MUSINGS on my shoemaking journey

 

QUESTIONS I WAS ASKED IN A RECENT EMAIL:

Dear Sharon,

Are you a “cobbler?”

Well, I hope that this isn’t too forward, but I was wondering I could just ask you a few questions about your livelihood. I am a craftsman and artist of sorts, having always been a little in search of what I am best at, and what can also help me support my family. I had a little light turn on in my head about trying out shoes, and see that you may be approaching it similarly to how I would like to.

Do you support yourself with shoe-making?

Did you apprentice or find your own way?

What was your most valuable resource?

Which of your how-to books would you recommend I begin with? I am a mother of two, and my husband and I are going to be growing our family with little money while “aiming” for a craftsman’s lifestyle (he would be wood-working and blacksmithing). I at least want to have to satisfaction of making a pair of shoes per family member!

Any help is appreciated, of course, and I understand if you are shy about helping. This would take me years to get sorted, so I can’t imagine I would be of any competiton on Etsy! 😉

Dance Sandals

Dance Sandals

MY ANSWER:

Greetings, Well, I have never thought that I was a cobbler, but thought I’d check wikipedia before answering your question. Here’s what I found:

Cobbler(s) may refer to:

A shoemaker who repairs shoes, rather than manufacturing them (see cordwainer for a discussion of the distinction).

A cordwainer (or cordovan) is a shoemaker/cobbler who makes fine soft leather shoes and other luxury footwear articles. The word is derived from “cordwain”, or “cordovan”, the leather produced in Córdoba, Spain. The term cordwainer was used as early as 1100 in England.[1] Historically, there was a distinction between a cordwainer, who made luxury shoes and boots out of the finest leathers, and a cobbler, who repaired them. This distinction gradually weakened, particularly during the twentieth century, when there was a predominance of shoe retailers who neither made nor repaired shoes.

So who can say, I might be a cordwainer, (I’m even a member of the honorable cordwainer organization, although you don’t have to send in a shoe you have made to gain admittance!) I have never made a “fine” or “luxury” shoe, however, so perhaps I’m simply a shoemaker.

However, to answer your questions about livelihood, I now am devoted to the creation of more shoemakers in the world, not to the making of shoes. I am nearing 70 years of age, with arthritic hands, so it is time to pass on the knowledge and experience I have gained through the process of making “simple shoes” for almost 25 years.

I have never fully-supported myself through shoemaking. I have a husband who has never expressed irritation at supporting my constant but erratic obsession with shoemaking. I am hoping that the vending of pattern books, DVDs, and the teaching of shoemaking will start to pay back for all his support, during our “retirement” years.

The advice that I give every shoemaking student I have had who would like to start a small business is to not do what I did –  I would declare “this is it! this is the kind of shoe I want to make”, then skip to another style and proclaim “no, this new shoe is indeed the ultimate one”. and on and on…. I was recently showing a student a few pairs of the “dance sandals” I have made, with snap-on-straps of various colors. I have enjoyed making them so much for myself, and have sold more of them than any other style of shoe. I still think it’s a great concept – but I didn’t stick with it. I jumped to making shoes with little “pockets” into which one could insert various colored or embellished discs. I remember how long I worked on making that pocket, then tossed that idea aside soon after figuring it out. But, those years have left me with many file folders of patterns, which have been the foundation for my shoemaking books…

So, my advice is to hone in on the shoe you want to make, then stick with it for a while. a long while. Of course look at all the hand-made shoe shops on etsy (most of them are from countries other than the U.S.A., where I gather there are more shoemaking schools – there must be quite a few schools in Israel!) Make something simple, work with simple materials, come up with a terrific name and logo for your company, take fabulous photos of footwear on the feet of members of your family, and open that etsy shop!

I suggest that you start with my book “How to Make the Simplest Sandals for all the family with your own two hands”. Purchase the simple tools needed (see TOOLS AND MATERIALS LIST for “How to Make the Simplest Sandals” on my blog). Find pocketbooks or leather clothing at thrift shops to use for your first shoemaking experiments. The fisherman’s sandal is a great first project – you can cut strips with rotary cutter if you have it, maybe in a variety of colors; and with inch-wide colorful elastic available now, you can create very special shoes “for Everyone”!

My very best wishes for satisfaction, ease and insight (and financial reward!) while on your shoemaking journey.

Sharon