Travels to the Czech Republic: Part I

Since we’re all stuck at home these days, I thought I’d jump into the way-back machine and visit 2011. I have been incredibly fortunate to be able to travel with work, whether it takes me to an international conference or somewhere new to install a traveling exhibition.

In April 2011, I went to the Czech Republic to install an exhibition for the Bata Shoe Museum (BSM) at the Egon Schiele Art Centrum in Český Krumlov. The first two days I spent in the industrial city of Zlín, where the Bata Shoe Company started in 1894. One of the days was spent in the company of staff who worked at the City run Shoe Museum near the Thomas Bata University.

The display area, which is housed on a floor of an old Bata factory, has a retrospective of Western fashion foot, including a significant section about the old Bata company and the footwear manufactured there. One corner of the museum housed a shoemaker’s shop complete with tools including this form used in making traditional Moravian folkloric footwear.

Boot leg form held by Mirka Štýbrová, former curator of the Shoe Museum

After visiting the museum, we drove to meet a shoemaker in a very small town northeast of Zlín called Kelč. The shoemaker had learned his craft as a teenager and had been making traditional Bohemian, Moravian, Slovakian and other regional special occasion boots and shoes for local folkloric 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.

Patterns for different styles of boots hanging on the walls of the shop.

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

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 form is pushed into the boot until it rests on the insole. Then the wet leather is pulled down over the form, wedging the excess leather into the recesses of the form until the entire length has been creased into place.

Bottom shelf has a contemporary leg form along with boots made in-house.

The boots are left until the leather is completely dry. When the form is pulled out of the boot, the shaft retains its permanent accordion pleating with the finished height measuring around 50cm. Brass nails were 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.

BSM boots that have not been pleated.

BSM boots with pleating and colourful embroidery.
The shoemaker on the left is explaining his process.
Machine for sanding and polishing leather.
Ribbon decorations at the front of the photo; completed vamps towards the back of the table.

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  1. Wonderful article and very interesting! Thank you.
    I have been interested in these plaited or wrinkled-shaft boots for some time. Variants of them can be found in many regions of the world, from Turkey to central Europe to Germany and even South America (presumably through European immigrants).
    There often seem to be an assumption that these boots were made for women, but I wonder if some of them were made for men as well. There is a German shoemaker who recreates these boots (with tall heels) and he says that they were worn by men (see e.g. Similar wrinkled-shaft boots are also still made and worn in Crete and parts of Anatolia (Turkey), and they are part of traditional men's attire. I would appreciate if someone could clarify if in the Czech region these boots were worn by men also, or only by women.