Huaraches!

There are still Huaraches north of old Mexico.  As I prepare to resole my huaraches I thought it might be good to look back on them as a very viable hand-made shoe.

For a long time while searching for huarache construction techniques, I could only find the simplest tire sandals and many links to “barefoot” style running sandals.  However, a few years ago, I found Markus Kittner’s Huarache Blog and scoured it for inspiration and design secrets from real huaracheros in old Mexico.  He has done excellent work in documenting the process.

My first beautiful huaraches drying after being soaked to shape to my foot.  They were subsequently oiled and slicked down.  I owe much to the Huarache blog for so many great images and descriptions of traditional huaraches.

As a craftsman of sorts, I understand that making a “one-off” of something does not imply expertise.  Only replication builds a real understanding and mastery of the object being produced. However, this is not my first leather working or shoemaking project but a major improvement on a theme.  This style shoe is made on a last.  The shoe lasts I purchased on Ebay have finally been used to actually make a shoe.  I documented the process as it came together as best I could; my mistakes and changes included in the process.  This is not really a “how to” recipe for making a huarache but shows the process I used.

The lasts I found on Ebay.  The sole cut out, punched for strapping and nailed to the last.

The last shown here fits me well but are an Oxford dress shoe style, meaning they run a little long in the toe.  As I am making an open-toe design, I let the last hang over slightly in the front, squaring the sole to the shape of my actual foot.  New lasts are pricey (ca. 50 euros/$70 US), but I think it will pay in the long run to invest in a better design for myself and those people I might make shoes for.

Wetting out the first strap.

I didn’t show the strap cutting process as there is little to be learned about that.  It is a skill in itself, even if you have a strap cutter.  My Osbourne strap cutter can be seen in the upper right of this photo

Since this project was experimental, I used scrap leather, meaning I could only get about three foot (one meter) straps.  In future, I’ll probably use 6 foot or longer pieces (2+ meters).

Nailing the strap to the last.

I pre-punched holes in the mid-sole and away we go.  A little tallow on the straps helps cut the friction of the leather but ended up being not worth the trouble.  They were kept damp throughout the process.

Placing the twining thong.

This is a signature of the style I chose.  The vamp or tongue-like piece was later removed as I didn’t like the way it looked.  I’ll experiment more with that later.

Lacing and twining.

Unlike normal, I completely finished the first shoe and removed it from the last to check size and shape to determine any major changes that would need to be made.

A heel piece was added and laced up the back. I think this step shows the evolution of the strap sandal to the modern huarache.

The straps running under the mid-sole look like a problem here but are ultimately skived down, dampened, and hammered flat.

Straps ends as added in. Longer straps would lessen the ends here.

I used simple wire nails (as is traditional) to attach the soles but sewing would work too.

Ends to be trimmed and skived, and a finished sole.

Pulled from the last, they actually matched.  I don’t know why I was surprised but that made me really happy.

Preparing to nail the sole.

The method I chose to attach the rubber is fast and efficient, and I suspect rather tough.  The nails are pressed through the leather and rubber into a thick leather scrap below.  Otherwise, you would need to pry it up from the work board.  One surprise I learned over time was that the nails actually wore off on the underside before the rubber.

Nailing the sole.

Bending the nails in preparation for clinching.

The nails are bent over (inward) to prepare to “clinch” them.  There are no photos of this part of the process but this was done by setting the shoe back upright on a small anvil and hammering the nails down tight with a punch.  The pre-bending causes the nail to curl inward and back up into the sole.  Voila!  The Huaraches below have about five miles of hiking on them now and they’re beginning to have some character.

Huaraches you say?  Do tough guys wear such things?  In an era of cheap, slave-made garments, its easy to forget how self-reliant our ancestors were for such things as raiment. I include this photo of Capitan Alcantar I found on the Huarache Blog as a great historical image of a man of action wearing his huaraches and ready for war.

Click the image for more historic photos like this.

I hope this prompts someone out there in the world to take on the project of making their own shoes, whether for survival, uniqueness, or just as a challenge.  Making for yourself is a small act of revolution against a bad system.

Early Burras from Uruapan

Some very thick leather shoes. They would last a remarkably long time under the worst conditions.

Huarache Blog

I have posted about the traditional Mexican Burra Footwear already a couple of times on this blog and consider Burras another fascinating area of footwear research. These Burras I was lucky to photograph also at the Bata Museum in Toronto, their origins are from the 1950’s Uruapan area of Mexico. Although I have never seen a similar Burra design during my research in Mexico.

IMG_4433SML   Mexican Burras, Burras

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Mid-Cut Huaraches From Tuxpan, Jalisco

These are beauties.

Huarache Blog

Tuxpan in Southern Jalisco is a small town well known for its Tacos “Tuxpenos” and less known for its unique Mid-Cut Huarache style.

That being nowadays said their is so little demand for the Tuxpan Huarache “Tejido con Talonera Alta” that it can only be made on to order by the only remaining Huarachero in Tuxpan, Armando Ortiz, whose other styles can also be seen in The Huarache Directory HERE

tuxpan side 34

tuxpan back 34

tuxpan multiview  Huaracheria Ortiz

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Taller De Curtiduria González – Vegetable Tanning the Best Huarache Leathers

Huarache Blog

Unlike almost all of mainstream footwear, Huarache leather is still vegetable tanned using wood. Few tanneries in the world still offer vegetable tanned leathers because of the slower tanning process and higher raw material costs.

Not only are the wood and organic matter used to tan the leather renewable, but the vegetable tanning solution doesn’t create toxic carcinogenic bi-products such as Chromium IV to which tannery workers and waterways can be exposed to.

The natural benefits of vegetable tanned leather are that the organic tanning process has a much lesser environmental impact and the leather maintains some of its natural quality to stretch and adapt to your foot shape.

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Jesús and Antonio González the father and son tanners still practice this traditional and centuries old tanning method and unlike modern tanneries still tan by hand.

They are considered by many local Huaracheros to be the best vegetable tannery in the Mexican state of…

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úkata

An interesting and excellent business idea. Maybe this will help keep the huaracheros’ tradition alive.

Huarache Blog

For the past 3 years Huarache Blog has been documenting and promoting the craft of Mexican Huarache footwear. This year I will also be developing a specialty e-trade business to offer more immediate support to the craft of Huaraches.

ukata coming soon WP

Introducing úkata, an online Huaracheria selling only the best Huaraches in Mexico. Rare designs crafted by the most talented Huaracheros. Timeless Huarache styles that have been made the same way by the artisan and his family for generations. Footwear with a low environmental impact, made with naturally processed and recycled materials.

Click back in February for a more detailed post on úkata and to visit the online store.

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Durante los últimos 3 años Blog Huarache ha estado documentando y promoviendo la artesanía de los Huaraches Mexicanos. Este año voy iniciar un negocio de comercio internet para ofrecer un apoyo más inmediato a los Huaracheros y a la artesanía de los Huaraches Mexicanos.

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Sandals of the New Kingdom, Egypt

Some shoe solutions from the Bronze Age, North Africa.SandalMaker

Sandal maker – New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty from Thebes ca. 1504–1425 B.C.  Like a Diderot illustration this gives a good look at the workshop of an artisan with the essentials of his trade.  There’s the stool, which is useful in leatherwork as it gives a good lap to work on.  A beam, probably implying that the leather is made on-site.  A couple of awls in handles are shown and what is probably a curved awl, made from antelope horn, useful when weaving leather (my speculation based on huaracheros and other traditional weaving tools).  The sole of the sandal looks to be leather and is being punched with the awl.  Other sandals are made from fiber, probably by a different artisan specialist, while burial sandals were likely a specialty industry and are often made from wood or precious metals.

Sandals2

Papyrus fiber sandals.  Second Intermediate Period–Early New Kingdom, 17th-18th Dynasty, Thebes ca. 1580–1479 B.C. These are constructed using a coil basketry technique which involves wrapping a soft fiber around a thicker, linear element while “sewing” into the adjacent coil.

Sandals

Papyrus fiber sandals.  Second Intermediate Period–Early New Kingdom, 17th-18th Dynasty, Thebes ca. 1580–1479 B.C.

SandalsRed

Red ochre stained calfskin leather sandals.  New Kingdom 18th Dynasty during the joint reign of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III ca. 1473–1458 B.C.  These are interesting as they are tooled to look like woven sandals.  The leather might be harder-wearing but the woven style may have denoted more wealth (i.e., flimsy shoes equates to more wealth or less need to labor).  A very simple design used for thousands of years and well-illustrated in the sandal maker panel above.  This is a good survival sandal that could be made quickly in the field from many materials today.

two pair

SandalsAu2

Finally, a couple pair of golden burial sandals (women’s) from Thebes, New Kingdom 18th Dynasty during the reign of Thutmose III ca. 1479–1425 B.C.  Note the embossing to imitate stitching.  A simple design that could be made up in a very short time.

SandalsAu

All of the above images are from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and clicking any of the photos will take you to the appropriate page for the artifact.  I chose these sandals as I believe the best survival solutions are tried and true and generally exhibited in the archaeological record if the material survives.  Make yourself a pair of shoes.  With a little practice, basic footwear can be made that is serviceable and fit for public wear.  Our ancestors did this for thousands of years, we can too.

Everything you build, every entertainment you make, every meal you procure yourself frees you from the market economy and liberates you a little more from the consumer system.