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Shoes and Craft

A shoemaker's blog about shoemaking

Monthly Archives: November 2009


I write this post about a much moe interesting topic, than being a Master Shoemaker – being an apprentice.

I always get question from students: what they need? How should they prepare? Is there any previous experience needed? etc.. So let’s talk about it! What you don’t need?

  • EXPERIENCE. I prefer teach people without any previous experience, so don’t worry – you have better chance to learn shoe making with me, if you never had any other course. My demands are quite high – but easier to get close if you don’t bring any bad habits. It doesn’t mean that I don’t respect other masters’ ways, but I have my own ones.
  • TOOLS. You don’t need to bring any tools or materials – except if you want to share some info or just ask me something.
  • EGO. No, I am not talking about your ego. I am talking about your EGO. Please leave it at home,and be open to learn and humble to accept instructions. That is the easiest way to learn.

And what you will need:

  • ENTHUSIASM. If you really wan’t to learn, this is the first.
  • RESPECT. To your teacher, to the workshop, to the tools and machines and to the CRAFT. Respecting your tools seems to be starnge, but it isn’t – they are sharp, pointy and sometimes very-very old. You don’t want to break something, what is older than your grandparents don’t you? The CRAFT  – the methods I will teach you, are hundreds years old. They must be kept like they are: sophisticated, refined, effective. You wouldn’t accept a simplified Bach sonata, would you?
  • BRAIN. This is Europe, we don’t chew the food instead of you – sometimes you have to find solutions. Take it as a chance to learn this. You will face many problems at home, when you start making shoes (like my students usually do). I won’t be there to help you.

And mainly that’s it. I was honest about the details -appreciate it. Good luck for learning this beautiful craft!

ps. Actually I almost booked all the dates in the first helf year for students. Be quick if you want to come, or prepare yourself for a trip to NYC in April-May!


Frankly: teaching student is loosing energy, time and a lot efforts, if you can make bespoke shoes in the same time. But teaching is not just for business. It is not a short term income – this is duty for the CRAFT you get everything from. Knowledge is not your property (even if it seems o be like that), but  a gift, a loan you get from your master, but you have to give back to your apprentices. This is my ars poetica about the knowledge I have, so I teach, even if it is not a good business. (OK, don’t pity my – I just say, that it is not the most effective way to make money).

Fake Knowledge

And let’s talk about the title of this post: fake knowledge. If you want to learn a traditional craft, you pay a lot: your time, your holiday – away from your work, hotels, travelling, course fees. And there are schools, teachers, courses, you enter and you come away with a useless, stupid knowledge about footwear (because I cannot call them SHOES). Most of these guys never start to make shoes anymore! Let me explain you this with an easy example, before someone start to conveniece me, that fake knowledge if enough for a hobby crafter. (no)

If you want to go to English speaking country, you must prepare yourself with some basic sentences, words – so you go to a school. Can you imagine the situation, when you arrive, then you realize that your knowledge doesn’t worth a shit? You can’t talk, explain yourself, not even read a sentence, people don’t understand you. So, what is the problem? You don’t want to be a translator no? Just a “hobby” traveller..

That is my problem. Don’t consider yourself only a hobby crafter. You are a beginner – you start to go on a road, which should lead to the good direction, and that is your masters responsibility – but choosing your master is yours. So choose carefully!

How to Choose Your Teacher?

I would suggest, to consider these:

  1. Select someone to teach you a craft who is a certified craftmen. I don’t mean a master – that is almost impossible to find, but at least a proper certificate should be on the wall. You can practice a craft without certification, but DON’T TEACH.
  2. Check her/his products! That is what you want to make? As a customer would you pay for it? Do you think you can learn it in a few days? (then go away quickly)
  3. Does she/he practice the craft in real life or just teach? Why she/he doesn’t make products for sell? (don’t believe “commited to teach” bullshit)
  4. Talk other students! Are they happy with the knowledge they got? Do they continue that craft? Do they get support from their teacher after the course?
  5. Is she/he respected by other craftsmen in the trade? If not why not?

How Was it in the Good Old Days?

Easily:

if you were a master you could run a workshop.

If you had certificate in a craft you could make products.

If you didn’t have any certificate, and you made products from that craft – you were went away from that city and you lost all of your properties. You could wirk a lot as a fake craftsman.

And How it is Now?

In the United States you can claim that you are a shoemaker, even master shoemaker without any certificate. This is sad for me. There are no excuse for that – and I heard many: “we are a young nation, we don’t have traditions”.. bullshit. That always makes me mad. My family is in the leathercaft for many generations. We always lived for perfection, and I have to face with fake craftsmen in the 21st century. My poor grandpa – better that you don’t see this.

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ps. I didn’t mentioned names and schools – please don’t do that in posts.  And I would like to say: there are good teachers and good schools. Find those ones!


This text has been copied from the thread what I started as a blog in styleforum.net 1 year ago.
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This is a short story, but let me talk about first the Hungarian shoe industry. A few decades ago it was one of the most important industry. You could find shoemaker workshops, factories everywhere in the country – the huge market of Soviet Union bought the 90% percent of the production – actually everything. Shoemaker (and manufacturer) education was very popular, but – to tell the truth – they didn’t raised up to a high level. The “glory” of master craftsmen, which existed 100 years ago – disappeared.

School

It was a real dilemma for me – I wanted to learn something higher level, as I counted to be an intelligent student in my schools. For a shoemaker… hmm.. I was considered to be too good. On the other hand, in the glorious times at least one member from a generation learnt leathercraft in my family. It is for minimum 6 generation (what I am sure), but most probably much more. So I didn’t know: should I follow family traditions? Should I learn in high school and go to university?

 

Both

I did both. I inscribed to two schools (with some administrational cheat – it wasn’t legal. first I should have to finish the first, then go to the second one) and I attended shoemaker school in the morning, then run to the high school at the evening. The first sometimes started at 6.30 (workshop started early), and as I had to travel more than one hour – you can imagine how early I had to wake up. Practically I was sleeping during teethwashing, and learnt to sleep in the bus (if I could sit – which didn’t happened too many times). The evening high school was until 9 pm, so I could catch the 9.30 bus – I also learnt to sleep 25 minutes, and wake up at the right bus stop.

My school was in Újpest – traditionally the shoemaker center of Budapest. Hopefully our program was complete – we learnt all the traditional and modern technologies, even could go to a real workshop and practice shoemaking there.

Sad, but true: in the last 20 years shoemaking industry the last 25 years disappeared in Hungary. Only a few workshop (mine too) and a very few factory exist, nothing more. after a few years of working (and taking valueable experience in hadmade men shoes, ballet shoes, repair work), I left the profession. I inscribed to a university and get a degree in economics. (yes, I am an certified economist too). I worked in banks, advertising agencies, run my own design company, selling softwares in far east. But making papers, running “projects”, keeping presentations, planning budgets, design software ergonomy, marketing campaign.. etc. – these are not “real” things. Sure, you can get a lot of money from it – I did too, not so much but OK.. and what should I say to my son in a day when he asks me what did do? Should I say that bullshit? “I wrote nice papers and earn money”. And what will happen to my creativity? As a man I want to “create”. Not papers – something real. Something to use, wear, anything, but not papers anymore. And I made the decision: I will go back – I will be a shoemaker again. I will not take care about the extremly low respect of my profession in Hungary – I will make shoes!

The way to reheel my family brand is an other long story. This was the story how did I became a shoemaker and how did I do it again.

I hope you enjoyed.

ps. I hoep I didn’t hurt anyone, who still makes “papers”. I keep that also important – I just don’t intend to make that anymore.


Most probably in April 2010. More info comes soon. Stay tuned!


In the good old days (before) 1871, guilds had the right to select someone to be a master. Actually only a master had some special right, like teach students (free work for 3 years! 🙂 ), have an independent workshop (makin’ good money), and so on… But that was expensive. Not just make a 3 years trip all around Europe, work for practically nothing, no visiting home, family, friends, but as a young master you had to invite the whole guild for a dinner – sometimes that expensive dinner was the barrier, so some poor guys worked for someone else in their whole life.

Being a “student” , or they should better call it: slave – wasn’t fun. From the 3 years they spent usually with their master, 2 years was spent with cleaning horses, making the agricultural work, and do whatever, whoever commanded from the workshop, and the master was just one of them. These guys had to do exactly, what the regular worker said to them. After this really humiliating period they started to work in the workshop. They didn’t needed to wake up at 4am (5 am was fine 🙂 ), and they learnt the craft – what they were there for.

in 1872 guild has left off, and the education system started to change – masters became responsible for that. Frankly: they made  a quite bad job. Not just because “students” (again, better to use the word: slave) had to sleep in the workshop, sometimes 2 in a small bed, they get hurt almost every day, and only after 2 years they started to handle them as humans. They were not allowed to associate with other non-student workers (just like those guys were not allowed to do that too). The end of the 1800’s the education system changed, they reorganise the whole stuff – basically this what we still use (maybe with a bit more computers).

How is the Master Exam Now?

I can just speak for Hungary – almost nothing, anymore, as there are no craftsmen, only brokers, managers, bankers, sales agents.. etc. For those who still want to pass a master exam, this is the procedure:

  1. They have to wit until the Trade Chamber announce a master exam in their craft.
  2. Enter the exam with a huge amount of money (cheaper than in Europe, but big enough here)
  3. Pass the exams – theory and practice

Theory:

pedagogy: as a master you have to (or at least you can) teach. You have to prove that you are able

economy, tax, marketing etc: you can make your own company, specialized to your crafts (actually – you can make you own company, specialized to your craft even without it.. hmm), so you should learn about the RULES and LAWS.

professional stuff: there are ore exams about it: written, oral. None of them is easy – actually easier to fail, than pass. 50-70% of the guys fail this one. You can’t just pass this exam, as they are no marks, you have to pass with a 80-90% result.

Practice:

Making a half pair: you have 8 hours to make a half pair – matching EXACTLY the one you brought there, front of the jury. You get points: 100 all together, but you have to get at least 75 (and they are not easy guys). All the details worth some points – and taking the fact, that you make everything in 8 hours, so you have to work with wet materials, this is not easy at all. 8 hours is just enough to finish a half pair, and I can tell you something: this is an old rule. They just don’t care, that you have to wait 20 minutes for all the layers you apply glue on. This was different in the old times – we work with the same methods, just wait 4-5 times 20 minutes.

After making this procedure, you are a master.


Here is a small collection, what I use for making a pair of English welted shoe.

And the result:

And the good news: I work on some new films.


12 spi (stitch per inch) – that’s what you don’t want to do with double sole, believe me. But what should I do, if I have an order for it? So I did it. Only the stitching was one whole day, I had to use a special awl, as the usual would have been too wide. Many technical details… but finally here is the result: the black beauty from the workbench. Simple and nice.

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