The lost art of handmade shoes

Today shoes are glued together, made in China and not built to last. This however was not always the case. In the past your shoes might have been sewn together in Botany and built to last a very long time. We recently discovered more about local shoe makers when Norman Pemberton contacted the museum to donate his old shoe making tools. In the late 1930s Norman started his career in the shoe trade with a four year apprenticeship at Enoch Taylor’s in Underwood Street, Botany. 

The firm was well known in the industry and produced highly skilled apprentices. Norman even saved money with these skills, making and repairing shoes for his family in his spare time. He did this for several years, and only stopped when his wife politely complained that his handmade shoes ‘lasted too long and styles changed so quickly’ that she didn’t want any more pairs.
The tools and shoe parts you see below are from Norman’s personal shoe factory.  They will certainly make you think again about the shoes on your feet.
Step 1 in making shoes is to make a pattern and cut the leather into appropriate pieces known as uppers. This was easy for Norm as he worked at Enoch’s as a clicker, a person who cuts the leather to make shoes. Norm purchased his leather from local tanneries like Birdsall’s or Norton Bros in Mascot. He would then pass on these pieces to a machinist friend who would sew the pieces together. 

Step 2 in hand making shoes involves stretching the sewn uppers over the correct shoe last. Lasts are the same shape and size as human foot and help mould shoes during production. This last was for Norman’s wife Phyllis. Because her foot was wider at the toes than the last, Norman attached leather to the last in order to widen the finished shoe.  
To steady the wooden last while the leather upper is attached to the sole etc, the last is placed in a last jack.  This process involved several steps and many tools. Below are just some of the tools Norman used at home. These included many irons to smooth any creases in the leather. 

Metal strips know as shanks were attached to insole to provide arch support.

If shoes had heels, they too often needed to be covered with leather.

Would you like to learn how to make your own shoes?


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