Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Conservator's Blog - Czech Dance Boots

Contributed by Bata Shoe Museum Conservator Ada Hopkins

In April I went to the Czech Republic to install an exhibition for the Bata Shoe Museum at the Egon Achiele Art Centrum in Český Krumlov. The first two days I spent in the industrial city of Zlin where the Bata Shoe Company was started in 1894. One of these days was spent in the company of the Director of the city-run Shoe Museum.

My host took me on a tour of her museum; then we drove to meet with a shoemaker in a very small town northeast of Zlin called Kelc. The shoemaker learned his craft as a teenager and had been making traditional Bohemian, Moravian, Slovakian and other regional special occasion boots and shoes for local folklric dance troupes for more than 50 years. His shop was filled with all kinds of machinery and the walls were covered with a multitude of paper pattern pieces.

The shoemaker's shop interior

One style of women's boots involves accordion pleating of the boot shaft, made from an extended length of leather. The Bata Shoe Museum has several pairs in its collection and the method of achieving this effect has always been a mystery.

Boots before pleating
The vamp of the boot is hand embroidered, the components are sewn together and then the upper is lasted to the sole; the final stage is pleating the leather. The leather of the boot shaft, which can measure up to 80cm, is wetted thoroughly along with an application of a water soluble adhesive (or size). The carved, deeply notched wooden last is pushed into the boot until it rests on the insole. The wet leather is pulled down over the form, wedging the excess into the recesses of the last until the entire length has been creased in place.
A historical last from the Shoe Museum, Zlin

The boots are left until the leather is completely dry. When the last is pulled out of the boot, the shaft retains its permanent accordion pleating with the finished height measuring around 52cm. Brass nails are hammered into the heel in a decorative pattern. These beautifully embellished boots complement an even more elaborate outfit that is decorated with fabulous embroidery, multiple colourful ribbons and layers of starched lace.

Finished boots - from the Bata Shoe Museum's collection