are after 100% wool although a blend of fibers will work as long as it is a high percentage of wool. If there are no labels on the blankets it can be hard to tell if the material is all wool, a blend or synthetic but there is a relatively simply test you can do. Simply pick off a small amount of the loose fibres on the surface of the material. You then need to roll this in to a cigar and put a flame to it. You can tell the wool content by observing the reaction of the fibres to the flame. Wool will not burn and you will get that nasty burning hair smell. Synthetics will shrink away from the flame and leave a hard plastic bead at the end. Mixed fiber cloth will do a combination of these. Don’t try this inside any shop as you will more than likely find yourself in trouble, for numerous reasons, best to speak to someone who works at the shop and take your fiber fluff outside to test.
A very good question at this point is why do we need a 100% woolen material? Well I guess the short answer is you don’t if you are planning to use these fairly infrequently in the UK. If, on the other hand, you intend to use these liners for a longer duration or in more extreme cold environments then I would suggest taking the time to source good woolen cloth.
So why are we interested in wool when we have access to such a range of modern and high-tech material for cold weather conditions? Put simply for bushcraft and traditional back country living, wool still performs fantastically for the range of tasks we will commonly undertake. The properties of wool means that it will not burn should we get too close to the fire, unlike synthetics that commonly make you sweat and smell. Wool is very good at absorbing smells rather than increasing them; an important factor for base layers for long trips. Wool also has the ability to maintain much of its insulation properties even when wet. This is due to wool being ‘hydroscopic’ which results in wool holding moister away from your skin within the cloth so that much less heat is removed from your body.
Another reason why I personally favour wool over synthetics for much of my outdoor clothing is that it is a much more sustainable material than those produced from petrochemicals. Undoubtedly the production of wool has its issues but few can argue that it is less sustainable when compared to modern synthetics and as we have been using it for around 6ooo years.
To make the following moccasin liner we have only to follow a very simple four step process.
Before starting the pattern process should the cloth you intend to use be an open weave then you can place it in a large pan to boil for 20 minuets. This will shrink the fabric and result in a much denser material for you to use.
1. Mark out pattern.
The first thing is to mark out the pattern on your wool making sure that you give yourself one inch allowance for all the seams. This is a very simple design consisting of four pieces per liner. I shall describe the pattern I have used which will be for a size 10 shoe. you will have to add or remove material as needed for yourself. If you are planning to make a pair of these for conventional boots I would suggest making them on the snug side so that they will be able to fit inside your boots. For myself I fitted these around a thick pair of wool socks so that I will have two layers of insulation in Sweden.
For the sole of the liner simply draw around your foot leaving an inch extra for seam allowance.
The vamp is slightly more tricky for me to describe but below I have included a picture of my foot placed over it which will hopefully allow you to visualise what the piece is meant to look like. The vamp will cover the front section of your foot up to your ankle and curve slightly around the side of your foot. The widest point wants to be twice that of the sole, while the front is a similar profile to the toes.
The heel tab is a simple rectangle 20cm by 7cm that closes off the back of the liner. The side dimension should correspond with the length of the straight edge at the back of the vamp. See image below.
The upper leg section is a relatively simply pattern to draw out. It is almost a rectangle with a slight change in angle at the base. The width of the upper is 47cm and the height is 40cm. For the base, instead of being cut flat across the bottom you want a slight extension at the front section angling towards the back. There is a 4cm difference in height at the center compared to the side seam: 40cm in the center and 36cm along the side seam. The width of the extension is 17cm. What this slight change in angle allows, is for the upper section to neatly curve around your ankle and meet at the heel without any problems.
By providing you with these dimensions you will hopefully be able to replicate the pattern with the necessary alterations in order to fit your foot.
One point I will say, as I appreciate that it may be difficult to follow my pattern descriptions above, is that these liners are not meant to be a perfectly tailored garments. If you are unsure then err on the large size and this way you can always take them in. Remember they’ve only got to fit well enough to go inside your moccasins or boots and not have vast amounts of excess material gathering up.
2. cut out pattern
Once you are happy with your patterns cut them out to the line and you will soon be ready to begin tacking them together.
3. tack together
Once I had cut out my pattern I quickly tacked the pieces together as a means of testing the fit before I committed to sewing them securely. By tacking you have not wasted lots of time stitching the pieces together only to find they don’t quite fit, the tacking running stitch is quick to unpick and redo following alterations.
Firstly you stitch the vamp to the sole starting at the front centre of both pieces. Work round both left and right keeping the seems neatly together but avoid stretching the cloth as it will distort the garment.
Secondly attach the heel tab to the sole as well as to the vamp so that you are left with what looks like a simple slipper.
At this point, put the liner on and see how it fits. Should any alterations need to be made this is the point to do it before the upper section is attached. My first liner was slightly too big so I removed the heel tab and re-measured the sole, removing around 2cm from the back. after attaching the heel tab I then needed to adjust the vamp so that the opening for the foot was the right size.
By shortening the sole I had, in effect, made this opening smaller. I altered the vamp while still attached to the sole. These being a functional insulation layers I wasn’t being overly pedantic with it all being exact. The key is to make sure there isn’t large amounts of excess material that will pucker and potentially cause sore spots. Luckily for me the cloth I was using is thick yet very soft meaning I shouldn’t end up with any issues.
Finally you need to attach the upper section. For this, position the mid-point of the upper at the front of the foot opening and tack it in place three or four times to prevent it moving. Once it is securely held, sew around towards the back until you get to the back of the heel. Work off the foot opening circumference rather than the upper because if you have made any alterations to the foot size, as I had done, the upper might now be slightly too large. If you work only half way around the foot opening, the uppers will come together and any excess material can be trimmed off once you are happy with the overall fit.
4. blanket stitch together.
Once happy with the fit of both liners, over stitch where you have tacked using a blanket stitch with darning thread. This will ensure that the seams are securely fastened as well as preventing the edges of the woolen cloth from fraying.
Once this has been done you should find yourself with a unique pair of winter woolly liners that will hopefully serve you well throughout the cold season.
I hope that you have found this blog useful and will hopefully mean you can save money in the future on socks, or at least new Christmas stockings!
I will keep you updated with how I fair in them out in Sweden come January.
A Snow walker’s companion, Garrett and Alexadra Conover, 1995, Rugged mountain press, Camden, Maine
Ancient history encyclopedia, 2009: http://www.ancient.eu/Neolithic/