Simple shoes, simple life: textile shoes using repurposed upholstery fabric

by Walter Pultinas

When I set out to Thailand to teach English for a year I never would have guessed that I would return home looking for shoe making opportunities. Sewing and fashion had always been a hobby of mine, but never more than that. Walking down the streets of the many open markets in Thailand I was captivated by the beautiful textiles and handmade crafts. And when I came upon a stall of simple, handmade shoes made of eye-catching upholstery fabric it struck me that I should combine my interests in sewing and distinctive, vibrant fashion and learn to make shoes.

When I returned home to Boston, MA I began looking up shoe design courses, graduate programs, and anything else that might help me reach my goal. It was a stroke of luck then, when I came across Sharon Raymond’s internship opportunity at her western MA studio.

Sharon has been experimenting with shoemaking techniques for over twenty years and her passion for the craft is evident everywhere you look.  Shelves of shoes line the walls of her studio acting as a window into the evolution of her ideas, designs, and skills.

When we first met, I didn’t have a clear vision of the shoe I want to build, in fact it wasn’t until the second pair of shoes we made together that a definitive style and story began to come together. We formed a great working relationship because my interests diverged into an arena in which Sharon hadn’t ventured before, fabric stitch-downs. We put our heads together and created a stylish, vibrant shoe by borrowing from several different shoe making processes.

Sharon was a wonderful mentor for me, her passion for shoemaking showed in the enthusiasm she had for my own blossoming ideas and goals. This was not a surprise, however, because her shoemaking philosophy is based on the principle of reconnecting people to the shoe making process. Her designs are created using simple processes that yield elegant results. By leading workshops and providing pattern books online, Sharon has helped countless people acquire the skills to make their own footwear.

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Her newest project is what I came on board to help with. A simple shoemaking kit, called UnkonvenTional shoes, with which anyone can construct and customize their own footwear without needing to search for tools, materials or have any prior shoemaking experience. Easy and fun to make as well as gratifying to wear, these shoes were carefully designed for comfort, style, and simplicity. I loved helping Sharon with this project because it is such a creative and engaging concept. It adds to the footwear experience by putting you in the creation process with the bonus of avoiding the mass-produced shoes that most of us wear.

My time in Western Mass provided me with invaluable experiences. From learning to make my own stitch-down shoes to helping put together UnkonvenTional shoes and seeing what it takes to turn an idea into a viable product, I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to shoe making. I never would have guessed that stepping out of a plane in Thailand would lead me to a shoemaking workshop in Shutesbury, Mass. I’m glad it did and wherever I go next, I will carry with me the inspiring experience of learning the intricacies of shoe making from a woman as passionate about the craft as Sharon Raymond.

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