Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bootmaking--It’s An Art

Copyright © 2011 Paty Jager

When I decided the hero in my Christmas novella would be a boot maker I found a local bootmaker who taught classes on how boots were made in the late 1800’s. I visited D.W. Frommer II’s boot shop and witnessed some of the steps and was able to sniff, feel, and see the tools, materials, and finished products.

Wooden lathes were used, one for the right foot and one for the left to form the two piece boot over. These were made to resemble a top customer’s feet or a certain size when the boots were custom made.

The two leather pieces, one the front, shin to toe, and the other the back, calf to heel were the main sections of the boot top. If ornamental stitching was applied, they used linen thread either in a loop or tulip design with either a machine or by hand, depending on what the boot maker had available to him.

Boots were constructed with inseaming and pegging.

Boots by
D.W. Frommer II
 The process started with tacking the sole to the lathe bottom and cutting the channel around the insole. This was called hoisting. The leather boot (the two sections sewn together) was soaked and then pulled over the lathe, pulling it tight.

4 yards of 8-10 strands of waxed linen thread were rolled or twisted together. This method was done by attaching one end to a nail on the workbench and rolling it across the boot makers knee until he made a fine point like a needle on one end. To keep the water from penetrating the seams, the thread was pulled across a sticky substance made of pine pitch. This made by cooking for twenty minutes pitch and bees wax or sperm oil. The liquid was poured into cold water and then pulled like taffy until it turned into a bronze sticky substance. This waxy substance sealed the holes and kept the thread from moving.

Boar’s bristles, the 3-4 inch long hair from the back of a boar’s neck were used as needles. The hair was split and the thread put through the split.

A curved awl was used to make the holes through the channel, welt, and sole for the stitching to go through. The holes are spaced 1/3” apart all the way around. The holes are then either sewn with a whip stitch or wooden pegs, much like match sticks ½” long and 1/8” wide and tapered at one end, were made of hard woods and pound into the holes through the layers to hold them in place. The pegs are ten to every inch. Some bookmakers will made patterns with the peg tops.

Paty Jager, Author
The outer sole is a quarter inch thick hardened or rolled leather. Work boots were usually pegged while dress boots were sewn.

The heel was made of layers of hardened leather made wet and pounded together either on a marble slab or hard wood base. This compressed the pieces together.

They started lining boots somewhere between 1870 and 1890. From start o finish a pair of boots takes around 40 hours depending on the drying times.

This is the information I discovered while researching my hero’s profession for Christmas Redemption a free book at Smashwords.

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  1. Thanks for the boot making lesson. It gives me some insight on the types of research I might need to do if I write an historical. I downloaded the book and can't wait to read it.

  2. I had no idea all that process was put into making boots. Shoot, I just thought they cut out the leather, sewed it together and put a sole on it. Shows you what I know--nada.
    Great post.

  3. FASCINATING!! WOW. Great info.

  4. aarbaugh, I found the information interesting too.

    Sarah, I was the same way. It is/was quite an art.

    Thanks, Meg!

  5. Wow lots of steps, we take so much for granted in this day of wanting it now.. Thanks for the post.. this is very very interesting.


  6. Now I'll have to check out that bookmaker when I go back to Idaho! Fascinating topic, one that we usually don't even think about. And aren't the boots gorgeous? Talk about art and craft, there it is.

  7. Sounds like a painstaking and complex process. I can add this to my list of professions I wouldn't want to have! Beautiful designs, though!

  8. Very informative! My family has worn western boots since before I was born. That's a nice pair you've got there.

  9. Wow, you definitely did some in-depth research. Great post.

  10. Does this mean you can make me a pair of boots? I miss my old cowboy boots. After my first pregnancy, I couldn't get them on. Haven't found a pair that fit me since.

  11. Hi Nancy, Yes making boots the old way is an art.

    Jacquie, I agree. He does wonderful work and was so willing to show me everything.

    Genene, I agree. It takes too much patience and detail work for me. It's why I don't quilt.

    Angelyn, Boots have been a maystay of the working man for decades.

    Thanks Ginger!

  12. Alison, I don't make boots, I just write about making them. ;)

  13. Paty,

    I love learning how things were made. I'm glad Frommer's is preserving the knowledge and training new makers!

    Great post!

  14. Great information, Paty. I'd love to own a pair of custom made boots. Lucky you to see how they used to be made. I love that sort of thing, too.

  15. Sarah, it is a wonderful tradition to keep alive.

    Caroline, thanks. I'd love a pair of custom boots, too!

  16. Paty, what's the price range of handmade boots?

  17. I had no idea how boots were made way back when. Very interesting and thank you for sharing.

  18. Jacquie, I don't know. I didn't ask. But most of the boots were $300 and up.

    Thanks for stopping in, Vicki!


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