Diamonds on the soles of her shoes...

This off topic area is a place where, while you are visiting the Crispin Colloquy, you can talk about beer, whiskey, kilts, the latest WWII re-enactment, BBQ, grandsons, shoes in the media, and even the odd meandering essay on "why we make shoes."
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Diamonds on the soles of her shoes...

#1 Post by dw » Sat Aug 19, 2006 7:14 am

A slow Saturday and this is long--just an outing for the brain...

If one reads the Crispin Colloquy on a fairly regular basis, one sees a dichotomy of sorts. There are makers...good makers...who favour the newest materials and the the most "progressive" techniques. And there are those who tend to be more conservative and more...as one should say..."traditional."

At one level, there is nothing wrong with either approach. But they do seem to be in conflict sometimes. There are times when I think it is regrettable that we tend to see these issues as "either/or." But then...most of the time...I recognize that it is both natural and even desirable that there be a tension between the established wisdom of the past and the "exploring spirit" of the present.

I have, on more than one occasion introduced techniques and even materials that may never have been seen or considered before. Of course, in the larger sense of things, what I have contributed is surely neither all that revolutionary or singular--I have always drawn upon what I believe to be a solid grounding in traditional practices and all my innovations could fairly be said to be incremental and derivative. It could be said, I suppose, that I, myself, tend toward a more "traditional" viewpoint.

Nevertheless, I believe that being open to new materials and new ideas is critical to continuing to learn and grow. And over a career that spans a lifetime, that " openness" is, in itself, critical to success and viability. Nylon bristles and dacron thread aren't exactly "traditional" materials, for example, and I am an advocate of both. But in every case, the adoption of the "new" must be in the pursuit of better quality, not more "couch time."

However, knowing what I know and having seen what I have seen over the years...and that includes a relatively wide range (by no means exhaustive or liable to make me an "expert" ) of footwear from the mid 18th century to the present....I am convinced that the apex--the high point--of bespoke shoe/bootmaking was the late 19th century, and, to a lesser degree, into the early 20th.

Before the advent of shoe factories, every little town had one or two shoe/bootmakers and the larger cities may have had dozens. Certainly price was an issue but there was a great resistance to the devaluing of all Trades during that time--from shoemaking to weaving to gunsmithing. Tradesmen were virtually up in arms about "wage slavery" and exhibitions (World Trade Fairs) were universally considered an opportunity to demonstrate that factories could not possibly match the quality and refinement of work that a skilled craftsman could produce. Quality was a real issue and was the one thing that separated a maker from his competition. And, perhaps just as importantly, every man put his name on his work.

I am always a bit perplexed at those who dismiss or look down upon the literature and traditional techniques that come to us from that time. They almost always do so without ever having read to any great extent or even attempted to master the skills that are our legitimate inheritance--skills that have evolved over the course of, literally, centuries. Given that, I wonder if there isn't a certain arrogance or presumptuousness in being a "progressive"...if that's the appropriate terminology? It is a little suspect, in my mind at least, to "pooh-pooh" pegging when one has never mastered the art of pegging. Or leather toe boxes when all one knows how to do is celastic (and leather toe boxes are admittedly harder to do and take longer). Those who've never successfully made hand wax according to the old recipes, don't have a leg to stand on when they dismiss the need or the efficacy of a good hand wax...even on dacron. And, to illustrate the point in another way...those who learn to skive on a skiving machine or with a razor blade skiver, have a very difficult time learning to use (or sharpen) a good skiving knife...but the same is not true in reverse.

One of the aspects of all of this that has been an "issue" with me for as long as I can remember, is what I call the "factory mentality" that seems to pervade almost every aspect of modern life--from what we eat and how it is produced and delivered to us, to the entertainment choices that we typically make. And of course, that mentality not only affects bootmaking but, in my opinion, tends to undermine every aspect of what we consider "quality." Unfortunately, when it comes to bootmaking, it is the makers themselves, as much as anyone, who are doing the undermining.

If a maker decides...for whatever reason--personal standards of quality, expediency, or even necessity--that celastic toe boxes are acceptable, would it not be reasonable to assume that using celastic (or something like it) for heels stiffeners would also be OK? If fiberboard "cottages" (shank covers) are reasonable, why not fiberboard heel stacks...or even fiberboard insoles? If cement sole construction meets a standard of durability and...logic...why not moulded sole construction? If tacks (in the heelseat and shank area) are the logical choice (versus hand stitching), why not staples? It's a slippery slope.

Each of the aforementioned techniques originated in a factory context and the over-arching reason for implementing every single one of them was to cut costs or replace time consuming and/or hard to master skills. In each case, implementing one led to implementing the next...and the next. And each of these techniques can be seen in...indeed they are almost the hallmark of...common, post WWII, mass-manufactured, commercial footwear...at almost any price point.

If we adopt techniques and materials such as these we, in effect, surrender to the "factory mentality"...because the only valid reasons to do so are the very same ones that motivated the factories themselves--the "bottom line." Time is money; skilled workers command higher wages. Money, money, money.

On the face of it, such considerations might not seem unreasonable but, from a purely economic point of view, they are nearly suicidal for the "bespoke" maker because they put us in direct competition with the factories. Whether we like it or not. But few of us will ever buy leather or other materials in the kind of freight car quantities that result in train loads of savings. Nor will many of us put out 50,000 pair a day, week or month--the kind of quantities that allow for realistic price competition.

And if the old ways and the reasons for doing them are lost and our "custom" boots become fundamentally indistinguishable from factory boots, shouldn't they then be priced accordingly? And what exactly are we offering our clients? What value that they cannot find in an off-the-shelf boot?

Of course there are some folks who grew up with the old ways and now reject them. I don't understand that perspective, I doubt I ever will. It reminds me of my parents and grandparents, who having made it to America, wanted to forget everything that reminded them of where they came from--who literally burned the records and photos from that by-gone time.

So much is lost when the past is seen as an encumbrance, or of no great significance...not the least of which is the wisdom that accumulates in a family...or in a Trade...over the years. We ponder and wrestle with our reasons for making boots or shoes (or at least some of us do)...but of all the myriad of, perhaps overwrought, reasons, one seldom considered but nevertheless critical reason, is simply a "love of the process."

But how can one love techniques or a process that has no history, that has no roots? The very origins of which are in a context (the factory) that demeans not only the final product but the skills and, more importantly, the individuals who are, or were, its heart and soul? How can one love a process that has been made so mind-numbingly simplistic that, to a large extent, it can be entrusted in its entirety to dumb machines, with little or no human intervention? And when we borrow techniques that, having been adapted to machines (or to the factory context), are stripped of all complexity and all humanity, do we not take on some of the same stolid, immovable, passionless, character of the machine? How do we as individuals...presenting a product that is supposedly unique and individual...not blush with embarrassment when we allow ourselves to be so shamelessly debased?

Maybe it's all a different world--a lost world, the likes of which is inexorably fading from human understanding. But for me, I think I'll tarry here a while...there is something timeless and immensely beguiling about the smell of pine pitch coming off a waxed end as it it burnished. Something so bewitchingly attractive about a double row of pegs...all aligned so that they form rows of diamonds....

Tight Stitches
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firefly

Re: Diamonds on the soles of her shoes...

#2 Post by firefly » Mon Aug 21, 2006 9:08 am

You know DW every time I read one of your discourses I always try to figure out what the real message is because I think that it is some times hidden in the rhetoric. I think the consistent message that I get every time is that you love what you do with such an intensity and passion that it is not enough just to do it but you want to share it with others who have the same intensity and passion.

I have always struggled within my soul between passion and pocketbook. I was really not raised to believe that if you just do what you love the money will take care of itself. It was always preached to me to get a job that makes good money and happiness will follow. Now that I am older and balder I am starting to realize that the passion is what gets you up in the morning and drives you through the day with a full heart.

As I ponder your questions and enjoy your work I realize that it is not the wood pegs that I have come to appreciate but the passion with which you place each one in the soul of the boot.

Thanks for Listening.

Mark

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Re: Diamonds on the soles of her shoes...

#3 Post by dw » Mon Aug 21, 2006 9:37 am

Mark,

High praise and I thank you for it. And the highest praise of all is that you actually read it...all of it. Again, thank you.

One small quibble however...because I am fairly good with words, some think that there is a hidden message in what I write. Not so. Sure the passion and enthusiasm is there... you've got that right. My regret is that I know no other way to express it but in doing so, I suppose it may be obscured by the rhetoric.

But in my writing and perhaps even in my everyday behaviour, I am a product of the computer age no less than anyone else....WYSIWYG--"what you see is what you get."

I guess if I were a "whiner" I might complain that "no one understands me"--but only to the extent that people sometimes overestimate me and the depths that are to be plumbed therein. Image

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(Message edited by dw on August 21, 2006)

firefly

Re: Diamonds on the soles of her shoes...

#4 Post by firefly » Mon Aug 21, 2006 10:31 am

DW,

Please don't take my comment about the rhetoric in a negative way. I did not mean it in the way someone might refer to a lawyer confounding an argurment with rhetoric. As I am not as good with words, especially the written word, I sometimes do not deliver the same meaning that I saw in my minds eye.

I enjoy your discourses. I think that what I meant is that we find ourselves talking about techniques, construction methods, materials and money when the true message is "but of all the myriad of, perhaps overwrought, reasons, one seldom considered but nevertheless critical reason, is simply a "love of the process." ".

If I might offer an example:

This morning I experienced the most wonderful shave. Now I know that sounds odd to most but a while back I decided to start shaving with a straight (cut-throat) razor. I have now somewhat mastered the art of not only shaving but honing and stroping that razor. The shave is really incredible but I don't know if I do it for that alone but for the love of the process and the tradition.

My wife laughs at me because of the somewhat extended production every morning. What with steam towels and preshaves, a delicate dance between the Adams Apple and a butcher knife, finishing it all off with a choice between a Dominican Bay Rum or an English Lavender aftershave. It still brings a smile to my face and it is almost midday.

I left convenience and efficiency to pursue a much more complicated and time consuming process because it makes me happier. I ...love the process.

I don't know if any of this makes sense but I did enjoyed reliving my morning shave.

And DW, I always read all of it.

Thanks,

Mark

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Re: Diamonds on the soles of her shoes...

#5 Post by dw » Mon Aug 21, 2006 3:18 pm

Mark,

Never in life...

Your quote taken from my post is a good example of where the meaning might get lost in the rhetoric. I fiddled with that sentence for half an hour but couldn't get it to come out any better. I liked the way it sounded but not the way it read if you know what I mean.

I've never shaved with a straight razor but I'd guess you'd have a leg up on almost everybody as far as sharpening your skiving knives is concerned.

Your mention of Bay Rum struck a chord...my wife and I were shopping today and I ran across a display of men's cologne. Normally I am disdainful of most men's cologne. Years ago, men's fragrances were..ahem..."manly." They didn't smell of flowers or fruit. I remember buying a three bottle set of colognes that were "wood" based--one (my favourite) was Oak Moss or something like that. They smelled dark and earthy and sharp and complex. Well, that's gone and since then the onliest scent I can abide is English Leather and even that's getting a bit old. I like Bay Rum but I can't find any that will last..I bought some Burt's Bee's Bay Rum cologne and I liked it pretty well...but it went flat in the bottle in less than six month --you can tell how much I go out.

Anyway they had some Black Stetson in the display I mentioned and I squirted a bit on my elbow. I hated it...it's still following me around...and after it had "set" for a while I thought "I've smelt women's perfumes that weren't much different than this. What is the world coming to?" Men are using all sorts of beauty products now and that's bad enough but derned if I want to smell like a "faded rose." [disdainful(still) sniff]

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firefly

Re: Diamonds on the soles of her shoes...

#6 Post by firefly » Tue Aug 22, 2006 8:12 am

DW,

I know this is the wrong forum for this discussion so I'll make it brief. Try this website www.classicshaving.com. I love the Bay Rum aftershave (I am not much on colognes either) and the Clubman products have a very classic barbershop feel.

Now if you go there and get hooked on straight razor shaving and spend all your money don't come crying to me. There is another forum specifically dedicated to straight razor shaving, www.straightrazorplace.com.

BTW, another great shave this morning. It just makes my day.

Thanks,

Mark

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Re: Diamonds on the soles of her shoes...

#7 Post by bbrooks107 » Mon Jan 01, 2007 9:38 pm

After reading this entire thread, I can't resist commenting.

After reading many, many posts on this website, I can appreciate the passion that most of you have for the art of boot/shoemaking. It especially shines through in this thread.

It seems that so many of us have abandoned traditions and practices of the past in search of more convenience, more time, more money, more whatever... In most cases it seems like we have more frustration, stress, and unhappiness.

I can honestly appreciate the concept of embracing a process and it is a pleasure to bask in the light of someone so passionate about what they do that it instills enthusiasm in others to embrace the process. I don't know if I have ever had that passion in my life... I only hope to have it one day. I keep looking for that 'thing' that will click in my soul and tell me I found what I am looking for.

I can also appreciate the comments regarding wet shaving. It is a time consuming process if you do it right, and heaven knows you certainly do not want to do it wrong. I recommend the Pinaud Clubman Aftershave... It reminds me of a time long ago when things were less hectic and it was a big deal to go get your hair cut and the Barber shaved behind your ears and neck with a straight razor.

Bryan

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Re: Diamonds on the soles of her shoes...

#8 Post by dw » Tue Jan 02, 2007 7:59 am

Bryan,

Some early morning "rationalizations..."

Someone once said that "consistency is the hob-goblin of little minds." I'm not sure of the context of that observation but, over the years, I've come to appreciate the sentiment in a way that is almost exactly the opposite of the way most folks interpret it. I think what the author really meant is that too many people are afraid to look at their own perspectives and philosophies and discard all that which is inconsistent or hypocritical.

How does that tie in? Well...passion. I don't think that passion can last and maybe not even arise in the first place, when the mind is distracted...or better--"fragmented"...by inconsistencies.

So often we inherit our "ideals" from our parent and our peers (and, especially with regard to parents, that may very well be a good thing) but then we go through life without ever examining what lies underneath.

We all want "personal fulfillment," as who should say, but then we actively...and more importantly, unthinkingly...fall in with all the conventions and conveniences that serve to undermine any possibility of fulfillment. We participate in, and even defend, a system that devalues human worth to the level of the machine. A system that sets goals--goals that pervade our entire society and, inevitably even our personal, private lives--which are couched in, and limited to, materialistic incrementalism, to perhaps coin a phrase.

Passion requires...not that we eliminate all inconsistency or our tolerance for human frailty, but that we, at least, identify those factors that pull us in so many disparate directions and ultimately, drain us of spirit and focus.

Spirit and focus--impulses that are critical to the emergence of passion and, undoubtedly central to the pursuit of something as archane as bespoke bootmaking in a world where bespoke anything is regarded as the exclusive domain of the mind-bogglingly rich...or, simply, the mind boggled. Image


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bbrooks107

Re: Diamonds on the soles of her shoes...

#9 Post by bbrooks107 » Tue Jan 02, 2007 9:49 am

DW,

Thank you for your response. I have observed over the past week that you are definitely a 'thinker'. I mean that in the most complimentary way.

I had never heard the quote you mentioned in your post before. I can certainly see how it would lend itself to more than one interpretation. I think that on first glance most people would consider this an admonishment to remove themselves as far as possible from consistency, after all, no one wants to have a 'little mind.' The interesting thing is that most people interpreting that quote in that manner probably do have 'little minds.'

I remember in my Senior year of High School, (that's going back a ways,) we read Hamlet. The quote 'To thine own self be true...' comes to mind. I remember my English teacher posed the question 'How can you be true to your 'self' when it is always changing?' I've thought of that many times over the years. Many people do not have a great capacity for itraspection to know themselves. If they truely looked at their 'self,' they might not like what they see.

I remember when I was a young man, I wished my parents would have helped me discover whatever it was that would 'fulfill' me. I only realized later in life that some are fortunate to discover that early in life and others spend a lifetime looking for it. I guess the most important thing is how you spend your time.

Some people are better suited for 'fitting in' and accepting the conventions and conveniences while others are not and will not. I have been trying to 'fit in' for many years and it truely has not been a satisfying experience. I suppose that is why I am still looking for that 'thing' that I can devote myself to and feel passionate about. I suppose in my mind, if your do not have passion in your life, you do not have much of a life.

In the mean time, I admire those who have found that 'thing' and do have passion in their lives. It gives me hope that I will one day have what they have.

I'm sure you must be a fascinating person to have a conversation with. Perhaps one day I will have that opportunity...

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Re: Diamonds on the soles of her shoes...

#10 Post by paul » Wed Jan 03, 2007 8:41 am

If I may jump in here, I'd like to comment on this thing called the self.

Bryan, First I'll say that DW is indeed fascinating to talk with. I got to spend some time with him a few months ago and we got on this subject of the self.

I had screwed up on a procedure he had showed me, and had started to go into my usual funk. I was able to work my way out of it, and we were discussing it afterward. I mentioned this life long search for self as part of my process. I had decided many years ago that serving others with my skills was an important part of who I am. Anyway it made it bearable to do shoe repair all those years.

But the thing we were on, my slip up, came into the conversation. ANd this is where DW took the opportunity to mention a thing about self that has given me plenty of food for thought. And it relates to focus and process.

When I screw up, I have in the past spent much time and energy in self recrimination. I'll replay the thing in my mind and work it over and over. Very unproductive. DW's point was that spending thought in that manner when I should be in the process is only to compound the error.

Embracing the process, as you put it, is the clearest path to the devine, he said. And elsewhere on this forum, the point has been made that when we are so deep in the process, it's as if all else falls away and we perform beyond our ability, aided by some devine spirit. In other words for me, when I'm soo wrapped up in thinking about my misstep, I am galaxies away from the devine. How could I be close, I'm caught up in my own imperfection.

However when my mind is on the leather insole I'm shaping and holing, for example, and each move is controlled with intention, then at some point, if I'm lucky, I'll slip out of myself and into another state where perfection awaits.

Or at least that's my new goal, and what I got out of our conversation. Without a doubt, DW has a way of expressing it that touches some of us to feed our passion and enthusiasm. I hope that will be your experience as you find your way among us. Maybe you'll find that you fit in here. (I indentified with that comment of yours also, BTW)

Oh, and FYI, DW does a marvelous job with the Balmoral, that classic ladies boot of the 19th cenuty. Maybe he'll do up a class for you. It would be a major jump start for your new passion.

Back to the bench,

bbrooks107

Re: Diamonds on the soles of her shoes...

#11 Post by bbrooks107 » Wed Jan 03, 2007 11:22 pm

Paul,

Thank you for your comments. I was at work when I read your comments at first and had to wait until I got home to respond. The internet Nazis at work don't mind so much if I respond from work, I just didn't have the time to offer an appropriately pensive response.

I can completely empathize with your comment regarding self recrimination. I also have a strong tendency to focus on my errors far more than the many things I may do right. I'm a perfectionist at heart and that is a hard row to hoe... if you know what I mean. Once I discover some flaw in a project that I am working on, I quite ofetn lose interest or I have to start over. In fact, I have a project downstairs that I have been pondering for about two weeks, i.e. how I'm going to fix a screw up I made. I know that sometimes I just need to forgive myself for being imperfect and press on. Finishing a project despite imperfections says more about a person's character than finishing a project that has none.

Much of what I do in my 'real' job has to do with processes. I work on a computer system and identify ways of incorporating manual or new processes into the existing system. I also see the result of people not following the process correctly... and it's not pretty.

I believe when a person becomes intimate with a process, meaning they know it forward, backward, inside out, and outside in, it is comforting to follow. They can find peace in the process. There are no worries about this or that, there is only the process and doing it in the very best way you can. I don't experience that feeling often in my work. There have been a few times when I have performed that I have felt that... I'm so into the moment that I can relax and be in the moment. That doesn't happen often because I am about as big a control freak as you will ever meet.

I look forward to developing more discipline, focus, and passion as I embrace these new processes... I can certainly use all of them.

It's been a pleasure...

Bryan

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Re: Diamonds on the soles of her shoes...

#12 Post by missadriennesimpson » Fri Sep 21, 2007 7:25 pm

DW, I found your initial post interesting because it starts in a progressive vein and increasingly questions the advances of technology in shoemaking.

A couple of years ago, I started doing marketing, which as a radical/traditionalist/free thinker is a job I certainly never thought I'd have. In the process, I discovered that marketing itself isn't inherently bad -- it's simply letting groups of people know about things they would want to know about. It's when marketing is used to convince people to lust after things they don't need that it becomes so heinous.

I, too, tend to think of the advances of the machine age as robbing us of the riches of traditions. I've been reading "The Story of Shoemaking in Norwich" by W.L. Sparks recently, though, and the story he weaves is of the advancing working conditions that technology brought -- how bright, open factories relieved clickers and closers from the stuffy smoke-filled, dark recesses of back rooms and garrets. How it provided work for more people, with better pay, and with more social equality. It's kind of a good reminder to me of how easy it is to romanticise the past, or how difficult it is to have any kind of objectivity.

What I gathered from your thoughts, or what I prefer to conclude from them, is that innovation and progressive techniques have their place and are essential to growth -- but they should be the outgrowth of a solid understanding of traditional techniques and skills, and their usage should provide legitimate improvement -- not just time-saving, cheaper alternatives.

I work with artisan distillers who use traditional copper pot stills, as opposed to the much more efficient, now computer-operated column still. When they're working the pot still, adjusting everything by hand, craft distillers have the option of making every run the best that it can possibly be with that batch of fruit. Ultimately, what mechanization or streamlining of the process accomplishes is consistency -- which also means taking out the highs, the glorious vibrancy of individual extraordinary batches.

You ask, "But how can one love techniques or a process that has no history, that has no roots? The very origins of which are in a context (the factory) that demeans not only the final product but the skills and, more importantly, the individuals who are, or were, its heart and soul? How can one love a process that has been made so mind-numbingly simplistic that, to a large extent, it can be entrusted in its entirety to dumb machines, with little or no human intervention? And when we borrow techniques that, having been adapted to machines (or to the factory context), are stripped of all complexity and all humanity, do we not take on some of the same stolid, immovable, passionless, character of the machine?"

I was going to provide several examples of people who work quite happily with simplified processes...but I realized that ultimately, I respect them less because they do not quiver to overcome the indifference of the machine. But then, having never worked in a factory, perhaps I am not in the best position to opine on what it does to people. Do factories really strip the job of all complexity and require little to no human intervention? I don't know. I'm sure some parts do. But I bet other parts require much dexterity and skill, simply in a different context.

Perhaps what I inwardly rail against in the machine age is that we learns bits, parcels, without having an overarching comprehension or mastery of the whole process.

It is an interesting question, though. When does a machine become more of an offense than a tool? Does it have only to do with its temporal history in the annals of production? We do not question the legitimacy of a lastmaker's lathe. But we tend to respect a hand-stitched quilt more than one that was churned out on a sewing machine.... How much of the pleasure of a wet shave is in the tools? The history? The shave itself? The scent? The humidity? The lingering? The feeling that one is reaching beyond one's current time to experience something that prevailed in our culture for centuries?

- Adrienne

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Re: Diamonds on the soles of her shoes...

#13 Post by jesselee » Sat Sep 22, 2007 10:35 am

Gentlemen,

Are 'our' machines not an extention of who we are and what we make? I prefer my old tools. They denote an air of tradition. I have to tighten the screws on my old Bradbury machines constantly... Guess they didn't have left hand threads back in the 1870's. but I would not trade my main machine for all the fancy ones used to make boots in Texas.

The visuals and scents are amazing approached the old way... Mostly modern folk don't get the point, like when filling leather with wheat paste and how it is innevitable that the blackening comes off in the rain.... Too much ambience to state...

BTW, a straight razor shave is still the best... As is the scrub board and lye soap... Ok enough of my old time rants..

JesseLee

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Re: Diamonds on the soles of her shoes...

#14 Post by dw » Sat Sep 22, 2007 12:36 pm

Adrienne,

I wasn't going to respond to this and the best reason I can give for that initial impulse is simply that sometimes you can't "re-visit" much less go home. I have always thought that the essay that initiated this topic was one of the most cogent I have ever written. Much of what I have struggled to say and share with this community over the years seemed to coalesce and find expression in those words. As Paul said in a later post sometimes you tap into a "source"--a creative source or a divine source---and if you are in the right frame of mine, it all just happens almost without you knowing why or having the capacity to effectuate it.

But I ran across something somewhere in the last 24 hours that struck a note. What shoemaking has given me...has the potential to give everyone who engages with respect, focus and an indifference to the petulant clamoring of self ...is "the ability of an ordinary man to live an extraordinary life."

Call it "romanticism." It may very well be that. But one of the most striking points I made in that discourse (to my way of looking at it) was the one about "love of process." If we do not have time...cannot make time in our lives...to immerse ourselves in the process so deeply that every nuance, every complication, every difficulty, only adds to our enchantment, then we are in the wrong business. And all that we will bring away from our endeavors is a false pride and a defensiveness borne of having to listen to the whine of self, and the bragging of other selves, all the live long day.

Several people remarked about my "passion" in the wake of that initial post. And that surprised me because, in my mind passion is more of an adjective than a noun and what I feel comes across most effectively in that essay is "joy." And joy is a very real and concrete thing. It's not something that is in me always. But it's there more often than not.

Unfortunately it's also not something that one runs across very often...even in the "best of the best."

And I think that's because, in our society, the mundane is become the ordinary. Average is the new black. Style or status supercedes substance. And, in the best tradition of "lowest common denominator," good is adamantly equal to better and may even trump best.

At which point, all hope for extraordinary is forfeit.

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Re: Diamonds on the soles of her shoes...

#15 Post by paul » Thu Sep 11, 2008 3:32 pm

I don't know if this is the section I want, but I do want to RANT! And it's not about diamonds. It's about peas!

I hope you'll excuse me, but I don't know what else to do with all this adrenaline.

You will remember that pair of elastic slippers I was workin' on awhile back, and what an overwelming response I got to my requests for the pattern help.

Once again thank you all soo much.

I appreciate it even if my customer doesn't!

Avoiding details for now and just going for the RANT, I'll use the Princess and the Pea to express myself.

I have been putting mattress after mattress on top of that dang pea! So many I almost ran out and had to go to a neighboring Kingdom to fetch more mattresses! I was just about to quit when I did that burgandy red pair on the gallery and I thought was finally done with the tests, and ready to go for the wardrobe I was promised. You know, he sent those back!
Minor, though valid complaits. OK, just more peas really, but I can take it!

So I sucked it up and fetched more mattress and made another fitter, and I got the call about them yesterday. Not a word about the pea I've been working on! So I asked.
"OH," he told me "it's good." "However," says the spoiled princess, "the top mattress isn't straight and square with the corner of the room".

EGAD! It's a FITTER!

But, "OK", says I, "It's only off just about 2.5mm", but I'll address it before I go to lunch." SO I did. Done.

So today, just now, he calls me and tells me he's sending the fitter back as I requested, and he's also putting in the box, another style of slipper that fits real good, and can I make this style instead?! I hung up the phone with my mouth agap!

ARE YOU KIDDING ME! Now he's asking me to take all those queen size matterss away and bring in king size mattresses. After I finally covered over that little dang pea?!

So I called him back and fired him!
I just got off the phone telling him I'm done.
(It is ok to fire your customer, you know).

He pleaded, and pleaded, telling me I was his final hope for his overly sensitive old feet, and asked if I would reconsider and do just this style, and make a fitter/pattern test just one more time.

I told him I'd consider what to do.

To be continued...

Is there any of you guys who would like a referal?

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Re: Diamonds on the soles of her shoes...

#16 Post by artzend » Thu Sep 11, 2008 5:13 pm

Paul

Sometimes you just have to cut your losses don't you. All the learning will come to use sometime so it isn't all doom and gloom. I had to get rid of the odd customer too, sometimes adding a premium over and above your price to cover the hassle just isn't enough.

Tim

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Re: Diamonds on the soles of her shoes...

#17 Post by dearbone » Thu Sep 11, 2008 6:39 pm

Paul,

My friend,you did the right thing,i have send people away after the first try,on gut feeling,sometime it is difficult feet or customer or the wrong style they ask for,so it is for you to decide,deep inside me said those style of shoes, i thought are not not suited for those kind of feet.

regards Nasser

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Re: Diamonds on the soles of her shoes...

#18 Post by das » Fri Sep 12, 2008 4:43 am

Paul,

I think I had that guy myself.....

In all events, we've all been there and have that tee-shirt. You've got a business to run, a product to make, and other paying clients to serve with your skills. It's no harm/no foul at all to fob-off a problem-customer. In our good-naturedness we all want to do the right thing, and do right by our customers and accommodate their quirks, but this is not a charity--it's business.

My usual M.O. is, if in preliminary conversations with a potential customer, if I feel they might turn out to be a nutter, and I can afford to not take their work, I give them a delivery date so far out there, or feign that I am totally backed-up on orders for months, or something so they'd make the decision to withdraw. But I've had to show a few the door as well. It's all part of the game, and there's no way around it unless you only make ready-mades and sell them wholesale.

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Re: Diamonds on the soles of her shoes...

#19 Post by paul » Fri Sep 12, 2008 6:17 am

Thank you Friends,

Judging by the calibur and years of experience of the ones who have posted affirmations, I can feel better about my decision. Thank you.

But I will comment on the other hand as well, if I may. And that's regarding tolerance. I believe there is a certain obligation to the customer once we begin to deal with something as personal as their feet. Do you know what I mean? "In for a dollar, in for a dime".

I told this fellow from the start, way back last March, that I was not a "shoemaker". I'm a bootmaker. I've invested in the training I'm in the process of becoming. But I've dabbled enough in a few pairs of shoes that I wanted to try. Of course, the problem was that I thought so much of myself that I thought I could deal with him, inspite of all the warnings that were coming to me.

But having made the committment, I just worked the process. Shoes go a little faster than boots, so it wasn't too big a distraction. Complaints and objections were an opportunity to learn to put ego aside, take the higher road, and serve as I wished to. Besides, this little man was in need to someone to help him. And there was obviously going to be something to learn from all of the "stuff" involved. I've always learned things the hard way, so nothing different about that process.

But inspite of all that it went sour. Why, I ask? I'm not done workin' over that question, believe me. But here's a things, that might be of value to others, which is the whole reason for this rant:

I think the #1 reason was I never met the customer. All information obtained from him was remote. I think it was plenty complete, and I don't think that was the reason for the problem by itself, by no means.

I think the thing was, I didn't get to charm him with my way of being.

Does that sound like BS? It's not really. It's my spin on that '80% of fit being in the head' factor we talk about. I didn't get to shake his hand, or look him in the eyes. I didn't get to hold his feet, and convey my confidence in being able. I didn't get to charm him. It was all by phone. Of course, this is where I probably think too much of myself, but I think some of you know what I'm getting at.

Well, I've got boots to make, so I'm gonna just let this go. Maybe we can pick it up at Lisa's. Lisa, I promise not to get too excited, and use capital letters when I speak about it at your place.

Later,
Paul

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Re: Diamonds on the soles of her shoes...

#20 Post by dw » Fri Sep 12, 2008 6:56 am

My Image...

I think you did right, Paul. And everything that has been said to this point has been reasonable.

Having said that, I've been that customer. Or maybe not that customer but in similar straits. And the only excuse I can offer is that every time I thought I was settled on what I wanted, the person (a retailer) that I was dealing with suggested something else.

When rented for my daughters wedding the shop owner asked (out of the blue) if I would be interested in trading a pair of boots for kilts, jackets, whatever, until the gold balanced on both sides of the scales.

I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't know what was available. She kept pointing me to different sites and different materials and then in the middle of all that she decided she wanted something extra done to her boots--something I had never done before but was willing to try. So the balance changed again. I think part of the problem was that the price on the boots and the price on my initial "wish list" were at odds--she would have ended up paying me out of her till.

In the end, she decided to back out and I was really disappointed.

The moral of the story is "keep it simple." Especially when dealing long distance. Let your customer decide what he/she wants and leave it at that.

May or may not apply...take it for what it's worth.

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Re: Diamonds on the soles of her shoes...

#21 Post by das » Fri Sep 12, 2008 7:22 am

Paul,

Like any of us, you just have to work this through in your own heart and mind, and come to your own conclusion.

Of course we are a "different" breed of critters, because of the sheer intimacy of what we do, and the absolute importance we see in feet, fitting, and footwear. But on the same score we cannot become victims of our own scruples. Of course we don't want to become hard-nosed "cranky" old "take it or leave it" types.

Funny story: driving back from an HCC meeting in N.E. years ago, we saw a small shop on the roadside advertising shoes, so we pulled in. The guy (whose names escapes me) had aprons, tee-shirts, and wall hangings with the photo of this grumpy old 19thc. shoemaker's face on them and the motto: "If you don't like my shoes, the hell with you!". I confess, I bought an apron or two. But, I thought that, as cute as that was, it was a sad state of affairs for a shoemaker to sink to.

Maybe it would do well to talk to a doctor or medical professional on this. Surely some patients are neurotic as hell, and refuse to cooperate, etc. Doctors probably have to heal "the head" as well as treat the body, and they sure can't toss people out of the office everytime they turn out to be a bit psycho, at least not as easily as we can toss them out of a shoe or boot shop.

Except in extreme cases (orthopedic) custom-made footwear today is a luxury, a "toy", a status symbol. And no matter what heart-breaking tale of woe comes in, the bottom line is, you're not doing heart-transplants--if the customer can't get what they want, they won't die.

If you allow one (or any number) of customers to rattle you or impair you ability to serve humanity generally in your trade, that's a bigger loss to the world than one or two psycho customers going barefoot. The one thing about shoe/bootmaking, there're plenty of other feet in the world to shoe, and they're making more and more of them every day; the boots and shoes wear out.... there'll be more to do ALWAYS.

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Re: Diamonds on the soles of her shoes...

#22 Post by dw » Fri Sep 12, 2008 10:40 am

One of the saddlemakers i learned from/hung around with, in my early days had a sign over his bench...it said:

"My best ain't none too good...don't bring out the worst in me."

He was cruel to animals and later shot himself in the head (fatally) in front of his son.

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Re: Diamonds on the soles of her shoes...

#23 Post by big_larry » Fri Sep 12, 2008 12:15 pm

Paul,

There folks born into this world that have personality disorders. The symptoms are clearly defined and some of them benefit a bit from treatment. My guess is that you simply ran into one of these folks. A "normie" or a person who is not disorded will always look to their own behavior to see what they have done wrong. You are a "Normie" (normal person). I woul suggesat that you set really strict boundries and rules for these type of folks and put a fee up front on every step and change in the order. My last two jobs were at the Utah State Prison and at the Veterans Adminestration as a Psychologist and as a clinical director treating PTSD. If you hve access to a DSM4r look up "Borderline Personality Disorder." Refere this person to someone else and get it out of your head.

Best wishes, Larry Peterson

The neurotic will live in their head, while the psychopath will charge them rent for living there.

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Re: Diamonds on the soles of her shoes...

#24 Post by paul » Fri Sep 12, 2008 1:04 pm

DW,

Geeze! What a story. Funny sign...but Golly!
And thank you for your understanding comments as well.

Al,

You make a good point about doctors having to deal with neurotics inspite of how it may have gone in their interactions with them. It would be interesting to hear that perspective on something like this.

I kinda liked this old fella. And certainly my heart went out to him having such sensitive feet that he "could step on a thought, and feel it", as he said to me twice. But I'd be a fool to continue to believe I can serve him without even ever meeting him. I just can't get away from that.

Today I received the fitters back and another pair of shoes that he says are the only one's he can wear comfortably. They are are a ladies loafer Trotters brand in size 12N. And he wants me to make him a pair in this pattern. I just don't know. I'd have to bother you guys for help on that all over agin. Yes, there would be something to learn in it, but good sence tells me to just walk away and leave only the telling of the story to linger.

Our dear and sincere friend Fred in New Mexico wants to help in some way. So I guess we'll see.

Say a prayer.

Paul

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Re: Diamonds on the soles of her shoes...

#25 Post by jenny_fleishman » Fri Sep 12, 2008 7:58 pm

Paul, is your customer's name Jenny Fleishman? Image Image

I am going through the same thing, only I am both the shoemaker and the customer, so I can't fire the shoemaker or dump the customer!

Jenny

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