My shoemaking manuals are complete, and my shoemaking “to do” list has been pared down to a manageable number of projects (transform adult patterns into more patterns for children; make a video of the “Stitch-in” process; get my etsy shop up and running). It’s time to communicate directly with aspiring shoemakers! There are so many different reasons why people are interested in making shoes: I have recently heard from two grandmothers – one has a teen-age granddaughter with feet so wide and short that she can only wear birkenstocks, and the other has a teen-age granddaughter who wears size 15 shoes! She would like to have some party shoes, which don’t come in the men’s sizes that she wears. There are many voices now advising people to buy locally-made products, food being the most obvious, but any form of apparel, certainly footwear, benefits from the same consciousness. Richard Heinberg, who sends out a monthly email from the “Post-carbon Institute”, advised a student who asked what he should do to prepare for an uncertain future, to learn to “butcher meat and make shoes”. And tan the hide while you’re at it, I guess. Being a vegetarian I don’t get the butchering part, but I certainly get the “make shoes” part. There are many people who are able to grow their own food, build themselves a house, and sew or knit everything they need to wear – but don’t know how to make their own shoes. My mission is to complete their empowerment by providing them with the knowledge of how to make those shoes. I started out making simple stitch-down shoes, relying on directions in a book from the 70’s by Christine Lewis-Clark (why is it that I always remember her name?) entitled “”. This book encourages readers to mold shoes over their feet. Trust me, shoes that duplicate the shape of most people’s feet are far from attractive! I still make simple stitch-down shoes. But I’ve gone over to the other side, and instruct that making shoes over lasts is the only way to go. Using standard lasts – and even those that have been customized, allows the maker to proudly declare, “these shoes? I made them myself!” While writing and creating patterns for my children’s shoemaking book, I was stumped because the only children’s lasts that I have or could find only could be used for making shoes for children with feet 5 1/2″ long or longer. I got the idea of extrapolating a bit from the lasts that I have, and making little lasts out of felt stuffed with wool fleece. They were so useful during the process of adhering the upper to the sole that I experimented with using them to make shoes ever larger, all the way up to the size 8 1/2-size shoes that I wear. So, I now advise people to stitch their own lasts, using the center-seam shoe pattern found in both the women’s and the children’s shoemaking books. I do sell resin-casts of the lasts that I have used to make all my women’s patterns, but if you do not want to purchase them as a beginning shoemaker, felt lasts can provide a serviceable alternative. Felt lasts won’t provide two other functions that resin lasts provide; they can be used to make patterns over, and, when jammed in to a completed, then moistened, shoe, they make the shape come to its complete form. And boy, does that look good! Especially with leather shoes, letting them dry over the lasts help them “memorize” and keep that nice shape. If you are using felt lasts, you can stuff the moistened shoe with crumbled-up paper bag to get a good shape, but it won’t be as perfect as a shoe stretched over a solid last. My goal is to make the pursuit of shoemaking an affordable venture, as well as one that is earth-friendly, while providing unlimited creative possibilities. I think I have recently happened upon the missing link in my sustainable shoemaking process – awesomeglue.com. Avoiding the toxic cements used in commercial and most independent shoemaking ventures has been essential; I have achieved that by using my beloved non-toxic contact cement, Titan DX, for all shoemaking processes – except adhering the sole to the upper part of the shoe. I very happily cement the sole in place with Titan DX, but proceed to then stitch the sole to the upper, as the cement alone will not hold it on permanently. I advise aspiring shoemakers to stitch the heels on to their shoes as well, but I’m not too crazy about the look of a stitched-on heel..of course, eliminating the heel all-together might be the healthiest thing to do, why on earth did we come up with the idea that a little – or a lot – of elevation in the heel is a good idea? (I know the answer regarding a lot of elevation, as in stiletto high-heel – it produces a sexy body posture, which many aspire to have, but what’s the point in wearing a shoe with 1/2″ heel? And what about those shoes that advertise their negative-heel advantages? So, whatever, if you decide you want a heel on your shoe, you now may be able to ecologically-reach your goal through the use of awesome glue! I serendipitously-happened upon it on youtube, and a sample is now being sent to me. Apparently all you need to do to make the cement function is to provide high heat during the fusion process, which can be provided by the use of a heat gun or boiling water. I’ll let you know soon which approach works best for me, and how secure the heel feels. Today my thoughts turn to moccasins. There are quite a few “how to make moccasins” sources, reflecting a variety of native people’s styles, so I don’t think I’ll be writing a moccasin-making book. (yet, for the many of you who have a copy of “how to make moccasins”, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have actual patterns for making the styles in that book? Have you ever tried to blow them up on a copy machine, to get something you could actually use? I have, and it doesn’t work. So maybe I will at some point accomplish this mission. or maybe you will..) December 18 I’ve been visiting my mom in indiana and a friend in santa fe, a trip that has provided me with lots of time (especially while visiting my 90-year-old mom) to work on editing my shoemaking dvds. I’ll have two for sale: “How to Hand-Make a Children’s Derby Shoe” (the process is the same when making an adult derby shoe, and most other shoes as well) and “How to Make Strap Sandals”. Other dvds will be posted on my wordpress site, offering visual directions for
“You Walk Wrong!” is an article from the NY Times magazine (http://nymag.com/health/features/46213/) that I invite you to read. It supports the simple way that I make shoes, with lots of space for your toes and thin flexible soling that comes as close as possible to duplicating the barefoot experience, while still protecting your feet.
James Roberts of Melbourne, Australia makes footwear and leather goods by hand, using methods and tools much the same to those used a hundred years ago. His shoes start at $800 AUD (about $790 USD), with boots and custom work going much higher—and he has a waiting list of six months plus. Numerous other leather-workers ply their trade on Etsy.com’s online marketplace, crafting custom shoes, boots, and bags. There, a pair of custom-made men’s or women’s shoes can command $500 a pair, and bags draw $100 on up.
In this age of mass production, shoes come cheap. Why the interest in bespoke, even in such a down economy? For many, it’s about quality and luxury. “Handmade shoes are now in the realm of luxury goods when they were once the only option,” says James. “So to keep the profession alive, I strive to make the shoes fit that small luxury market and thus raise the quality and craftsmanship of every step in the process that I can.”
James uses all leather for his shoes’ uppers, linings and soles and stiffeners, he hand-sews the shoes, and he dyes his own leather. “A day in the workshop is hard work. I usually have a few different tasks that I aim to get done that day. Sometimes it can take all day hand- stitching the soles on.” He spends anywhere from 40-70 hours making each pair.
Barefoot Shoes? The Primal Reason You Want to Take Off Your Shoes
Absent any social obligations, fashion expectations, or store regulations regarding the necessity of footwear, would you choose to go barefoot as often as possible?
I think you would. Most people, when they get home after work, or vacation in a tropical locale, kick their shoes off. It’s a momentary whim satisfied, but you could never, ever, for example, go to a job interview in bare feet. It just isn’t done, right?
But doesn’t the existence of that instinct toward kicking your shoes off, that inclination toward freeing your feet, make you wonder why? Instincts, after all, are there for a reason. If you dig deep enough and go back far enough, any particular instinct conferred some survival benefit to the organism with the instinct. Now, some instincts are obsolete, or even detrimental, in the modern world — like tribalism, which served a distinct purpose for hunter-gatherers but only sows discord, hate, and fear today. But others still make sense: an infant’s propensity toward putting things in its mouth (introduces novel bacteria to their budding immune systems); a teen’s, ahem, primal urges when it comes to sex (allows the propagation of the species, with some caveats, of course!); and our love of sunny days (sun exposure provides vitamin D, an essential micronutrient for health). I’d argue that our love of being barefoot is a similarly beneficial instinct.
If you look at the structure of the foot itself, it’s a remarkably complex piece of machinery, with more than 26 bones, 33 joints, and over a hundred tendons, ligaments, and muscles. It’s also one of our oldest bodily features, having been essentially unchanged since our graduation into full-on bipedalism at least four million years ago. Bipedalism was a really big deal for our early human ancestors. Walking upright freed our hands for tool making and usage, it gave us greater visibility across the Saharan grasslands for spotting prey and predators, and it reduced the amount of skin directly exposed to the sun when it was at its harshest and brightest. It allowed us to travel great distances more efficiently than quadrupeds. And it was all done without expensive Nikes. Anthropologists place the earliest footwear at about 40,000 years ago, probably a protective measure to guard against snow and ice. So, for the vast bulk of our evolutionary history, the human foot was designed to handle the rigors of walking and running in its completely natural, bare state.
We’ve still got those same feet, but we don’t use them anymore. Instead, we cover them up. We wear shoes that alter the structure and function of our feet, and that weaken the myriad tendons, muscles, and ligaments through disuse. We strap on rubber soles that sever our proprioceptive connection with the ground and restrict our nervous system’s ability to subconsciously respond to changing environments and protect us from tripping or turning an ankle.
An early 20th century orthopedist named Philip Hoffman had a similar idea. His mostly ignored 1905 study, titled “Conclusions Drawn From a Comparative Study of the Feet of Barefooted and Shoe-Wearing People,” (gotta love the blunt frankness of early research) did exactly what the title states. He looked at the feet of people who spent their lives barefooted, of people who started out barefoot and then “graduated” to shoes, and of people who grew up in shoe-wearing cultures. The results were clear: lifelong bare footers displayed wider feet with wider toe beds and fewer foot dysfunctions, while shoe-wearers displayed narrower feet, narrower toe beds, and many more foot dysfunctions. And the shoes acted quickly, too; individuals who had spent most of their lives barefoot experienced significant, rapid alteration of the foot structure after a few weeks of wearing shoes. In the end, Hoffman concluded that of the “one hundred and eighty-six pairs of primitive feet examined, [he] did not find a single foot associated with the symptoms of weakness so common in adult shoe-wearing feet, which are weakened by the restraint the shoe exerts over function.” Take a look at the linked PDF, because the pictures are startling.
This is not an appeal to the naturalistic fallacy. This is simply stating a fact: the human foot was designed by millions of years of natural selection to work in its unaltered state. Putting on thick, restrictive shoes with prominent heels and lots of padding puts us at a greater risk of lower body injuries, both chronic and acute. It allows the muscles in our feet to atrophy from disuse. And once that primary link between our bodies and the ground is compromised, the rest follows: ankle pain, knee pain, hip pain, back pain.
So, what can you do if you’ve been wearing shoes your entire life, or if you’re already suffering from foot, leg, or knee pain? Throw in the towel and pony up the money for orthotics? No way! Need arch support? Use your built-in arch support! Just as dealing with the ramifications of tribalism, by ignoring the problem, only exacerbates the situation, sticking your feet in a desensitizing, immobilizing cast made of rubber and leather in order to reduce lower body pain avoids the root cause of the problem and focuses on the immediate symptoms.
Go barefoot as often as possible. It’s as simple as that.
Ditch the shoes when and where it’s acceptable: at home, on walks around the block, at the park. Working in the office? Go in socks and leave the shoes under the desk. Go to the beach and take a long walk. Grasp the sand with them and flex your foot muscles.
As with any muscle you haven’t been using for an extended period of time, your feet are probably weak, and rushing into mile runs or two hours hikes in unprepared bare feet will be painful and potentially dangerous. Ease your way into it, especially if you’re habitually shod.
Free your feet, pay attention to the sensations, and walk the way your genes intended.
Mark Sisson is a former elite marathoner and triathlete. He is the author of the best-selling health and fitness book, “The Primal Blueprint”, and publisher of the health blog, MarksDailyApple.com. Become a fan on Facebook and visit Mark’s blog for daily health tips.
This Blogger’s Books from Amazon
The Primal Blueprint: Reprogram your genes for effortless weight loss, vibrant health, and boundless energy
The Primal Blueprint: Reprogram your genes for effortless weight loss, vibrant health, and boundless energy
by Mark Sisson