Recollect: Shoes @ The Powerhouse Museum

Early riser, no. Not me. I’d love to be, but somehow the bed is always too comfy, or I forget why I’m getting up before dawn.

Running to catch the plane, a first time for everything. Security person, why you stop me for ‘explosives testing’? MY PLANE. Yes, it’s all about me. But you were still being a jerk.

Sydney. Why did I spend so many years hating you? Was it because my heart was filled with loathing? Probably. You are an interesting city with delicious brickwork. DELICIOUS BRICKS. And yes, random and lost old lady, I’ll help you find your way in a city I have no idea about and despite language barriers. Google Maps, though.

Powerhouse Museum. But first, pastry. Barista boy, don’t taunt me with hypothetical chocolate doughnuts. I want none of your hipster jive, give me my fucking cherry danish. I’M FAMISHED.

Pay to get into the museum? No, I’m here to see someone. No, you can’t call them to meet me, they are in a meeting. I’M TOTALLY LEGIT, may I please check my coat?

The Queen’s knickers were awesome. With such fragile objects on display low lighting is critical*, but that meant I couldn’t see the tiny hand-stitching very well. Corsets are, for me, passé – they are beautiful, narrative objects, but the spotlight shines too brightly on their discourse. Give me mundane, unassuming objects anyday (ie, bloomers), and I’ll unravel their stories through construction and usage. The physical construction of objects is endlessly fascinating, showing both the hand of humankind through time as well as individual qualities of materials.

Recollect: Shoes. I circled like a shark** for a good 40 minutes before stopping to mentally deconstruct specific footwear. The beautiful, well-lit cabinets of the static Recollect space showcase various object types from within the museum’s collection. It’s an area conspicuously devoid of information panels – the focus was museum-collection-object (there was a display, however, of a basic oxford in various stages of construction). Some interactive aspects were included – a wall of lasts to touch and explore***, including their amazing history, and digital films of the process of shoemaking.

Pedorthic lasts displayed at the Powerhouse Museum (MAAS), Sydney

For the regular patron, the Recollect: Shoes exhibited historic, ethnographic, and fashionable footwear from the Joseph Box collection, continuing though a timeline of women’s footwear to modern Australian examples, then smaller displays of men’s, sporting, theatric and children’s footwear. It was interesting – an exhibit of curiosities to spark conversation.

For the patron schooled in museum theory, Recollect: Shoes harkened back to the cabinets of wonder: the typological, encyclopaedic displays of objects, from natural history to ethnographic, the methodology of such being cultural imperialist propaganda demonstrating the microcosm of the known world. However, Recollect: Shoes didn’t dig into propaganda. It was more, “Hey look what we’ve collected – isn’t it cool?” And yes, it was very cool. Having a background in museums, I knew where to look for specific information (the object labels were on the storage housing, also on display), and could understand how the collection was sourced, and why objects were displayed in the manner they were.

For the patron schooled in footwear design and construction, Recollect: Shoes was a gold mine of information. Most footwear students have read Stepping Out: three centuries of shoes, and it was a wonderful to see finally the shoes ‘in the flesh’, including Westwood’s Super Elevated Gillie. AND THE TINY, PERFECT STITCHING (most stitches on the footwear were 1mm). SWOON.

Whenever I have a pair of shoes in for repair, my mind always returns to the reCollections museum collections manual and the catalogue of types of damage to objects. A super-neat display titled “CSI: Conservation Studies” encapsulated this process – objects (a pair of 70s platform shoes with crumbled platform sole) were assessed for restoration possibilities, but determined as beyond repair because of the material composition (polyurethane or “PU”) and the damages its suspect to (crumbling in moist environments). I’ve had the same style of shoe pass my way for repairing, and gone through the same thought process (ie “nope, not with that sole”). Over the years I’ve noticed that many materials used in modern footwear don’t handle even basic environmental changes well (from their storage cupboard to my workshop), deteriorating more quickly once they are in my hands. Apologies people, no more PU leather platform shoe fixing from me.

CSI: Conservation Studies - the case of the crumbling sole

PHM CSI2

My favourite display, though, were ROLLERSKATES (surprise?). 3 historic pairs were on display c1900-1923, c1930-1950, c1970, as well as some sweet ice-skates. These old skates had wonderful lines – the pattern pieces flowed together so well. They must have felt amazing to wear. The women’s skates, c1900-1923 were my favourite: the heel strap was beautifully curved, with an external counter and a lovely vamp. The toecap and eyelet reinforcing were delicately brogued, and all stitching was .8mm – so tiny! From what I could see, the boot was blake stitched onto the sole, then a thin leather cover was placed on the sole (because blake stitching looks bad? I have no idea). The heel was stacked leather, and the sole at the toe had a wedge built on to accommodate the spring. These skates had a separate vegetan leather ‘cup’ the heel sat in, the cup was riveted to a steel plate for the wheel mechanism. I couldn’t quite make out, but I think the boot must have been bolted onto the plate somewhere around the waist. The most amazing part of these skates, though, is the provenance. The collection database notes their history, and includes a photograph of the skate’s owner wearing them.

PHM RollerSkates

PHM IceSkates

I’d arranged a walkthrough of Recollect: Shoes with the curator, **** she was kind enough to give me half an hour of her time explaining particular exhibition and collection issues. I was also able to have a brief tour of the collection store, to further discuss collection management problems, such as housing and material deterioration. My thanks to the Powerhouse Museum staff for their generosity.

Sociocultural objects collected by museums are typically mundane – average and everyday, they tell us the story of past lives. The Powerhouse Museum’s footwear collection is generally so, excepting a few special pieces such as Queen Victoria’s elastic gusseted boots. I wonder what footwear will be collected for museums within the next century. Modern manufacturing techniques and material composition don’t lend themselves to permanence, exemplified by the CSI: Conservation Studies display. In a market oversaturated by cheap footwear what would we want to collected, and will it last the test of time?

* Kids, that’s why you aren’t allowed to take photos with flash in a museum/ gallery – lumens are damaging!

** I made strange little squeaking sounds throughout my time in this exhibit.

*** The majority of the lasts were pedorthic, curiously built up and fascinating in themselves.

**** How did I arrange this? I emailed them. That’s about it. It also helps knowing what I’m talking about – one of the privileges of education.

Skate Boot Maintenance 101

Most information on skate maintenance is about the hardwear – cushions, bearings, wheels; not to surprise people, I’m interested in the footwear aspect. Skates are expensive. They are a significant investment and the critical pin to participation in Derby/ etc. Why the fuck then, would people neglect them? Skate boots are not going to magically look after themselves, and it’s not hard to care for them. Invest your time and efforts into maintaining your skates as a whole.

To be all museum nerdy*, there are 3 causes of damage to skate boots –

  1. Chemical;
  2. Environmental;
  3. Mechanical.

Chemical damage occurs when your feet sweat and the boots don’t have an opportunity to dry out – they become moist havens for bacterial growth. Bacteria feast on the proteins of your leather boots and your delicious sweat, creating stink as a waste product. Your boots smell because stuff is _growing_in_them_. How feral. Bacterial activity and your natural sweat acids deteriorate the materials of your boots, leather or not. Weakened materials = shorter boot lifespan = more money shelled out to replace them.

You can prevent this though – keep your skates dry, not stuffed in your gear bag. A skate leash/ noose/ strap is perfect for this; also, store your skates in an airy place at home. Wear quality socks of natural fibres (bamboo is pretty rad _and_ antibacterial). These socks will aid your feet to disperse sweat naturally as your tootsies are not encased in synthetic socks of doom. Finally, all leather boots are best, but if you need to purchase synthetic boots (for reasons of dollars or ethics), do as you will.

Environmental damage = our lovely climate. Leather is skin, after all, and dries out quickly. During the leather tanning process natural oils are stripped out of the leather and re-injected at a later stage (“fat liquoring” – I _love_ that term), but these oils won’t last forever.

All leather needs to be conditioned/ moisturised to maintain the oil content. Zorbel Leather Conditioner is a great Australian product and is available through Damned Soles/ most shoe repair kiosks. To apply the conditioner – remove all taping and make sure your boots are dry and clean (baby wipes are great for this, and sticky goo from taping can be removed with a gentle wipe of Orange Power Goo Dissolver or nail polish remover). Daub a little conditioner on to the boot with a soft cloth (old clean tea towel) and gently wipe over a section of the boot; repeat until all sections are re-conditioned. When the conditioner has dried, gently wipe off with a different soft cloth. Dubbin can be used in this process in place of Zorbel, but it’s a little heavy handed for the task – Dubbin has awesome oils and waxes, but it’s mostly used for waterproofing.

Note: polish does not re-condition leather. Polish re-colours scuff-marks, offers some surface protection against mechanical damage, and makes your boots look amazing. Waproo, Kiwi, Angelus… there are many good brands of polish available (again, through Damned Soles or shoe repair kiosks). Daub a little polish on with a polish brush/ soft cloth. Take a different polish brush and shine the fuck out of those boots – fast, side-to-side hand movements all over the boot. If there are sections with different colours, masking-tape over them and attend to them separately – this will stop black polish from migrating to white stripes. Shiny? Wipe off excess polish with a soft cloth and stand back to admire your work.

Derby is a contact sport – thrill and spills, grazing your boots and gouging holes in them. Unlike an object in a museum, mechanical damage to skate boots cannot really be prevented. What can be done, though, is to lessen the impact – tape your boots to protect vital areas, wear toe-guards, and, for the love of all that is holy fix minor problems before they become major issues. This could be loose stitching or the boot itself breaking away from the sole. Most damages can be repaired, and you have a better chance of keeping your beautiful skate boots on your feet by –

  1. Checking them for damage regularly (especially pre-season training);
  2. Attending to problems as they arise;
  3. Talking to me about how damages can be repaired. I’m only an email away.

Be excellent to each other, and to your skate boots.

2013-02-14 11.37

When we meet up to discuss skate boot repairs, you’ll know who to look for – the intense, short person, probably wearing a dashing house coat.

* my first professional training was in museum collections**

** I’ve also claimed to be a professional grave and tombstone climber

Roll up, roll up (puns intended) – how to bring the Leviathan into your lives

[Eye of the Tiger starts with a *click* from your cassette player, daggy dance moves begin]

Risin’ up, back on the street
Did my time, took my chances
Went the distance now I’m back on my skates
Just a grrl and her will to survive

So many times it happens too fast
You trade your passion for glory
Don’t lose your grip on the dreams of the past
You must fight just to keep them alive

It’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the thrill of the fight
Risin’ up to the challenge of our rival
And the last known survivor stalks her prey in the night
And she’s watchin’ us all with the eye of the tiger

[Boogie off into the distance]

You roll fast, play hard. Don’t compromise, and don’t hide the indie goddess who rests in the lotus of your heart. Your sport, Roller Derby, reflects your hunger for change – to grow in personal strength, in social solidarity, and to create a space where you will flourish and thrive. Punk rock attitudes, DIY culture and creative self-expression are hallmarks of your sport, but they don’t go all the way… let’s face it, your skate boots are kinda dull in comparison with the rest of your gear.

Roller riot grrls are hot, but their skate boots are not. Where are the hot pink boots, the skulls’n’crossbones? Nowhere.

Stretching deeper than that, there’s the fundamental distance between you and your skate boots – shipped in from overseas, made to fit standard-sized feet, and wearing weird-assed bruises and blisters into your tired tootsies. For *your* boots, you’ve had remarkably little input into their story so far.

You are worth more than the current Roller Derby boot situation allows. You are home-grown talent, one-of-a-kind. Passionate, smart as a the flick of a whip, and downright gorgeous. You are the apple, mango, and orchard of my eye.

There’s an important aspect of life that we all often forget – that we have the power, the technology, and the will to make the world fit our needs. Together, you and I, we can make better skate boots.

To bridge this gap between what-you-have and what-you-really-want, the Leviathan was born (no, not from fires of creation, but from RMIT Brunswick Bespoke Shoe-making studies). Simply, they are awesome skate boots for beautiful women doing amazing things with their lives.

Leviathan are custom made –

  • Do you have hard-to-fit feet? Fear not, lass, I’ll build the boot to your measurements;
  • Do you really want to have boots with tiger stripes and leopard spots? Or pink and green? I can make this happen;
  • Should your totem animal, the Drop Bear, be represented on your boots for good luck? Consider it done.

Leviathan are designed and built as a specialty fit skate boot –

  • A snug waist hugs the arch of your foot;
  • Snubbed toes so that your foot cannot slide forward at a sudden stop;
  • A low heel for speed;
  • Leather toepuffs and counters (the innards that hold a boot’s shape) are firm but forgiving, and they don’t have hard edges to hurt your feet;
  • Double eyelets so that you can lace the boot as you need to;
  • Two speed straps pull the boots onto your foot like bondage gear;
  • A toecap provides additional protection for the forward area of the boots;
  • A lacing guard stops the tongue from sliding to the side;
  • No nails in the sole hinder plating, and the sole is hand-stitched to the boot upper for extra durability;
  • Industrial stitching holds everything exactly where it needs to be.

Leviathan are crafted from only the best of materials –

  • Locally sourced kangaroo leathers – kangaroo leather is not only environmentally sustainable, ‘weight for weight’ it is the strongest and lightest leather in the world;
  • The full leather sole (bovine) will hold the shape to your foot over time ,but remain strong and firm for plating/ re-plating;
  • Bamboo-coated antibacterial padding on the inner sole and the tongue help stop ‘funky foot’. The inner sole can also be easily removed so you can dry it out after training and bouts.

Leviathan are hand made. From scratch. They are built over a period of weeks using time-honoured traditions, with heart and soul. They are made to be worn, cared for, and repaired. They are made with love, sweat, and sometimes a little blood… Leviathan are my way of being excellent to you.

Bill and Ted are my heroes – be excellent to each other, and party on dudes.

Oh, the hair

Are you ready to be excellent?

Hellz yeah! – then read on, gentle traveler.

I’d love to, but I’m not ready for Leviathan yet – no worries! Like the Facebook page and follow the blog to keep an eye out for new designs/ leathers, or just to drop in and say hi. I’m ready when you are.

Aw shucks, I already am! – awesome, betch! You can’t do better than that. Tell me what you love about your skate boots/ sport over at the Facebook page/ blog – I’m always interested in ideas for building better boots.

The ordering process is easy – either download the ordering form and have a friend help you measure your feet, or, arrange to visit my workshop in Ipswich and work through the design process with me. Choose your colours, write up your details, and email/ snail-mail the form back to Damned Soles.

Leviathan Order Form 2012

A deposit of 50% (non-refundable) is required when you place your order. This can be paid through direct debit or Paypal. All payments must be finalized before your order is shipped/ collected.

Delivery timeframe for Leviathan is 4 weeks. There are no rush jobs. Each pair of boots is lovingly crafted by hand to meet your personal requirements – that sort of shit takes time.

Leviathan retail at $695.

For an additional $50/ pair, you can choose from top-range flashing leathers – black-on-black leopard-print kangaroo, blue-black African springbok, and toxic green kangaroo (so bright that my eyes bleed).

Unique design features start at $50/ pair. These design features are up to you – draw them up yourself, or work with me on a kick-arse addition to your roller boots. Anarchy symbols?

A few leathers from the current Damned Soles range are limited in supply – they are either unique finish runs from leather merchants or reclaimed leather offcuts (waste not, want not). Place your boot order early to ensure you snap up the colours you want (hint: if you’d like a TARDIS colour theme, or She-Ra inspired boots, it can be arranged = getting your geek on, baby).

In honour of the Leviathan’s release, all boots ordered before Australia Day will be offered at half price.

Delivery on these orders will be end of February – plenty of time to have them plated and worn in before the 2013 season starts.

Will [Leviathan] keep begging you for mercy? Will [she soothe] you with gentle words?
Will [she] make an agreement with you for you to take [her] as your slave for life?
Job 41:3-4