Shoemaker’s Wife

At an arts (and garlic) festival this fall, a woman stopped to ask me if I’d read The Shoemaker’s Wife. No I hadn’t, but I wrote down the title. Then she elaborated, telling me that she is Italian and that she especially loved the book because in it the author used the immigration story of her own ancestors from the mountains of Northern Italy to the United States as the basis for it. Well! my ancestors immigrated from the mountains of Northern Italy too! So I couldn’t wait to get the book, and when I did, I had such fun immersed in the glorious story. I even cooked polenta one night to eat while reading it. I recommend this book; one doesn’t learn a lot about shoemaking from it, but a lot about human nature and one family’s journey that represents so many others.

shoemaking wife

Felt slippers

http://www.marthastewart.com/864540/stephanies-sewn-felt-slippers –  is the url for a great slipper pattern based on a Native American moccasin, published in Martha Stewart’s Living magazine recently. It has a lot of versatility, as shown in the photo.

http://vimeo.com/32458552 –  is the url for a video of Stephanie herself showing you how to make these slippers; I think my contribution will be to make a set of women’s patterns for these slippers, and kids as well.

And finally for this post: http://escapefrombk.wordpress.com/2011/11/27/sewn-felt-slippers/ for yet another version. I’ll work on the pattern and hopefully post some templates tomorrow.

And, can you believe it – another version at: http://zipperteeth.blogspot.com/2012/03/sewn-felt-slippers.html

HCC weekend

There is a group of shoe and bootmakers that gathers once a year on the weekend nearest October 25, St. Crispin’s Day (the patron-saint of shoemakers, of course). This year the gathering was in Middlebury Vt, and I have just returned home from it.

I went with specific questions that I wanted answers for, and I am so grateful that my questions were answered. I am in process of creating “soles with an edge” with a leather sole and heel, in addition to the natural rubber sole and heel that I have always made, and needed information on thickness and type of leather, how to make a groove around the bottom edge so the stitches wouldn’t be on the ground, and how to make a nice shiny edge on the leather sole.

So, I’m looking for “5-7 ounce soling strips”, a sanding wheel for my dremel tool for making the stitching groove, and a “bone edger” for burnishing the edge of the sole, after a coat of “Vermont beeswax” has been applied. No doubt I will be doing a lot of experimenting this week!

And there were many fine people to connect and reconnect with; Dan Freeman, the fine shoemaker, was the host at his shop in Middlebury; Larry Waller of www.walrusshoe.com who sells sets of lasts, shoemaking books and shoemaking machinery; Daphne Board of www.diabloshoe.com who is studying to be a pedorthist so the exquisite shoes that she makes will now be built to heal the wearer’s foot problems.

Nancy Benoit – www.soleofvermont.com – is making (sorry, I have to use the word “exquisite” again!) exquisite flip-flops, flats and low-high heels at her shop in Manchester Vt. She serves special dinners in her barn during the summer, so I have already placed a note on my next-year’s calendar reminding me to make reservations – then I’ll also be able to see her very special shoe studio.

There was a “bespoke (custom) shoemaker” who makes full-welted shoes with a shop in Brooklyn, a young mother who is preparing to have her line of shoes made in Eastern Europe, a shoemaker from Montreal who fooled all including myself into thinking that the designs on his shoes were applique, while in fact he stitched around the design, the dyed the leather inside the stitching! There was no applique at all, just very careful stitching and dyeing.

I am enjoying looking back over the weekend and realizing how rich it was for me – perhaps you’ll be there next year!

Fortunate wet-felt bootmakers

wet felt bootmaking

I am making “Soles with an Edge” for students in two workshops right now, here’s a photo of boots made last year by instructor Carin Engen. I love providing this soling, because these beautiful boots were worn outside all last winter! No more little circles of suede as soling!

Of course the felt boots are exceedingly warm, but the natural rubber soling adds to their warmth by being so flexible..when your foot muscles are involved in walking, they stay warm.

Another opportunity to have our own creativity and skills expressed wherever we go..

Update on prada footwear spring 2013 ……

prada sandalsGreetings, since I am the go-to person for the latest in foot fashion (for those of you who don’t know me, this is a joke – but i do like to check out couture footwear for ideas.. So now that i’ve found a good photo of said footwear, it’s a tabi-sock inside a sandal – some at perilous heights, others at ground level. But making a sandal, with a soft leather colorful or metallic tabi sock inside it, to wear in the fall, sounds like an irresistible project. Just make your sandals – they could even be minimalist tumahumara sandals with tabi inserts, with long cords to wrap around tabi at ankle..

Whoa, I just googled “how to make tabi socks”, found that Folkwear patterns sells a pattern (I ordered it), and there is a beautiful pair of tabi socks that you can knit at http://idahostixandstrings.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/tabi-sock-pattern.pdf. Let’s have awesome feet!

It’s official: duct tape shoes are in!

Here’s a shoe from the Prada show at Milan Fashion Week spring 13 – and folks, you can make them yourself! The trick to making shoes from duct tape is to wrap the first layer around your foot with the sticky-side out; then apply a neat second layer with sticky-side in – and you’ve got $500.00 per pair shoes! (and don’t forget the bow.)

“Shoes are boring; wear sneakers”

Converse “design it yourself” ads are all over web pages I go to: I say, “shoes somebody else makes are boring, make your own!” Why be stuck with choosing colors and maybe the location of a rivet or two? Start with my book, How to make the simplest sandals for everyone with your own two hands! And out of recycled materials, no less!

I was talking with a fellow recently who wants to make high end shoes for men. As I reflected on our conversation, the idea came to me that a brilliant business move might be to make the “fisher(man)” sandal, and make the heel section and toe-strap out of a neutral, less-expensive leather, then make the cross-straps out of more interesting colors and textures of leathers; perhaps the customer could select the colors and types of leather that he wants for the cross-straps from strips on display.  His customized sandals could be ready in hours.

The fisher sandal that is featured in “simplest sandals” has an elastic instead of a leather strap; great for women’s and children’s sandals, but not sufficiently “upscale” for the man’s sandal I am imagining. I’ll be working on making patterns for the fitted heel section and strap so it can be available for those who are intrigued by this concept. I did create a children’s pattern such as this one several years ago for an organization in Haiti; you can see the sandals in the young Haitian man’s hands, one pair I sent as a sample, the other pair he made himself.

Tweaking the loop sandal

For those of you who have purchased either How to Make Simple Sandals, or How to Make the Simplest Sandals, I just made a pair of loop sandals and offer these improved directions: (1) On the pattern, two holes are shown so the loop can pass up through one and down through the other, I now don’t think that’s necessary, so you can punch one hole in the center of the two holes shown, and pull your loop material up through it. I cut a 1/2″ dowel rod and cut sections of it to put into a loop so it remains the same size while I make the next loop. I used a 3/16″ hand punch to make the holes. To pull the loop material up through the hole, I used a paper clip: one leg extended up, one-half of the “lozenge-shaped” section poked through the hole. Pull the loop through the paper clip, then pull it up and shape it over a dowel rod section.

In memory of Glen Leasure

I received an email today reminding me that it has been two years since the death of Glen Leasure. Frequently during those two years I have deeply lamented the absence of my shoemaking friend.

Glen Leasure and myself both took up shoemaking in the 80’s, inspired by Christine Lewis-Clark’s book The Make-it-Yourself Shoe Book. We met and realized our common pursuit when my husband, daughter and I were visiting “intentional communities”, seeking a place to live that would provide us with an extended family as well as an opportunity to share resources and live simply. We met Glen and Peggy at Common Ground Community in Lexington Va.

In Lewis-Clark’s book, she taught the stitch-down process, and her belief that lasts weren’t needed for shoemaking, that instead one’s own feet can serve as lasts.

(Lasts are standardized molds that shoes are built over that include adequate toe space and the desired toe shape).

Glen stayed with Lewis-Clark’s teachings, and therefore each pair of boots – the footwear he most-often made – he made were custom-made over a customer’s feet or a replica of their feet. For myself, having done a lot of dress-making, I was drawn to making patterns and the using of commercial lasts.

We remained constant in the support we gave each other and there was much shoemaking information that we could share with each other and we did.

I was an admirer of the beauty of the boots Glen made, because he made hundreds of them and constantly worked at improving his process. He has a dvd available on his website, www.healthyhandmadeshoes.com, describing how he made his boots.

Glen aspired to teach shoemaking to those in areas of the world where foot-wear making knowledge was lacking. He spent over a year gathering materials to be used to teach shoemaking in Sierra Leone. His death after exposure to tropical diseases left his goals of helping the children there who were sickened by parasites entering their bodies through their unshod feet, temporarily incomplete.

I use the word “temporary” because his family, friends and others inspired by his dedication are determined that his goals be met, and will find a way. If you’re going to Sierra Leone, please get in touch.

Rest in peace, my generous friend.