Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Creating Footwear From Unusual Materials

By Assistant Curator Sarah Beam-Borg

One of our curious correspondents asked recently for some information about footwear made from non-traditional materials and it prompted me to go take a look in our storage rooms for some really intriguing examples – and since our collection has over 13,000 pairs of shoes, it was not tough at all to find these very interesting pieces!

Fishskin as a material for footwear has been used in many places around the world.  The inherent waterproof nature of fishskin makes it an ideal material for footwear worn in inclement weather.  This pair of Amur boots is from the late 20th century and is from Sakhalin Island.

Metal has been used for footwear all over the world since the advent of metalsmithing.  Precious metals like sterling silver however are much rarer because of the cost of the material and relative fragility.  This single silver stirrup would have been used by a Peruvian woman in the 19th century to ride on her horse; only one stirrup is needed for side-saddle style riding so it is not part of a more traditional pair.

These stilted, ivory, hour-glass shaped paduka from the 17th century would have been worn by a man or woman of significant wealth, perhaps even royalty.  Ivory was considered such a precious material in India, that it was reserved for use by holy men and members of the royal family.  The soles of the paduka feature metal hobnails.

Human hair is a truly rare material from which to make any kind of clothing, in fact it is often associated with penitence and martyrdom because it can be very uncomfortable.  This sock made from a combination of human hair, wool and yucca fibre dates to the 13th century and shows signs of use.  It was found in Nitsi Canyon in northern Arizona and is attributed to an Ancestral Puebloan site.

Hollow-core grass and straw stalks provide excellent insulating properties and as materials are used commonly for outdoor winter footwear or as inner liners.  This pair of grass socks with blue thread embroidery were worn in the early part of the 20th century in the Aleutian islands.  Grass socks were commonly worn by Alaskan Aleuts  inside their boots to protect their feet from moisture.

This pair of shoes and matching handbag are recent additions to the Bata Shoe Museum’s fashion collection.  They were donated to the collection by a woman whose boyfriend had picked up the sheets of raw material in the early 1960s while in Taiwan and suggested that she have some shoes made for herself in Hong Kong; they are made from cloth that has been constructed from moth cocoon casings.

The iridescent green sequins that embelish these women’s pumps from the late 1700s are a created from a tiny beetle wing.  The shoes which are made from embroidered linen were made in India and worn in England.

These are just a few examples of the footwear that we have in our collection made from unique and unusual materials.