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Here in the Foothills, tucked away in remote areas, artisans are quietly creating their wares. Such is the case with Noreen Jones, master sandal maker of StrongToe Shoe Company!

StrongToe Shoes

In an outlying area of Placerville, Noreen creates sandals specifically to fit the wearer’s feet. How is it that Noreen came to make these shoes, and how does she make them? Come and join me as I visit Noreen in her shop and learn about how she make’s her shoes!

Heritage plays a key role for Noreen, who was inspired by the passion of her Mother for crafting a variety of things. Coming from an Irish background that values personal and cultural creativity, and this being instilled in Noreen from a young age, she discovered that she had a fascination for design and creating things with her hands. It is her love of design, and the inspired creativity instilled by her Mother that is the sole of Noreen’s shoe making business: StrongToe Shoe Company!

Noreen took me up to her cobbler’s shop and it is quite impressive indeed!

Noreen, the Cobbler

Noreen uses various types of leather for her handmade shoes.

Various leathers are used

When she creates her shoes she cuts out from a sheet of leather an area big enough for a pair of shoes. It is important that the two shoes come from the same piece so that the qualities in leather for each shoe matches.

Cutting out the base of the shoe

The leather is the put into a bucket of water to soak, and then the leather is set out to dry.  This ensures that the leather shrinks, much like one would do with cloth when sewing.  Once the leather is dried and ready to use she then takes a pattern

A shoe pattern

and traces this onto the leather. Once this is traced onto the leather she then uses a leather cutter to cut out the shape of the shoe.

The base of the shoe trimmed and ready

Next, Noreen again uses the pattern, but this time it is to mark where the straps will go.

Tracing where the straps will be inserted

Once this is done, she then punches out the holes for where the straps will be inserted.

Punching the strap holes

One of the things that impressed me the most is the amount of upper body strength needed to go into the making of shoes! With the strap holes punched the next thing that Noreen does is take the uppers and a foot insert, to see how the upper fits with the lower part of the shoes.

Laying out the upper on a new design

This is a new design for Noreen as this sandal will have a “closed” toe. She then turns the shoe over to check that the strap length is correct. The straps will be hidden inside the shoe with a second thinner layer of leather before the sole goes on.

Placing the sole with the straps

Here is what the shoe will look like with the double layer of leather and the sole attached.

Double layer soles

She then uses another pattern to designate where the straps will lay and perfection at this point is a must! Placement of the straps between to sole and the base of leather is essential for comfort. At this point the straps are left loose so that the straps can be adjusted for a good fit. The straps will then be tacked down.

Tacking in the straps

Next she gets the buckle strap together. This requires great strength to punch the holes necessary to attach the parts. Once the holes are punched she puts the pieces together to have a complete buckle.

Buckle is done

Noreen will then sew the shoe together.

Sewing the pieces together

Then she uses a tool to bevel the top side of the shoe.

Beveling the sides for finishing

Before finishing up the shoe, Noreen attaches a heel.

Glue added to the heel

Glue for the heel

Once the heel is attached the shoes are almost done.

The finished shoes

Noreen might have one more step depending on the preference of the customer.

Finished shoes, one oiled, one not

Noreen will either oil the shoe, or leave it natural. Once finished, the shoes will go into a handmade bag made by her daughter Elsie.

Each pair gets their own handmade bag

Noreen showed me one more of her creations and that is a lovely pairs of shoes for an infant. I love the color!

Baby shoes

I received quite an education on making shoes today! A huge thanks goes out to Noreen Jones for welcoming me into her shop and for giving me the opportunity to feature a local artisan and her craft! If you would like to see more of what Noreen has to offer, then click on the link to her site on the right!

I hope that you enjoyed the trip and adventure!

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