I began making shoes in the early ’70s as an exercise in sustainability and part of the “back to the land” movement. We were growing our own food, milking a cow, building our log home and generally exploring all the aspects of a self-sufficient lifestyle.
It was with that mindset I tackled the project of making shoes. I needed a pair myself and my baby daughter was getting to the walking stage. I wanted to offer an alternative to the stiff, hard-soled baby shoes of the time and was interested in what I could do to make my own footwear, as well.
I started by taking apart a well-loved and well-worn pair of shoes (that were already starting to fall apart) and laid them out on the table in pieces. I then took those pieces and made patterns of them, placing those patterns on similar materials. With a few hand-tools and directions from local leather workers, I made my first pair of shoes. It was a revelation to be able to make something so fundamental and practical for myself!
I soon found myself making shoes for family and friends and quickly established myself as a shoemaker in our community. I opened a small shop in Bloomington, Indiana, in the spring of 1976 and kept that shop alive until 1981. I still have customers from those days, which is very gratifying.
From 1981-1984 I lived and worked from home in Minneapolis, MN. I was attracted to that city to be a part of a theater company and though that didn’t pan out like I thought it would, I continued to develop my shoemaking craft and entered the craft fair circuit. This was a great way to take orders for shoes and boots and still be a single mother, working from home.
In 1984 I moved to Arena, Wisconsin with my daughter and a partner. We built a log home together on a beautiful 40 acre piece of land. Again, I supported myself and my family by making shoes for people in and around the neighborhood as well as traveling to art fairs around the country.
In 1989 I moved to the Southwest. I immediately fell in love with the landscapes and expansive territory. For the next 10 years I lived in New Mexico and Colorado, settling in Santa Fe, NM from 1999-2007. Santa Fe was a perfect place for a shoemaker. The tourists that were drawn to the artist mystique of that town were eager customers and kept an open studio thriving for 8 years.
Having my own craft that is portable has allowed me to relocate to different areas and different communities. I have loved the freedom of movement it allows and thanks to the internet, clients can track my journey around the country. I moved to Chicago in June ’07 and count this as another adventure in the life of a cobbler: adapting to a big city environment and finding a customer base within and outside of this community. Now I’ve started a shoemaking school and am having a great time teaching shoemaking and leather working to a variety of people–some of whom are flying in from Seattle and NYC to learn from the Chicago School of Shoemaking.
I have a fabulous niche: I am one of the few people in the USA who makes custom fit shoes and boots from scratch, by hand. This allows for a great amount of freedom in fit and style and I am grateful for the opportunity to provide this service while satisfying my own need to be in connection with my creativity.
I just celebrated 42 years of shoemaking and look forward to many more. Thanks to all of you who have supported me throughout my cobbling career.
Visit Sara in her studio if you’re in Chicago or traveling through. Please contact her by email or phone to make an appointment.