The Art of Shoemaking

Rachel Ayland is a Shoemaker and Leather Worker in Australia. She resides in the beautiful town of Bangalow, tucked in the hinterlands of Byron Bay, NSW! I had the pleasure of meeting Rachel and discovered her inspiring studio where she creates shoes, mends leather goods, and so much more! As I meandered around her studio, there was everything from beautiful leather, handmade shoes, and every tool you could image to make shoes! Here are a few questions that lead more into Rachel’s story!

What inspired you to become a shoemaker? 

I was inspired to be a shoemaker after visiting a workers cooperative in Wales , U.K. in the early 1980s. After spending time in a small stone cottage wherein five women were busily and happily engrossed in crafting footwear I was hooked and knew I would do what I could to join them! I had already had an obsession  with footwear and making my own fashion clothing and it was so exciting to me to discover the business that I asked to join them and ended up working with them for five years. I learnt so much! Working with leather, patterns, purchasing. dealing with clients, making to measure  ..and running a small business . Thirty five years later and after migrating across the world  ..I'm still loving the trade and never stop learning  how to improve my craft and business .

How has your heritage imprinted where you are today?

My heritage would not seem to have been directly linked to my being a shoemaker as neither of my parents were artisans but they did encourage their three daughters to pursue their passions and I had the freedom to explore an alternative lifestyle. My grandmother was extremely creative and was well known for her upholstery skills. I remember she used to make intricate seat covers from a sewing machine squashed into a small dining room and as a child she taught me how to hand sew and make garments . 

Is there a favourite part of the world that your shoes have taken you? 

Shoes are everywhere and they travel to me with the people wearing them! But I have urges to go to Mexico and find a bootmaker who could inspire me and teach me some tricks!  

Can you briefly explain the process of shoe making? 

Shoemaking is such a varied craft and can range from making a simple pair of sandals formed from a piece of leather cut to fit a foot pattern with slots made in the leather for top pieces to fit in, then a rubber sole glued underneath, to the most elaborate boot with possibly hundreds of processes in its construction and many hours of labour. Most shoemaking requires a pattern to be drafted that relates to foot measurements, followed by cutting an appropriate piece of leather, stitching the pieces together, then stretching this " upper " over a last ( a wooden or plastic shaped form that mimics the foot measurements and adds an aesthetic appeal ) and fixing this to place with glue and nails . Finally the sole is built underneath and a heel added. There may be much grinding and polishing at the end depending on what finish is required and what materials are used. 

Is there a particular part of shoemaking that you enjoy the most? 

I enjoy different parts of the process depending on my energy levels and mood ...I think one thing I love is that there is such variety in the process that I can choose what I want to work on in my workshop depending on those factors. I usually have a range of jobs on the go in one week and I move from one task to the other depending on my mood ..and the customers urgency! Every day is a unique combination of problem solving and creativity and ..ideally ..intense satisfaction . 



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