TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A Shoe Fetish, Anyone?

Why is it that shoes capture our attention so completely? Hats, gloves, and other accessories also have their fan clubs, but shoes seem to beat the others in terms of a collective and historical obsession. Sure, they serve function in how we connect with earth: protecting from the elements, providing warmth, keeping our selves clean and enabling or preventing mobility. But, I think there is also something about the form itself that offers the maker and the wearer a challenging canvas to go beyond function into adornment. Shoes make or break an outfit. They define social status. They change how a person stands, walks or sits. Look at the shoes and a judgment is formed about the person. Adornment speaks of historical, cultural and personal statements of society.

Sioux quilled and beaded moccasins, circa 1900. (Cowan's Auctions Inc.)

My all-time favorite museum, The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, has a huge exhibit along one wall with hundreds of shoe samples from around the world, old and new. Their web description states:

"People everywhere face the common concern of how to cover and protect their feet. As you look around, you’ll notice that people have responded to this concern in countless (and often amazing) ways.

The kind of shoes a person might use depends on a combination of factors: what the environment is like, what kind of shoes his or her group traditionally wears, and what the shoemaker can create.

Imagine shedding your own shoes and standing in one of these pairs instead. Which ones would you choose? And what would it be like to look at life from that different point of view --even for just a moment?"

I carry mukluks from Afghanistan, one of my best sellers in my eBay store. I have several pairs and love wearing them during the cold, winter months.

Made by Afghan refugees out of recycled sweaters, the mukluks are more of a sock than a shoe or boot, but they come from a boot tradition, much like the felted boots of Tibet:

Tradtional Tibetan Felt Boots

These are examples of function needed for a cold climate offering comfort and protection. But, shoes have also been a source of pain and even death. Foot binding in China lasted over 1,000 years. Women bound their feet tightly, curling the toes under the feet and raising the arch of the foot. The smaller foot, the better. Lotus shoes, now highly collectible, encased these crippled foot remains. This pair is available on eBay for $345:

Chinese Lotus Shoes

I actually had a customer in my Chicago store who came looking for a pair of lotus shoes for her 90 year old mother who had bound feet. Shirley Two Feathers has an interesting article on her blog about foot binding. She doesn't know where she got this photo:

We may think of these customs as barbaric, but stiletto heels also cause severe tendon and back damage. The High Heel Shoe Museum has a bunch of sexy photos of women in stiletto shoes.

Most of the gorgeous, young models are sitting, kneeling, or laying down. Hmmm.... Wonder why? Could it be that they are NOT comfortable?!! One of my best friends when I was growing up in Brazil was Japanese. She and her sisters all tried to compensate for their height wearing these stilettos. Even back then, when we were young and flexible, they could not wear tennis shoes. They could run in those spikes, but not without.

Contemporary artists and designers continue to draw on traditional fabrics and needle work, as well as form, for inspiration for cool-looking shoes. Feltoman from Turkey sells beautiful suzani on felt boots on eBay. (There are flat soles available, too!)

Suzani boots, $115, Feltoman

The Natural Store uses vintage kimono fabric in their smart-looking pumps, $320 pounds.

Kimono covered shoes from The Natural Store, a fair trade outlet.

Diverso Studio on Etsy has a nice selection of mola shoes for $45.

Mola shoes from Diverso Studio on Etsy.

Shoe images are everywhere in art. They are painted, cast, quilted, silk screened, and framed. Travelers photograph them. Radical Sabbatical captured this happy photo in Morocco:

Moroccan slippers by Radical Sabbatical

Have a shoe fetish, anyone? Whether you do or not, walk gently on this good earth!


  1. Fabbulous post, Rachel. You do such good research, and you so enjoy it; you should be getting your advanced degree in something!

  2. Thanks, Morna! Is there an advanced degree in knowing a little about a lot, but not much about anything? Heh, heh...


“Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth.”

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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