Four days of shoe school down, one to go…
It's been a whirlwind. I wanted to come to shoe school because I have so many ideas for footwear that I just haven't found in the wild, and I hoped I could learn the basic mechanics of the craft in order to make my own shoes. We are now nearing the end of making a pair of oxfords from scratch - pattern cutting, hand stitching, and assembling on a last (the form that a shoe is built around) - and it's everything I hoped for, and then some.
The class has just four students, and the couple who runs the school have been absurdly generous with their time, hospitality, and knowledge. What we're learning in five days we will be able to take home and build upon for all kinds of shoe-making, should we choose to continue (and unfortunately I'm totally sucked in now).
Our teacher is a true craftsman with years and years and years of experience who just wants to share this art with people. He's an interesting character for sure - an ex-hippie who lived in a bus off the grid until a few years ago, made a name making clown shoes (don't laugh, it was a legit market niche), kind of a curmudgeon, definitely doesn't have time for your bullshit, but will offer guidance to anyone who asks. He says when he started out, no one would share their shoe-making know-how, so now he's determined to share as much as he knows. They've been running the school three or four times a year for 38 years.
At times the workshop feels almost like a seminar on the state of shoe manufacturing. We've learned so much just about how shoes are made and how to spot quality, even if I never make another pair of shoes I will never look at them the same again. While there is a world of difference between a handmade pair of shoes versus a shoe manufactured in a factory, the same principles apply.
The thing that sucks is that, because it's a dying craft, there are few or no resources available to someone who wants to start making their own shoes. Even finding a last is tricky because the folks that still make lasts sell to manufacturers, not individuals. So unless you want a factory's worth of lasts, good luck (although now that I've done this program, I will have a last connection; everyone else is on their own). A lot of the equipment and sewing machines you might want to invest in are obsolete or inaccessible or both. Even twenty years ago it was much easier to find and buy the right tools. Today, there just isn't a shoe-making industry in America like there used to be, so much of the equipment sold here is geared toward shoe repair, not shoe-making, which are actually very different in scope and practice.
Of course, as a letterpress printer, I'm familiar with the allure of an obsolete craft 😅. So while it's sort of disheartening to hear what a challenge it would be to assemble my own shoe-making setup, it's not impossible, and boy do I have ideas.
There's so much to parse through. I will be writing more on the intricacies of shoe-making and my experience making my own pair of oxfords in the near future, but in the meantime, please enjoy these handmade mini tassles: