Review of Crafting handmade shoes
by I. Marc Carlson
Copyright 2001

For HCC Newsletter.2001

 
 

Raymond, Sharon.  Crafting handmade shoes:  great-looking shoes, sandals, slippers & boots. New York: Lark Books, 2001  128 p.  ill.  ISBN: 1579901921 $27.95

Once upon a time, all shoes were made by hand.  Then there came a time when techniques such as pegging, and sewing machines made it cheaper and easier for the average person to buy new shoes.   We can only imagine how those early all pegged, or MacKay stitched shoes were seen by the professional shoemakers of their time, but it's reasonable to assume that they were not welcomed heartily.   Eventually, though, those techniques and machines fell within the domain of the professional as part of the mainstream.

The upswing of mass-produced, inexpensive shoes in the past half-century has gradually pushed even the lower quality 'handmade' shoes out beyond the range that most people are able to afford.  This actually created a bit of a vacuum that has been gradually filled by the home crafter.  Since the late 60s, there has been a gradual evolution of a tradition of inexpensive, homemade shoes and boots.   This has been evidenced by the various 'how to' manuals on 'shoemaking'.  This book is Sharon Raymond's second work on the topic.  Her 1999 "Simple Shoemaking" was one of the more prominent works of its kind since Christine Lewis Clark's "The make-it-yourself shoe book", back in the 1970s.

As with most evolving traditions, this one has it's own jargon and terminology that has little or no connection to the traditional handmade shoemaking.   For example: the shoes described by Sharon Raymond are referred to as 'out-stitched', a term used to refer to what professional handmade shoemakers refer to as a stitch down shoe.  The upper is bent out and stitched down to the sole, rather than using a welt of any sort.   In general, though, these are not terribly important to being able to understand the text -- an upper is still an upper, a sole is still a sole, while the 'outside counter' or 'counter cover' is a 'heel cover' - that sort of thing.

There is a selection of tools needed, and a quick run through of the techniques the author advises.  Most of these are fairly well explained and detailed.  These are followed with a number of festively named project pieces that anyone should be able to execute.  The instructions are clear and easily to understand; and in all this work should allow anyone who wants to whip out a pair of light, simple shoes at home to do so.

Let me briefly turn to my only real objection with the book.  Sprinkled through out the text are a variety of historical details, factoids meant to liven up the text.  Unfortunately, they are only about half accurate, blending the few actual facts with some outdated mythology, as well as some new bits of misinformation that teachers will be either be spreading or contradicting for decades to come.  And since the author didn't note any of her sources for this information, we are left with no one to criticize but the author.  Fortunately, there aren't that many of these factoids in the text, so ignoring them isn't a problem.

In contrast to that, though, there is the gallery in the back.   I should point out that most of the shoes shown with the projects and such are done well enough, but they do seem to be on the rough side; as though made by someone who is not that skilled a leatherworker.  In the gallery, that changes.  The gallery has a number of pages of photos of shoes and boots that are magnificent.  Clearly it is possible to come up with some truly fine looking shoes with these techniques.

Clearly this is not a book about traditional professional shoemaking, nor is it pretending to be.   It's a book for people who want to try making their own footwear inexpensively, and taken in that light, it's a fine book.

You can find out more about the book, see new patterns, learn about the people whose shoes appear in the Gallery, and so on at Simple Shoemaking Co. (http://www.simpleshoemaking.com/).  There is also a Simple Shoemaking forum being started at (http://forum.onecenter.com/simpleshoes/)

 


On the Crispin Colloquy Forum (http://www.thehcc.org/cgi-bin/discus/discus.cgi) posted the following response to the review reproduced above.   I am reposting it here in fairness to her.

By Sharon Raymond on Sunday, June 23, 2002 - 9:43 pm:

Dear Marc, I hope this is an appropriate place to respond to your review of my book, Crafting Handmade Shoes, in the Winter, 2001, Crispin Courier. I agree with everything you said! I would like to offer a few explanations. I provided the text and made the footwear for the book; by contract everything else was completely out of my control, in the hands of the publishers. I felt a little silly when I read the names and introductions for the shoes, and all the historical "factoids" that had been scattered throughout, but was so pleased with the little watercolors that the art director painted of the historical shoes. (If there are any particularly galling "facts" you would like me to correct when I get my website updated, please let me know.) And, I agree that the shoes are on the "rough" side - I cut leather with scissors, can't skive worth a darn, use a bandsaw - but I was also in an extremely pressurized, rushed situation, with many constraints from the publishers. There are several projects that I would love to re-do, but alas... You understood the spirit in which these projects were offered, Marc, and for that I am very grateful. I consider myself equivalent to a pinch-pot maker in the craft of pottery - I offer something simple and functional, and lots of fun to make! And, hopefully, some readers of the book will be inspired to continue making more challenging footwear, and will learn from postings here on the Colloquy. Regarding the Gallery, I agree that there are many great shoes there, but they were made using a variety of shoemaking techniques, much more complex patterns, and were all lasted. Thank you for your thoughtful and generous review, Marc. I am getting historically-educated myself by reading through your website. Best wishes, Sharon