Moccasin upgrade time again

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These ratty old moccasins have spent a lot of time in the woods.  These have been my winter moccasins for over two decades.  I can’t remember exactly when I made them but it was a quick and dirty sewing job.  They have been re-soled at least twice and need it again.  The uppers are an oil-tanned leather I bought from a saddle and boot maker supply house I found while driving through north Texas.  As can be seen, the tops can be worn up or down.  They aren’t beauties but they are definitely ME.

Handmade Sandals

Sandals in progress…

If you have ever taken a class with me you might know that all the intimidating sewing isn’t as bad as it looks.  The sole is three layers thick but the use of a good, sharp awl makes the double needle sewing go quickly.  A lot more work goes into these than I would have initially thought but I really think they come out great in the end.  It took several pairs to get the pattern just right but research into design and construction led me to this final design.  The sole is three layers thick (or more historically) and have been made this way in Europe and North Africa for more than 2,000 years.

The thickness of additional layers isn’t just to provide safety for the feet but the central layer provides a path for the straps to travel through without lumping under the feet.  The parts consist of an insole (medium weight oak tan leather), mid-sole to allow tunneling the straps through, and an outer sole, in this case, leather.  The straps are 48″ per foot plus the heel yoke.

This is how they looked when I thought I was finished. Shortly after, I added buckles and have since been through a few more soles. Currently they are shod with rubber.

Nine years on and still going strong. The patina that good leather takes on cannot be simulated. They get a coat of dubbin every six months or so but otherwise, need little care. I hope to get back to a time when I can wear them daily again.

Sandals

This post came from looking through a few class photos from Rabbitstick several years ago based on an inquiry. This is one of the years I taught my favorite sandal design, an ancient one though still cleverly marketed as a modern style.

I call them saint sandals as they look like something you would see on a medieval depiction of some holy wanderer from Europe or the Middle East.  To me, these are the greatest sandals I have ever owned.

This design is a good introduction to leather working and specifically, making footwear, which can be a bit more complex than most people know.  Shoes really need to fit well in order to not cause pain or damage to the feet so an open design is a good way to start on this craft.

As I make them, the sewing is fairly minimal and can be eliminated entirely with the use Barge Cement.  The sewing makes them a stronger design and I think adds a sense if beauty and craftsmanship to the final product.  It is also a good introduction to double needle saddle stitching.

With a little dedication, these can be made in a long half day and are ready for use immediately.

Thank you to all the patient students who have learned this and taken home to teach others.  I look forward to this class each time I offer it.

Ghillie Shoe Commission

A while ago I received a request to make a pair of carbatinae (ghillie shoes) for a reenactor.  It was the first time I have done this long-distance without being able to measure the foot directly.  Luckily, we had good communication and I had a shoe last in his size so with these factors and the fact that this style is a fairly forgiving fit, I was able to create something he was happy with.

Being constructed from 12 oz Hermann-Oak harness leather, these should last for a very long time if not worn extensively on wet concrete.

I really love the simplicity of this design and continue to learn and modify my technique with each new pair.  With high quality commercially tanned leather, they can’t be made particularly cheap, but with high quality materials you certainly get what you pay for.

Very little sewing makes this shoe a fairly quick project to complete once the cutting is done.

This was the first time I used a last to make this type shoe but it was a big help in the forming stage.

Setting the pattern and cutting them out is most of the battle.

Once they’re broken in, they fit your foot like a leather stocking, allowing for a barefoot, but well-protected feel.  I certainly like this shoe.

Mayhem Shoes for the Dystopian Survivor

“The first rule of Project Mayhem is that you do not ask questions…”

this may be my new teaching mantra

I am considering calling my custom footwear “Mayhem Shoes” (at least until Chuck Palahniuk’s space monkey lawyers make me stop).

I teach a couple classes about low-tech shoemaking a few times per year in the primitive survival skills community.  The designs I focus on are styles that can be made by one person in one day; a popular theme in early historic examples.  Some require a lot of cutting, some require sewing.  There is an off-grid, neo-Luddite attitude about making your own shoes.  In fact, I think I will register the name Dystopian Leather Works as my new business.  I’m considering a small business venture to go into custom production of the shoes I teach people to make as well as expanding the custom leather work I currently produce.

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The author at work.

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A dedicated student finishes in a day.

The kinds of people that take these classes are from all walks of life, not just survivalists, historical nerds, or experimental archaeologists, but folks who want to make things for themselves for whatever reason.  I’m finding that there are others who might just want the handmade product without the labor of making them. In a day, an attentive student can produce a wearable (and good-looking) pair of serviceable shoes like the carbatina (ghillies) above.

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An experienced craftsman creating some new sandals in the class.

Another finished pair.

For those looking for a more modern look a fine pair of sandals can be made with just a few hours, cutting and sewing.  These are easily re-solable and should last the better part of a lifetime.  Look familiar?  Chaco and Teva didn’t exactly re-invent the wheel; just updated the materials and outsourced the work overseas.  Even in the wilds of Canada, traditional ghillies can be a useful part of the wardrobe.  Mike made these two years ago and they still protect his sturdy peasant feet.

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As long as you can stick with it while safely using a knife, the class is a cinch.

There is something very satisfying about taking a piece of nondescript, vegetable tanned leather and creating a lasting and useful object with your own hands.

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Attention to detail makes a fine finished product.

The beauty is truly in the details.  Serious students often bevel and burnish edges to give their shoes a “finished” look, suitable for public wear.

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A pair of saintly sandals nearing completion.

Above, a student trial fits the uppers before attaching the outsole.  In my classes, the outermost sole on any of these shoes may be a durable Vibram material, a softer but grippy Soleflex, or natural leather.  The latter option is popular with those who are interested in treading lightly on the earth or those who are concerned with earthing or grounding.

DSC_0089Learning as community.  It is always a very social event to teach these courses.  No matter the variety of backgrounds, we are sharing an ancient craft in common.

DSC_0087As in all leatherwork, neatness counts.  A good hand with a knife is a great asset for shoemaking.

DSC_0086Test fitting the straps for buckle placement and strap length.

DSC_0084This style sandal may be tied or buckled but I have found that a 3/4″ center bar buckle is about the easiest to work with and adjust.

DSC_0104Bowing to modern convenience.  For the classes, we use contact cement to adhere the insole, mid-sole, and outsole.  This insures a good connection and will hold up even if the stitching doesn’t last forever.

DSC_0119The author demonstrates the wrong way to rough out a pattern.  Cutting out oversize pieces for the sake of time-savings.

DSC_0118Tough rubber soles will make these sandals last years and are easily replaced.

DSC_0137Trial fitting a ghillie after soaking in water.  They feel ridiculously thick and stiff for the first hour or two but tend to suddenly relax an become a part of the foot after a soak in neatsfoot oil.

DSC_0136Ready for taking part in the highland games or dancing at a cèilidh

DSC_0134Sometimes it helps in shaping to take a hammer to the leather when it is stiff and wet.

DSC_0130It is important to leave the channels free of glue so that the straps may be adjusted in future.  You never know when you might need to wear some black socks with those sandals.

DSC_0131 DSC_0133Helping a student skive out some particularly stiff areas.

DSC_0154Mom tries on her new shoes before going home to make some for the whole family.  DSC_0139Even an old shoemaker is interested in this ancient design.

DSC_0180  DSC_0178 Happy and diligent students show off their newest creations.  These could be directly from the shoe store.  But without the satisfaction of knowing you did it yourself.

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Above are few photos from previous classes.  Thanks to all who come and make!

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The Vikings Used Comfortable Shoes

Osberg Ship Viking Shoe

 One of the original boots found in the Oseberg Burial Mound dating back to 834 AD. (Photo: skinnblogg.blogspot.no)

A number of complete Viking Age shoes found in Scandinavia and England have the same characteristics. They are flexible, soft and mostly made of cattle hide, but also other kinds of leather was used.

There are complete shoes found in the Oseberg ship burial mound in Norway, Hedeby trading center in Denmark, and Coppergate (York, Viking Age Jorvik, Editor’s note) in England.

All three of these discoveries show a similar construction and form typical for the Middle Ages.

The shoes found in the Oseberg ship consists of two main parts, soles and uppers, and are so-called “turn shoes”.

(Article continues)

Reconstructed Oseberg Viking Shoes

Reconstructed boots found in the Oseberg burial mound, by Bjørn Henrik Johansen. (Photo: Bjørn Henrik Johansen/ skinnblogg.blogspot.no) 

The shoemaker stitched the shoe together inside out, and then turned right side…

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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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Project: Mayhem Shoes

“The first rule of Project Mayhem is that you do not ask questions…”

this may be my new teaching mantra

I am considering calling my custom footwear “Mayhem Shoes” (at least until Chuck Palahniuk’s space monkey lawyers make me stop).

I teach a couple classes about low-tech shoemaking a few times per year in the primitive survival skills community.  The designs I focus on are styles that can be made by one person in one day; a popular theme in early historic examples.  Some require a lot of cutting, some require sewing.  There is an off-grid, dystopian attitude about making your own shoes.  In fact, I think I will register the name Distopian Leather Works as my new business.  I’m considering a small business venture to go into custom production of the shoes I teach people to make as well as expanding the custom leather work I currently produce.

DSC_0111The kinds of people that take these classes are from all walks of life, not just survivalists, historical nerds, or experimental archaeologists, but folks who want to make things for themselves for whatever reason.  I’m finding that there are others who might just want the handmade product without the labor of making them. DSC_0156In a day, an attentive student can produce a wearable (and good looking) pair of serviceable shoes like the carbatana (ghillies) above.

DSC_0100For those looking for a more modern look a fine pair of sandals can be made with just a few hours, cutting and sewing.  These are easily re-solable and should last the better part of a lifetime.  Look familiar?  Chaco and Teva didn’t exactly re-invent the wheel; just updated the materials and outsourced the work overseas.  Even in the wilds of Canada, tradtional ghillies can be a useful part of the wardrobe.  Mike made these two years ago and they still protect his sturdy peasant feet.

DSC_0082There is something very satisfying about taking a piece of nondescript, vegetable tanned leather and creating a lasting and useful object with your own hands.

DSC_0081The beauty is truly in the details.  Serious students often bevel and burnish edges to give their shoes a “finished” look, suitable for public wear.

DSC_0092

In progress photo with tools of the trade. The authors well worn sandals are on the left of the photo.

Above, a student trial fits the uppers before attaching the outsole.  In my classes, the outermost sole on any of these shoes may be a durable Vibram material, a softer but grippy Soleflex, or natural leather.  The latter option is popular with those who are interested in treading lightly on the earth or those who are concerned with earthing or grounding.

DSC_0089Learning as community.  It is always a very social event to teach these courses.  No matter the variety of backgrounds, we are sharing an ancient craft in common.

DSC_0087

As in all leatherwork, neatness counts.  A good hand with a knife is a great asset for shoemaking.

DSC_0086Test fitting the straps for buckle placement and strap length.

DSC_0084This style sandal may be tied or buckled but I have found that a 3/4″ center bar buckle is about the easiest to work with and adjust.

DSC_0104Bowing to modern convenience.  For the classes, we use contact cement to adhere the insole, mid-sole, and outsole.  This insures a good connection and will hold up even if the stitching doesn’t last forever.

DSC_0119The author demonstrates the wrong way to rough out a pattern.  Cutting out oversize pieces for the sake of time-savings.

DSC_0118Tough rubber soles will make these sandals last years and are easily replaced.

DSC_0137Trial fitting a ghillie after soaking in water.  They feel ridiculously thick and stiff for the first hour or two but tend to suddenly relax an become a part of the foot after a soak in the neatsfoot oil.

DSC_0136Ready for staling the game or dancing at a cèilidh

DSC_0134Sometimes it helps to take a hammer to the leather when it is stiff and wet.

DSC_0130It is important to leave the channels free of glue so that the straps may be adjusted in future.  You never know when you might need to wear some black socks with those sandals.

DSC_0131 DSC_0133Helping a student skive out some particularly stiff areas.

DSC_0154Mom tries on her new shoes before going home to make some for the whole family.  DSC_0139Even an old shoemaker is interested in this ancient design.

DSC_0180  DSC_0178 Happy and diligent students show off their newest creations.

DSC_0176

Above are few photos from previous classes.  Thanks to all who come and make!

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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Upcycled Sweater Shoes

UncommonCate

Sweater Boots10

Lovely warm and soft, these shoes (or perhaps slippers) began as an accidentally shrunken wool sweater. These poor, shrunken, often high quality wool sweaters end up in thrift and consignment stores on a regular basis. They also tend to cost next to nothing, so all in all they make perfect material candidates for any felt related project. These shoes are a quick and fairly simple project.

I began with two wool sweaters that had been washed in a washing machine until they were fully felted. Both were good and thick which makes for a warmer and more durable material.

Sweater Boots1Sweater Boots2

The Pattern: The mid-sole is simply a tracing of a foot. The front upper is made by laying a piece of paper over the foot and tracing around the edges. I cut the sole out of the slightly thicker of the two sweaters because the sole gets more wear, and then…

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Irish Brogues and Other Simple Shoes

It’s time for new shoes.  After a soon-to-be-finished commission for a leather satchel, I intend to dive into a brogue-making project in the style of 19th century Ireland.  This basic design certainly dates back much further than this as shown by archaeological finds in bogs throughout Europe.  Don’t confuse these brogues with the more modern usage such as:

ModernBrogueThis is a brogue in the Scottish/Northern English semi-formal fashion with decorative holes reminiscent of the drains left in old field shoes.  Nor is this to confused with the type of shoe that some modern-primitives call “ghillie-brogues” or more properly, just “ghillie”:

These earned their proper name from Scottish Ghillies; a term used to denote game wardens, hunting and fishing guides, and sometimes, even poachers.  A simple shoe style that probably goes back several millenia in Europe.

What I decided to shoot for was a shoe that is relatively simple to produce, is closed for winter use, and can be regularly worn in public without arousing too much comment.

birdshoe

Haarlem, Netherlands, ca. 1300-1350.

To me, something like the “bird shoe” above is very cool but not really acceptable in an unforgiving office environment.  I would gladly hunt elk in these but for some reason, modern work culture has a fairly standardized and limited uniform.  This style tends to be cut from a single piece and sewn around three-quarters of the sole.  This one is punch decorated, probably to show off the stockings inside, a sign of wealth.  This is a form of “turn-shoe” or soft-sole sewn inside-out then “turned”.  A sturdy high top 12th century Dutch example with a center-seamed upper is seen below.  In my opinion, these would make a fine winter shoe.

shoe_12th

12th Century center seam shoe from the Netherlands.

I can’t help but see the similarity between these and North American center-seam moccasins.

BogShoeThe style above is a well-documented Irish “Type 1” dating anywhere from the 1st centuries A.D. through the Middle Ages.  A little more complex in construction, especially to get a perfect fit, it has been argued that these may be the result of craft specialization in the early Christian period of Northern Europe.  I plan to make a pair of these and contemplate them as a possible design for teaching simple shoemaking.  There is some real sewing involved, but not enough to intimidate most beginners.

shoes-fig3

From: Lucas, A.T. (1956). Footwear in Ireland. The Journal of the County Louth Archaeological Society 13(4).

For those who know American moccasin styles the pattern above seems very familiar as a one piece, side-seam shoe.

So, this brings us to the “Irish Brogue” or Type 5 shoe.  These are known well up into the nineteenth century and I wouldn’t be surprised to find them in even more modern contexts, especially amongst the poorer populations.  There are similar shoes depicted in Colonial America, probably made in the home for lack of money or access to a cordwainer.

Newports

Early American shoes from Newport, Rhode Island.

The above brogues appear to be a “built” shoe, having separate soles, multi-pieced upper, and a heel lift; the only difference between these and others from the period is the lack of ties or buckles.  Although difficult to tell from the image, they are likely constructed similar to those below:

Lucas, A.T. (1956). Footwear in Ireland. The Journal of the County Louth Archaeological Society 13(4).

Lucas, A.T. (1956). Footwear in Ireland. The Journal of the County Louth Archaeological Society 13(4).

Hopefully, updates will soon follow to track the creation of a new pair of shoes.

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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The Shoemaker

the-shoemaker_follower-of-david-teniers-ii_1800

A real treat from the Sifting the Past blog.  It is worth checking out if you are interested in researching the past through images of the period just prior to mass industrialization.  The Townsend’s have a couple excellent websites including an interesting 18th century cooking blog with videos.  There is so much in this painting that describes the time and the craft of the cordwainer.  There is a palm awl and lasting pinchers in the lower right, the ever critical strap for holding the shoe while sewing, the sewer’s palm for pulling tight the lock stitch, as well as the hammer, mallet, and knife of the trade.  He is holding the sole awl in his left hand.  The basket on the work bench contains a great bone tool made from a metapodial bone as so often found prior to the 20th century when craftsmen made their own tools.  I want my shop to look this great sometime soon.

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.

Huaracheria Aquino in Yalalag, Oaxaca (reblogged)

This is a great series of photos of a surviving craft still producing their own leather. This maintains an economy (for them) that could have very little cash outflow, replacing the cost of raw materials with labor. I hope these industries survive.

A great photo of a huarachero from the series.

Huarache Blog

Nestled into the Sierra Norte mountains of Oaxaca is the small town of Yalalag.

Yalalag is very precious town, not only for it’s strong Pre-Hispanic traditions, but also because like only a handful of other small towns in Mexico, most of the Yalalag population is still dedicated to the traditional craft of Huarache making.

Huaracheria Aquino is the largest ‘Taller’ workshop in Yalalag and they are well known for their high quality Zapotec Huaraches.

What also sets this family run business apart from most other Huarache makers in Mexico is that their crafting process begins at their in-house tannery, where they vegetable tan all their leathers to their precise specifications.

Huaracheria Aquino is famous for their traditional women’s Zapotec Yalalag sandals (the only existing traditional women’s leather sandal/huarache style in Mexico).

Photo of young Zapotec Woman in Mitla, by Guy Stresser-Péan, 1957

Their ‘Tejido’ Huarache also stands out for the…

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Huarache Blog

If you are interested in Huaraches, this blog is the end-all of huarache information.

Huarache Blog

Señor Alfaro is 70 years old and the last Huarachero in Sayula, Jalisco. Although his woven Huaraches have won him awards in regional craft competitions, today like may Huaracheros his business has become very difficult. Although Señor Alfaro has done very well to stay in a trade where many have quit, he melancholically tells me that Huarache making is a craft headed for extinction and that he has advised all his family not to get into it.

Sadly most towns in Mexico have at most one Huarachero left, whereas 30 years ago each town used to have many. Señor Alfaro told me that at one time 90% of Sayula locals wore Huaraches and 10% wore shoes, today that ratio is inverted and only 10% wear Huaraches.

But besides the reduced consumer base, there are 2 major difficulties facing skilled Huaracheros today, the rising costs of vegetable tanned leather and rubber tyres, and that…

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Huaraches!

There are Huaraches north of old Mexico.

As a craftsman of sorts, I understand that making a “one-off” of something does not imply expertise and replication builds a real understanding of the object being produced. However, this is certainly not my first leather working or shoemaking project but a major improvement on a theme.  The lasts I purchased earlier in the year on Ebay have finally been used to actually make a shoe so I documented the process as it came along last week; mistakes and changes included in the process.  While searching for huarache construction, I have only been able to find the simplest tire sandal designs and many links to “barefoot” running sandals.  I recently found the Huarache Blog and scoured it for inspiration and design secrets from real huaracheros in old Mexico.

Sole cut out, punched for strapping and nailed to the last.

The lasts shown here seem to fit me well but are an Oxford dress shoe style, I think, meaning they run a little long in the toe.  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.  My fancy new 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.

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.

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.

Heel added and lacing 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, wetted, and hammered flat.

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

I used simple wire nails 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 happy.

Preparing to nail the sole.

This method 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.

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 excellent 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.

Walking Shoes

 

My new walking shoes.  Simple stitch-down design weighing in at about 14 oz (0.4 kg) each.  The leather is Hermann Oak 2/3 oz for the uppers and 12 oz (I think) for the mid-sole and out-sole.  There is also a double layer stacked heel that has a thin rubber layer on the bottom.

They have about 6 trail miles on them in this photo.  They are dyed “light tan” and coated in home-made dubbin.*

The goal was to create an extremely lightweight shoe that will protect from the gawd-aweful sand burrs, cacti, and other sharpies that get into the sandals.  They are loosely based on “desert boots” but provide a bit more protection.  They are re-soleable, environmentally friendly, and made without sweatshop labor.  Since I have little fashion sense, they can be worn with anything and in public.  My only change in design will be to make the toe portion of the upper in slightly heavier leather as they will hold their shape better.

*A waterproofing concoction, in this case made from beeswax, olive oil, and walnut oil.
 

A few more images:

The shoes are unlined.  Constructed with a double needle saddle-stitch.  I wasn’t even concerned with stitching on this pair so they aren’t perfectly straight or small.  The tongue is lined with brain-tanned deer hide and there is a band of brain-tan around the top edge for comfort.  The laces are also brain-tan deer from a heavier hide.

The out-sole stitch is trenched in about 1/8″ to protect the thread.

They may not be fashionable but I think they have style.

 

 

Shoemaker’s Toolbox W.I.P.

Lunch-time post:

I began working on a shoemaker’s toolbox this weekend.  It’s based on an eighteenth century design but probably goes back further.  It will have leather “pockets” for the awls and some long tools.  The difference between this and a carpenter’s box is in the upright storage to keep the tools very handy.  The box I based it on can be found here: http://aands.org/raisedheels/Other/Toolbox/toolbox.php.

No complicated joinery other than the half mortises for the handle.  The sides are off still to tack in the leather pockets.  The original was nailed together but mine uses wood screws (brass).  Material is red oak with a walnut handle.  More to follow.

New High Tops

Determined to get the pattern right once-and-for-all I have been slaving away on a new pair of shoes.  As a matter of fact, I think these shoes are completely slave-labor-free.  The leather upper and mid-sole are oak tanned leather (Hermann Oak), and the rubber soles were cut from SoleFlex sheeting.  The laces were made from brain-tanned elk hide I processed myself.

The gent’s shoe as worn.

Outside heel stiffener.

Trousers cuffed to show height of shoe.  I live where the plants are unfriendly to bare skin.

The pattern was created without a last based on previous turn-shoes and a mock-up done in heavy canvas.  The shoe has no heel or shank as I am very used to walking barefoot or in sandals and moccasins.  A little more on shoes I have made here at: Footwear.  And some other leather work here.

Handmade shoe links

Handmade and bespoke shoes have become an interest of mine over the years.  Starting with moccasins and graduating to other variation led me to the realization that even with a great deal of leather and sewing experience, shoemaking is a complex and underestimated art in our culture.  Of course, cheap shoes are readily available to just about any income level in the industrial world. But if you have moral objections to the devastating effects corporate shoe companies (not to mention the clothing industry in general) and like the idea of being able to provide well made shoes for yourself, there is at least some information available.  On that note, I am glad to keep finding more and more craftsmen making handmade shoes available.  Unfortuntely, many are prohibitively expensive for the average worker but hopefully more will become available as demand calls (or the international infrastructure collapses from its own greed).

This pair is made by a shoemaker in Mid Wales.  I have no idea of cost but all of her information is on her website.  The gallery shoes a good variety of stitch-down type shoes and an interesting design she calls a shandal. Click the image to navigate to her site in a new tab or window.

If you prefer more historical or high end classic designs Sarah Juniper makes everything from Roman Period through modern shoes and boots.  There are some great looking lasted boots and other fine shoes here.  Click around her website to find lots of good stuff.  I would love to learn from a master like Ms. Juniper.

NP Historical Shoes:  This couple makes beautiful historic shoes for reenactors in Europe.  Awesome work and very inspiring.

I think a look at simpler, pre-industrial shoes can help us who are struggling to relearn this uncommon art.