The class welcomes both men and women, though space is limited. All the supplies will be provided, and students will leave with a finished pair of custom-fit shoes or boots. The class runs July 22-26 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Cost is $360 for shoes and $380 for boots. Sign up at thechattery.org/classes/2017/7/22/painless-leather-shoe-or-boot-making-class.
In Peggy Partrick's world, blacksmiths are "pretty common." A graduate of the John C. Campbell Folk School in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, she lives a "simple" life of self-sufficiency; performing tasks and making necessities long ago outsourced to complex machines. The Blairsville, Georgia, native is married to a blacksmith, and together they teach others how to make everything from hand-forged pipe tomahawks to river cane baskets.
"My husband and I are both full-time craftsmen. We have supported ourselves and raised our family like this for over 40 years," she says.
This month they are hosting a "Painless Leather Shoe/Boot Making Class" at Chattanooga WorkSpace in partnership with The Chattery, essentially a public cooperative which provides cost-effective education on any topic a qualified community member is inclined to teach.
"We always kind of offer one-off classes so if you have something you might be interested in, you can come try it out and see if you might want to keep going with it," Chattery co-founder Jennifer Holder says of the 4-year-old nonprofit, which has hosted classes on cursive handwriting, the history of hip-hop art and how to make wine from wildflowers and berries, just to name a few. "As we continue to grow, we want to offer more intense, hands-on workshops like this one," Holder says of the five-day shoemaking class.
While this will be The Chattery's first intensive class featuring artists from outside Chattanooga, it will not be a first for the Partricks. Peggy Partrick says she has been teaching shoemaking classes, both at the folk school and upon request, since 1998.
"People would want to take a class, but it was so popular it would be full and they could never get in, and they would say, 'Can you come to this place and teach it so I can get in?'" she says, adding, "That's what happened with Chattanooga. A lady contacted me about it and had wanted to take the class so many times but could never get in."
Aside from the ruggedness of making something for yourself that seems out of the question to most — "The idea of being able to make and design your own shoes is so empowering," Partrick says — she attributes the class's popularity to the fact that anyone can do it with a little guidance and some simple tools: scissors, needle, thread, leather and a leatherwork tool called an awl, which her husband has crafted especially for such classes. But the true allure likely lies in the footbed. The resulting shoes incorporate orthopedic insoles that are heat-molded to each maker's foot, creating a custom, cloud-like comfort.
"We go to great lengths to make sure these shoes feel good. Anything you have, like a high arch, corn or anything in the past that's given you problems, it just takes care of that," says Partrick, who can't remember the last time she bought a pair of shoes.
And while boots are typically thought of as rugged, the class allows for flair to accommodate different aesthetics. After all, "If you're going to put all this time into making these shoes, you want to be able to wear them for a long time," Partrick says. She says she has personal creations that are still fashionable — and functional — 15 years later.