Monday, February 6, 2012

Trial and Error

In the USA, we do not have a school system for leather crafting. At the downtown technical school, a person could learn to repair shoes but if you wanted to learn how to make them, forget about that. At that time in Europe, trade schools were available to those who wanted to learn the art of making shoes, luggage and all accessories. Here in the good old USA, a person would have to work for an established company to learn the ins and outs of leather bending. My natural curiosity and love of leather would have to suffice and see me through this new learning curve. Studying other purses, sandals and various other leather items, I was able to gain a sense of what I needed to do. My girl friend, Chris Y. worked in the shop with me and brought a much needed female perspective. We attempted to make garments but styled them with the fashion flair that was popular at the time. Fringe leather was the rage and spread from the west coast to the east and back. When it flew over us here in the midwest, we took notice and carved a new niche with our name on it.

Here's one example of what we were making in fringe.

A Suede Leather Fringe Bag We Made - Circa 1970

A customer had brought in several pairs of handmade sandals they bought while visiting the Greek islands. I remember the story they told me how this old man sat on the beach with leather in hand, a pencil and a knife. A person wanting a pair of sandals would stand on the leather and he would draw the shape of their foot. Taking up just his knife, he would cut the shape of the upper and lower soles out, cut straps to insert in the upper soles. I could see by examining his work that he would just cut small slits in the upper soles to insert the straps at strategic places. The lower sole was nailed to the upper and the edges were trimmed to match. A few quick pulls on the straps and sandals were complete. I looked at these sandals and could see the history of sandal making right before my eyes. This same style and skill was undoubtedly passed from person to person for many ages.

It would take me the better part of the summer of 1968 and 1969 to become proficient with making custom made sandals. The equipment I had at my disposal allowed me to make sandals at a faster rate and better quality. The knife was replaced with a machine that I turned with a crank to cut the heavy leather for the soles. Think of a can opener with a wide set of jaws and a handle to match. Instead of following a tin edge, I followed the trace of the pencil. The slits in the leather were replaced with whacks from an oblong punch to locate the straps. And the soles were sewn together by a large straight needle stitcher that came along with the old shoe repairman's remnants. Remember going into a shoe repair shop and smelling the dyes and glues being used? My shop was not only smelling like this but the sound of the line of buffing and sanding wheels still ring in my head. A central motor drove old leather belts that clicked and clacked away as I sanded and finished the edges of the sandals. A sandal customer could expect to wait only a few days to be presented with a custom made pair of sandals to their individual feet. By the end of the summer of 1969, I had mastered the art of making sandals and the best part was that I was  doing what I loved to do. Customers were very happy and the money was good too!

Two Bracelets and One Watchband. The Braided Bracelet is a Mystery Braid

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