“It's something I've been wanting to do for a long time,” says Rachel Corry about her new book, The Sandalmaking Workshop, which teaches readers how to make their own mules, slides, Mary Janes, and more. “Because when I first wanted to learn, I couldn't find any contemporary books. All the books in the library about shoemaking were from the ’70s. And I thought that was so weird that no one had picked up or continued this line of work in a long time.”
Her journey to learn shoemaking began in 2010 after a small closet fire destroyed all her clothing and shoes, including her most beloved pair. “My favorite sandals kind of burned up, but not completely. They were definitely worth throwing away, but I could still see all the pieces and how they came together,” she says. “The fire kind of separated the layers that made the glue come apart, so I was able to really clearly see all the layers of the sandals. And I thought, ‘Oh, that's how it's made. I could probably do this myself.”’
Through the outdated books and far less robust 2010 internet, she got to work learning and making. After a year of trial and error on her bedroom floor, some friends asked her to teach a class on sandal making at their San Francisco boutique, and Corry took to it right away. She moved to Portland seven years ago and taught shoemaking workshops all around town until she settled into her own sunny space in the Yale Union Building, where she’s just announced a return to in-person classes for interested future shoemakers.
Over her decade of teaching, she says, students would regularly tell her the same thing after taking their first shoemaking class. “They would say I would love to do this again, but I just don't think I can do it without you there. You should make a book.”
She took their words, and the memories of combing a library for 1970s instructionals, to heart. On April 13 she published a 208-page hardbound guide to sandal making with step-by-step instructions, pages laid out explaining all the tools and materials, pull-out patterns, and beautiful photos that take you through the process for 14 different shoe styles. And she says with the information and hard goods available now, this moment in time is one of the easiest to learn.
“The few shoe people in the United States—that have been working for years—have finally figured out a few sourcing channels. It was so hard in the beginning,” she explains. “I mean, we're trying to bring back interest in an industry that went completely abroad starting in the ’80s and barely has any foothold in the US.”
So how does that small, tight-knit shoe community feel about a modern book laying out their industry for all?
“The reaction [from] shoemakers, bootmakers, cobblers, sandal makers all around are giving me a lot of positive feedback, and I'm just very pleased and thankful that people like it,” she says. “I have to admit, my techniques are a little bit unconventional. Because I'm self-taught, I do things my own kind of unique way that I think is the easiest way.”
Photographs excerpted from The Sandalmaking Workshop, Text © 2021 by Rachel Corry. Used with permission from Storey Publishing.