The sole of the matter

I’m welcomed in to Djiby’s atelier a place on the work bench, cushion included, has been made for me. Today I’ll be taking notes and photographing the process. My mission: to learn how shoes are made, from start to finish.

We’re with Djiby’s assistant, Pape, and the two men will be working in parallel for the next two hours to create a pair of ballerina flats, size 45 for an African client. She has provided the woodin material (a tough, pure cotton material that comes in many colourful designs) and instructions that the flats come with a brown bow ties too. The shoe-makers get right to work.

The power is out in the neighbourhood this morning so we work in silence which is unusual for Djiby and Pape. I’ve been here already many times and I know that they usually have the television going with many programs on, from soap operas to nature programmes. The Senegalese in general like music and movement. I however am very grateful for the quiet as it’s helping me to concentrate and take notes. We also have a helpful draft coming in through the open doors in the front and back so the fumes from the glue are hardly felt.

Cutting brown woodin material for the edging

I’m asked to cut the material for the edging.  That’s pretty much the end of my hands on experience today as I need to first understand the process step by step and see how it’s all done !

cutting the woodin material which will show up on the outside

The cardboard piece used to cut the shape is called a “gabarit”, a pattern (used for sowing). Shoemakers have many of these, for different types and sizes of shoes. This one is size 45, as needed for this pair of flats.

This is the interior piece of leather which acts as backing for the exterior woodin material

The inner lining, la “doublure” is cut to the same size. It will act as support and lining for the exterior woodin material.

super power glue
making sure the inside piece of leather matches up with the woodin material

This is Djiby’s ancient looking and yet very efficient sowing machine. Run by a foot pedal and in the midst of our cutting and gluing I feel quite unaffected by this morning’s power cut.

Friends and men from the neighbourhood come in, some to say hello only, and some come to sit and chat for a while. The atelier resounds in a choir of “aleekum salaam”s as we respond to their greetings.

The material and lining are gently glued together and then properly sown together.

exterior with inner lining of leather and border are ready

Djiby’s atelier is a collection of dozens of materials and tools used in shoemaking as well as this one painting.

This material, like a harder foam, is used for the base of the shoe. It will be cut to the right size and covered with the same leather as used in the inner lining.

Adding some glue to finish the brown border, which will be bent over on the inside

Base pieces for the flats are ready.
These are the shoe forms (size 45). The base pieces are attached to the bottom using two nails.

The borders are ready !
and resown over the glue
We can now start placing the sides and tops of the flats over the form and attaching it to the base.
This is another form which has been used many times. The tiny holes from the small nails are visible everywhere.

While work continues on the pair of flats Djiby fixes a leather bag for another client. He’s adding a neat little clasp that comes with a tiny key.

Superfluous bits of material are removed.

 

 

 

 

It takes precision and practice to properly pull the leather and material over the bottom of the shoe. The folds that result are then cut away.

 

 

 

 

 

We also prepare the rubber soles. Of course first we take out the two nails attaching the base to the form for the shoe ;-)

 

Due to our power outage we can’t use an electric machine to nicely round the edges of the rubber sole. So, as it was before we had electricity, this too is done by hand.

The heel in this case is flat. An additional piece of rubber attached to the end of the sole.

The family next door.

Rounding the rubber edges of the soles to make them smooth takes significant time.

Now, the fun part at the end. We are making the bow-ties.

The finishing touches are happening. That surprising moment when all the pieces come together and we have a ready shoe. More men from the neighbourhood come in to talk. The Attaya (traditional Senegalese tea made from green tea, mint and sugar) is not yet served, but will be soon. One young man is speaking loudly in Wolof; he is clearly upset about something.

 

The sole is glued and the shoe is finished.

The final effect. And I am honoured by being the one to place this beautiful new pair of flats into their plastic bag. They are ready to be picked up and enjoyed.

Tomorrow I will be trying my own hand at the art of shoe-making!

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