Skip to content

Shoes and Craft

A shoemaker's blog about shoemaking

… so we made a bunch of shoes in the first semester, then the second one. Not a simple welted construction. Only the basic construction: cemented, which teaches you to be very meticulous with the lasting, skiving and a very, very neat feather edge.
The school was in Újpest, a district of Budapest, mostly for leather. We had tanneries, paste factory, shoe factories, bag, glove and upper makers, many shoemaker workshops, gorgeous toolmakers (yes, leather crafter tools, including shoemaker ones). It was easy to collect a whole set of tools, brand new ones for really cheap.

The second year, in terms of craftsmanship was way more interesting. We started to make our first welted pairs. As I remember we did not have really good leathers or lasts (why would they waste those for students…), but who cared – finally welted shoes! A bunch of technologies were in the syllabus. We were not beginners anymore, skiving, lasting and finishing wasn’t an issues, so we could focus on the fancy stitches. We could also watch our maters working on their own products, which was a very valuable experience – high heels, even more fancy constructions, museum replicas (OMG, those pieces…), and seeing mistakes from each other was also a very important lesson – that definitely made me a better teacher. Trust me: even you are the most untalented shoemaker (Which, I don’t believe) you have never seen that many mistakes – and which is way more important – how to fix them.

I wish that I could preserve some of my work or at least photos, but I didn’t. We did not have any digital camera, fancy mobile phone, as a matter of fact not even computers or color TV, AC, or cars. Unbelievable hmm?  Now I teach in the USA, my students use paper thin computers, fancy smartphones with built in cameras, they have to check their mail, facebook every minute, they can video what I teach them, they have way more fancy cars I could afford, but you know what? I am happy. That period was perfect as it was, without these stuff. I visited my grandma every afternoon after the school (before going to the other one), enjoy my young years and I didn’t not miss any mobile phones for that.

Yes, I attended two schools in the same time. It was my idea, and strictly not legal in the socialism for my age. Why and how? Let me explain.. Shoemaking school – sounds fancy, right? It was not in that time there. Moreover something to smile on, definitely not appreciate too much. It was the fault of the system – how to say it nicely… we had two type of people in my class: family tradition and nowhere-else accepted. We had a lot from the second category. The first category tried to do the best to bring it to the next level. I remember one of my classmate dressed in suit every day – we did not understand why, than we realized that he was raised by his grandparents from an old shoemaker family. They were proud, so it was a continuous celebration that their grandson makes the first steps toward being a shoemaker. Anyway – I was sure that that amount of study is not enough for me, so with some cheating I could register to a high school to afternoon classes. It was originally for adults, but practically most of my classmates were just a few years older, finished their studies before time, so they wanted to complete it. So I attended two schools in the same time.

Every second week was workshop week, those were the really difficult ones. The work started at 6.30 (not to get into the school, but ready to work), so to get there in time I had to reach the bus at 4.55 (we lived an other city, so it took that much time to travel). I woke up at 4.25 (my mom woke me up – I don’t think that I could do it without her), I quickly prepare myself, run to the bus, 25 min. to get to Budapest. Jump to the next bus, across the river – another 15 minutes, then get to the subway. 20 min. approx. then to the last bus (long trip though 2 districts) then run to the school not to be late. No late arrival war tolerated, and when I say “not tolerated” I don’t mean some nasty words and eyebrows pulled together. And trust me: no excuse. They don’t even listen to excuses. You are late – you don’t respect them, you  don’t respect your school your craft. Sounds hard? Yeah… it was, but it also taught me self discipline, and respecting my craft and my masters. The day was over at 2.30 – I had around two hours to get to the other school. As it was too much, I spent some time with my grandma, then go there. The school was until 9.00 PM and I had 25 min. to reach my bus back to my hometown. I get to bed around 10.20. It was tough.

How was our education was different from the today’s education here, in the USA? We could ask: how similar was it? Not so much I would say.

1. Encouragement. For a medium quality work my masters would be sad and pissed off, then explain how you can make it better (not that nicely what you think now). Here they usually get “great work!” (not from me though). Which one is better? I don’t think that the Hungarian way, but definitely not the American as well. To be honest I don’t think that encouragement has meaning until a certain level.

2. Craftsmanship. That age was the golden age for the Hungarian shoe industry. Everything was available locally. Here in America – well, you know what I mean… and unfortunately you just can’t make good shoes with bad tools. On the other hand I am very happy that I meet very enthusiastic students.

3. Grading. Two different systems, two different scale. Nothing to compare. I don’t even think that grading matters.

to be continued..

%d bloggers like this: