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I Made 1920's Inspired Shoes by Hand | Why Everyone is Creative

Updated: Nov 24, 2023

Being creative is never convenient. I began this pair of hand made, 1920’s Mary Janes about a month after having had a new baby (my fifth!). I was simply itching to get to shoe making again, and so I patterned out a more simple pair of shoes inspired by a pair from the 20’s. Normally, I would make a mock up and use a very complex form of shoe-patterning, but this time I skipped the mock up, and patterned mostly by eye. I filed away the pattern in a bag, ready to be made into shoes. Little did I know that these shoes would be completed in a new home 10 hours away from where we were currently living . . .

We decided to move our family of 7 to Manitoulin Island, where my husband and I grew up, when an amazing property complete with a massive studio came up for sale near my parents. For more information on that, check out this video on my lifestyle channel.

Obviously, there were much more important things to be done than making a pair of shoes, like purging, packing, travelling, and settling in to our new home. I didn’t pick back up with this shoe pattern until we had been settled in for about a month. And this time, I had my own quiet studio building to work in! A far cry from my early days of teaching myself garment sewing on our living room coffee table in a tiny apartment.

I love that these shoes hold the story of the massive life transitions that were going on around me as I progressed through the project. Much like a wearable time capsule.

finished hand made vintage leather shoes

This article won’t be very focussed on the actual shoe making process. For a look at that, watch the video, and check out my other shoe making articles, like this one and this one.

Instead, I’d like to talk about a very common but harmful belief in our society today, to do with creativity.

What is that myth? That being able to do a creative skill - any skill, really - is something a person is simply born with (or not, in most cases) and it’s only for an elite few. I couldn’t disagree more.

shoe making process

Many times, through posting photos and videos of projects I have made online, I will get the enthusiastic comments that I “have a talent”, or am ‘gifted” in some way. While I certainly appreciate these comments, I don’t think I am particularly gifted, as this implies being born with a certain skill ready-made, and I have never experienced that. Everything I have learned to do, was learned through struggle. It was done through having an initial passion for it, and then struggling through lots of practice and projects and failures, and learning that way.

I think the problem with people looking at something online that someone has made and pronouncing them as “gifted” or having an innate talent, is that it implies that they have something special that most people don’t or can ever have. And I totally disagree.

leather shoes in lasts during shoe making process

Every single person is born with a “creative gene” so to speak. In a longitudinal test of creative potential, a NASA study found that of 1,600 four and five year-olds, 98 percent scored at "creative genius" level. Five years later, only 30 percent of the same group of children scored at the same level, and again, five years later, only 12 percent. When the same test was administered to adults, it was found that only two percent scored at this genius level. So clearly, everyone is born creative, and the process of life in our society, the education system, negative feedback from parents, whatever, slowly crushes it out of most people.

So, while I don’t view myself as especially “gifted”, I was fortunate in the sense that I grew up in a family that really valued and supported creativity for its own sake. My Dad, Steve Maxwell, built the house I grew up in himself, cutting the rock by hand, and modelling it after Victorian stone houses. Growing up, I had my own craft room, fully stocked with supplies, and I was always making something. As a teenager, I became very interested in classical oil portraiture, and was fully encouraged in that area as well.

So I think if there is anything different about me, it’s that I had an upbringing that really valued and encouraged our creativity, and we were never without supplies and resources to continue to learn and to create.

If you weren’t so lucky in your upbringing, there is still good news. The good part is this: the creatively gifted 5 year old in us is always there, ready to be validated and rediscovered.

Let’s get back to shoemaking. The act of learning shoemaking has taught me patience. Shoemaking takes a long time, compared to all of the other creative pursuits of mine - garment making, corset making, bra making, even painting. It takes a long time, but what is beautiful about that is how the act of making a single pair of shoes captures, like magic, the experiences we were going through during the period of time in which they were made. The flavour, the emotions, the thoughts, the struggles. Like a time capsule.

painting heals on hand made leather shoes

A huge part of creativity is patience - patience with the process, but mostly patience with ourselves. The patience to allow ourselves to be really bad for a long time before we can begin being good at whatever it is. I still don’t feel like I am particularly “good” at shoemaking, and this is only my 7th pair of shoes. That isn’t a whole lot when it comes to learning such a complex craft. But I am deeply satisfied with the little successes I have had, and with the process becoming smoother and more predictable for me.

Sometimes practicing our creativity looks like having supposedly weird ideas, and not knowing where they will lead, but stepping out on faith anyways. Shoemaking is the clearest example of that for me. I’m still at the point where it takes me so long to make a pair of shoes, that most people who don’t feel the passion I do for it would have no clue why I am doing it, logically speaking.

woman holding hand made vintage leather shoes

When it comes to creativity in this day and age, it is so important to refrain from comparing ourselves with other people online, who have been doing it for much longer than we have. There will always be people who are far better than we are at doing whatever the creative pursuit is, but honestly, that is irrelevant, except for looking at these people for inspiration and instruction. But ultimately creativity is practiced for its own sake, not for the purpose of being proficient or a virtuoso.

One of the hardest parts of starting a new hobby is when you have a clear vision in your mind of some thing you want to create, in my case, a pair of shoes, or boots, but lacking the experience, tools, or knowledge to be able to bring it into reality. But trust me, the more you practice something, the closer your real created projects will come to those visions in your mind’s eye. And that is where the real magic comes in. I have a bunch of notebooks where I sketch out ideas for shoes, or garments I would like to make. And it is always surreal when I am flipping through these notebooks and see sketches I made several months or a few years back, and realizing that I actually created the exact vision I had sketched out.

woman's feet wearing hand made vintage leather shoes

Are you feeling inspired to follow your creative dreams? Let me know in the comments section!

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I've never met a craft I didn't want to try. I think making my own shoes is still a bit far off. I watched a video about it and I think that's going on the list for a while down the line. Right now I'm focusing on sewing my own capsule wardrobe.

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