Ubiquitous footwear of Ethiopia

Stanmeyer-Sandals2(Just in case you, like me, have a general idea of what  “ubiquitous” means, but want to understand it better, it’s “seeming to be everywhere at the same time”).

I was reading an article in National Geographic  last night, “To Walk the World”. That’s basically the author’s plan, to trace the path that homo sapiens took to populate the world. He started off in Ethiopia, and the above photo and paragraphs below are taken from this article.

“In the affluent “global north”, where fashion caters to every whim and vanity, shoes announce their wearer’s class, hipness, career choice, sexual availability, even politics (the clog versus the cowboy boot). It is disorienting, then, to be walking through a landscape where human beings – millions upon millions of women, men and children – slip on identical-style footwear every morning: the cheap, democratic, versatile plastic sandal of Ethiopia. Poverty drives demand. The only brand is necessity.

Available in a limited palette of chemical hues – black, red, brown, green, blue – the humble rubbery shoes are a triumph of local invention. They cost a pittance to manufacture. Any pair can be had to the equivalent of a day’s field labor. (Perhaps two dollars). They are cool – permitting the air to circulate about the feelt on the desert’s scalding surface. The ubiquitous sandals of rural Ethiopia weigh nothing. They are recyclable. And home repair is universal. Owners melt and mend the molded-plastic straps over wood fires.”

Actually, I love the style of these sandals, commit myself to making myself a pair in that blue leather by the summer! And I appreciate the author’s description of what a wearer’s shoes signify – I’d say “hipness” leads the way. But what could be more “hip” than shoes you have made yourself?

Update on simple shoemaking

little felt velcro shoes

I have let go of blogging commitments in a frenzy of new product and new website creation. In the spring a marketer suggested that I have children’s shoemaking kits to sell, so a busy mother (or someone else who loves the little person) could more easily make the first pair of shoes for her child – and hopefully go on to make many more!

Well, those kits have occupied me “big time”! Now that I have a one-year-old (enchanting) granddaughter and have miraculously found some small children’s lasts on etsy (they were sold as “lovely decorations for a children’s room, but I had more practical uses for them!) I have a much better sense of what styles and shapes of shoes would actually work well for children’s feet.

They have to be easy to get on! Then they have to stay on! They have to be healthy – flat flexible soles, wide toe box – and be made of healthy and earth-friendly materials. And easy to make, with opportunity for the maker’s creative input. And they have to be adorable!

Somewhere along the way I became enamored with using 3mm (quite thick) felt for the shoes in the shoemaking kits. Children commonly wear felt shoes in European countries, and I believe they would be popular here. I’m using the most basic pattern for the kit – it’s the same one my Italian grandmother used to make my baby shoes from black velvet, with a little ankle strap that closed with a tiny pearl button.

This pattern is so versatile – it can become a shoe with a tie, or a velcro band across the instep. It can be a “Mary Jane” or a “Millie” (that’s my granddaughter’s name! – I’m using her name for the style with the ankle strap.)

And, this led me to realize that I could make similar kits to get “grown-ups” started in making their own shoes as well. I’ll tell you more about that project in my next blog…but if you’d like to have a pair of shoes similar to these little ones, please check back!

Sandal photo to make your day!

I’m never disappointed when I go to www.huaracheblog.com, there’s always something fascinating – today I saw a diagram for making huaraches that was patented in the early 20th century – now you too can make huaraches, just follow the pattern!

While there, I wanted to find a photo of men wearing sandals with laces around their ankles, to show my husband; he couldn’t imagine men wearing such things. Here’s the beefcake photo I found to educate him on the commonality of such sandals in certain cultures.


Link bracelet

belt loopsWhat a combination – little scraps of leather and a terrific-looking way to use them! I saw a handbag from Sweden made with multi-colored leather loops, and thought they would look good used for making a bracelet. Here is the result! I’m now imagining having a bowl-full of these colorful loops at the All Things Local store that will soon be opening in Amherst – 50 cents per loop. My bracelet used twelve loops, so I have a $6.00 bracelet. Oh, the color combinations that could be created…

Then of course you could make belts – since I haven’t worn a belt in decades I don’t plan to make one, but you might –

I’ve posted the pattern here, of course they could have different shapes, but this is the tried-and-true-one. The length for the belt loop is 4 inches. I used the same pattern for the bracelet loops, reducing the length to 2 5/8 inches. To make the slits I used a 1/2-inch hand punch. And, I used a “line 20” snap for a closure. It’s fun to set snaps, all you need is a little metal post and a little round “anvil” with a concave side that completes the setting kit you can order from Tandy Leather along with the snaps.

In case you didn’t make belts from these loops back at Na-Wa-Kwa Girl Scout Camp, like I did, (all brown, of course) here’s how you make the chain of loops: fold the first loop (the grey one) so the slits line up. Take the second loop (the yellow one) and pull it through the two grey slits. Fold it in two just as you did the grey one, and you’re ready to insert the red one. Keep on going until it’s the length you want. For the last loop, don’t punch any slits in it. Set the two parts of the snap, and you’ve got your bracelet.


Trippen’s latest catalog

trippenpenaI purchased the Trippen Book several years ago, which gives an overview of Trippen (an imaginative and innovative German shoe company) styles and its shoemaking process. If I need some design inspiration, that’s the book I’ll pick up – along with Aki Choklat’s Footwear Design. Trippen’s designers have more ideas on how to tie, fold, cut, and manipulate leather to make shoes than any other team I know of.
Trippen recently sent out a mailing, inviting customers to look at their new online catalog:  https://www.trippen.com/en/News_HW1314_en.pdf
When reading the catalog, I came across this information:
The sole is sewn to the upper, not glued. This mechanical fastening provides for an almost complete avoidance of solvent-based adhesive in the attachment of the sole and allows worn soles to be removed and replaced.
Since I stitch on soles to avoid using these adhesives – although, as a “sole” proprietor, my soles are much simpler (and my shoes can easily be re-soled and the oldsole recycled)-  I was delighted to read that their efforts and mine are heading in the same direction – away! –  from those adhesives that are toxic to the individual as well as to our shared environment.

Allan Block, sandalmaker, dies at 90

postcard from Allan with the message "6 Happy Dogs"

postcard from Allan with the message “6 Happy Dogs”

Allan Block was a friend of mine, I met him when I first was selling shoes at Old Songs Festival in New York State – he had the booth across from me, so I was treated to his fiddle playing throughout the day. There was a woman hanging out with him who was one of the women alluded to in the following article by the phrase  “he was married several times”.  Barbara Storm became a dear friend of mine. She wove beautiful fabric from which she constructed fabulous little chenille hats. We dreamed of going into business together as “head and toes”. She developed lung cancer and died, and I miss her to this day.

Allan was famous because his sandal shop in Greenwich Village was a hang-out for musicians such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez during the 60s (if I remember correctly the center pair of “dogs” belonged to her).

Rest in peace Allan.


Update on “warm hands, warm hearts, warm feet” project

In answer to several inquiries, this project is very important to me. My goal is to design a boot that can be made from felted recycled wool coats, and to put the pattern on this site without charge. My request is that the first pair that is made goes to a small child who needs it, either in the maker’s local area or on a northern reservation.

But now that I have a little granddaughter I try boots on her, and so far it’s been “back to the drawing board” with each model. I thought I had a perfected pair today, I had so much fun serging the edges in four bright threads. Of course the shoe can have a zig-zag edge, or be entirely stitched by hand.

But, the new boots came right off her feet as she was crawling around on the floor. Velcro just isn’t enough, it seems. So now I am redesigning them with a tie to cinch nice and tight. It doesn’t help that my granddaughter’s calves are shaped like cones so everything seems to slide right off – but I imagine she’s a typical child in that respect. So, hopefully within a week or so I’ll be putting the pattern and instructions online. Please check back!

Here’s a photo of the model with a velcro closure


Previously, I had designed another boot, with a little velcro tab. I scratched it too, too hard to get on. A real kid makes it really challenging! And it’s a blessing of course, to know what really works and what doesn’t…..and to have a little granddaughter.





Leather objects catch my eye, but none more so that a handbag I saw on the arm of a woman who entered my tent at a craft fair – I had no camera so didn’t record it, but I can still visualize it. Large bag, all seams hand-stitched and couched, meaning that a thin strip of colorful leather was caught under the stitches. There were large red and ochre glass trade beads seemingly epoxied to the ends of various straps, and an adorable little man on a bicycle embroidered front and center in primitive stitching. Now I know these are all features of a Henry Cuir handbag!

I have couched a lot of seams since seeing this bag, and embroidered little creatures on many shoes..no epoxied beads yet… but this process reminds me of the value of utilizing ideas from one object to another, particularly when they are using the same medium.

If you’d like to peruse the world of Henry Cuir handbags, and maybe glean some ideas for your own leatherwork, I recommend you look at used ones on ebay.com. – not to mention buy one some day! Although you’re probably like me and think, “I can make that bag myself” yet never get around to it – and when I think some more about it,  I realize I don’t even need a bag!


I love to look at other articles made of leather for shoemaking inspiration, and one source that I keep going back to are Henry Cuir/Henry Beguelin (there was some sort of split into two companies) handbags. I go on ebay.com to see a serendipitous assortment of their products. But by all means, check out each of their website also. Funny, I love their bags so much, but not their shoes – I don’t understand why they don’t take the same aesthetic used in their bags and carry it over into their footwear.

And, each offers an example of the value of having a little unique feature that identifies your product. They stitch simple little characters somewhere on each “authentic” bag,

I have written elsewhere of the customer with gold-plated toenails who entered my craft fair booth; she had the most fascinating handbag I had seen..all the seams were stitched by hand, with a strip of leather “couched” under the stitches.

Here is an example of a couching stitch that I used at the heel of a children’s shoe, after seeing it on her “Henry” bag.


There were wonderful trade beads epoxied, I guess, to the ends of the couching strips. Here’s a bag that has the most similarities to the one I actually saw: