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Shoes and Craft

A shoemaker's blog about shoemaking

I made my first pair of shoes 26 years ago. That time it was just a mystery – form flat materials to something to such a great thing than a shoe. Amazing. I remember that summer. I was just 14. I worked as a student in a museum, helping my friends to build dioramas, but when I went home I tried to make something like a shoe. It was a magic trick for me, and wanted to reveal the secret*. Sloppy, ugly thing came out from my hands, but I did not give up. I wanted to understand what is the big trick. Somehow that flat thing becomes a shoe… anyway.
September 1, 1986 – somewhere in north Budapest (precisely: Újpest), in a red brick building many young people get together to the first day of school. I remember, that was the time I entered to the paradise. Not the school. “Paradise” that would be one of the last word I would use to that place… with a huge amount of nostalgic feeling, I would say it was OK .

I remember some details:  I wore a shirt, (grey pants and a pair of grey California sewn shoes (my master identify the technology for me – I was pretty impressed that he known that just take a look), it was a hot day and somehow a bunt of young girls was standing around the entrance looking at the new guys. (isn’t it funny – this seems to be universal. New guys arriving somewhere – regardless if it is a craft school or the world strictest prison – they have to be watched by the elders.. )

The first weeks we did not get even close to shoes. We sharpen knives – days long, then we made basic practices, but mastered something very well: clean the workshop. We learnt how to respect masters and the workshops. There was no tip-toeing around students. If the work was crap – the critique was exactly like that. If the work was amazing – “not that bad”. Sounds horrible? It is not. Just an other culture. They did not want to educate stars, who believe they can’t make mistakes. We all understood what “not that bad” means. It meant that the work is great, but you have a long way to go, so don’t over appreciate your progress. Well done. I always try not to.

After the endless practices we received our first upper, insole, stiffeners and lasts. Shoemaking started! I couldn’t be more happy. The teaching method was simple: our masters (we had a big group, so we had two teachers) shown us the first steps and we followed. No individual work. If you were ready before the others (for sure that was the case, we had a big group with 23 people) you could practice more knife sharpening or just clean. Nobody wants to work in a dirty workshop, right?

One week later I finished my first pair of shoes. We could buy it for a little amount. Everybody did for sure. Mine was 39. An ugly, 1 inch heel, deep blue, derby with a rounded toe, pigskin lining certainly cemented construction… but I was more that happy. Even more when I realized that it fits my grandma..

to be continued…

*now I can show the magic, but the secret remain secret.. after all I think it is not a trick.

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