In the last couple weeks, I've been trying something new. I bought new materials and supplies. The UPS guy stopped by my house almost daily, dropping off interesting packages of shoe lasts, natural rubber soling, and other supplies. My studio got messier and messier, with piles of roving, felting supplies and wood stacked on my work table and I abandoned most of my usual domestic duties. Why all this investment of time and money? I need a new pair of shoes.
I've been intrigued by shoemaking for ages and love the sandals I made (and I hope to make more of them soon!), but I need some winter-time shoes. I've been thinking a lot about how to use the materials that are available locally to make shoes. Sourcing leather is a tricky thing. You can buy leather that is sustainably tanned, but there are only a couple tanneries in the US that offer leather that is high-quality and responsibly produced. They are far away from Kentucky and their leather is justifiably pricy. There are cows all over Kentucky and I think it would be so elegant to work with some of the local slaughterhouses and get those cow-hides tanned, but have not figured all of that out yet. So I moved on to thinking about other types of footwear.
Clogs have a long history of being relatively inexpensive shoes that can be made with local materials. Traditionally, clog makers worked in wood lots in the UK, roughing out stacks of green-wood clog soles with huge knifes. Then after the soles dried, they fine-tuned the shapes and added a leather upper. These shoes were worn by adults and children alike and were even common up to the 1950's, seeing a resurgence during WWII because they used less leather. I've learned that traditional types of shoes, like ballet flats or a sturdy pair of boots, require a completely kitted-out shoemaking shop with expensive, hard to find and specialized tools, so I was inspired by the relatively simple, non-mechanized way clogs were made.
So. I decided to stop researching and start making- to try something new and hopefully make some functional shoes. I can't really find anyone online making shoes like I'm planning- a wooden sole with a natural rubber outsole and stiffened felt upper. I can't find detailed information about clog-making in general, so I'm doing a lot of problem-solving on my own. I'm not striving to do things in the old-fashioned way. A band saw can stand in for the fancy knives, and Laura's husband Strider has loaned me a pneumatic stapler for attaching the uppers.
I have done much felting of my knits over the years but have just a little experience wet-felting wool roving. So I reviewed the basics,
made a test swatch to check for the percentage of shrinkage when the wool felts,
and then made some big sheets of wool felt. One sheet was from the indigo I dyed the other week.
No matter how you slice it, felting is a lot of work.
But it's also magical and alchemical. Because after felting, I steamed, stretched, and blocked the pieces to shape. And combined with a couple of these-
(which were patiently cut for me by a local bandsaw-wizard) I'll hopefully have some shoes to wear soon.
I'm telling myself that this is all worth it- the time, the money, the energy I'm putting into this project. It's not a waste of time or a wacky tangent- it's research and development. Right? :)