This reconstruction of a cobbler’s workshop emphasises the advent of
increasing mechanisation in a traditionally labour-intense craft. A timeserved
craftsman needed an entire day to make a pair of shoes. The life
of a cobbler was in sharp contrast to that of his rich customers. The shoemaking
process was very time-consuming; the cobbler was a traditional
home worker who earned little (piece work). Shoes were made of fi ne
materials such as leather and silk, so only the better-off classes could
afford shoes. For poorer people, shoes were very rare goods until to the
mechanisation of the shoe-making process in the 1920s. Poor people
wore clogs from the clog maker, a craft which is addressed in room 3.
The cobbler’s knife was very sharp so it could cut through leather. To
protect himself from the sharp knife, the cobbler wore an apron with
a leather breast piece. The cobbler sat on a stitching chair, a low chair
placed on a wooden platform. In this way the cobbler’s feet kept warm,
but the leather to be worked did not hang on the fl oor either. The cobbler’s
tools such as a hammer, awls, last hook, rasps, whetstone, and
knives were hanging or lying in the tool box next to the boxes with nails.
In the display cases there is a selection of shoes from the 18thcentury to
the 1920s. More recent shoes can be seen in the next room.
Van alle gereedschappen die de schoenmaker bezit, is de ijzeren schoenmakersleest misschien wel het belangrijkst: hij vormt er immers de basisvorm of leest van de schoen mee. Vóór 1860 worden geen afzonderlijke linker- en rechterschoen gemaakt. Met één vorm worden twee min of meer gelijke schoenen gemaakt.
The shoemaker’s last was the main cobbler’s tool and is used to shape the shoe. Up to the 1850’s, most shoes are made on absolutely straight lasts, with no recognizable difference between the right and the left foot.
Shoemaking lasts are often made from beech, maple or some other type of hardwood. It is important that the chosen wood is not liable to split while carving a shape and driving in pins and not excessively water absorbing. The last is frequently made up of at least two pieces, so that it can be more easily removed from the finished shoe.
Before the shoemaker applies the leather to the shoe, he places the leather on a beating stone and hits it with a large hammer until all pores are closed. This makes the leather smoother. The knocking comes to an end with the introduction of the rolling machine, which crushes and stretches the leather. Other machines also make their appearance in the shoemaking workshop, such as the sewing machine and the punching machine that instantly presses sharp, metal molds in the shape of a sole or heel through a whole pile of leather. Domestic shoemakers cannot afford these new machines, leaving them far behind the larger shoe factories in terms of productivity.
Eduard Dierick (1800-1875) from Izegem figures out a way to make shoes waterproof by attaching a pig's bladder to the leather with copper nails. He makes boots, such as these in the Volkskundemuseum, for King William I of the Netherlands in 1828 and for King Leopold I in 1835. Eduard Dierick improves and refines the techniques of shoemaking and lays the foundation of the flourishing shoe industry in Izegem.