What inspired you to become a bootmaker?
The only thing that inspired me to answer an ad looking for “someone to stitch boot tops” was the fact that I needed a job, and I’d been sewing clothing since age 12 so it sounded like something I could do. But… then I realized that people could make footwear! And I could be one of those people! And I was hooked.
Who were your teachers? What was it like to learn from them?
My first job was with Jay Griffith. He was a grumpy old alcoholic who couldn’t talk without swearing (usually at top volume) and I was an innocent church-going girl who’d never held a public job or really interacted much with the outside world. Fortunately I was enthralled with boot making and determined to learn as well as too stubborn to let anyone scare me away, so even though I used to go hide in the bathroom and cry, I stuck it out.
After I left Jay’s shop I paid Ray Dorwart, a former student of Jay, to train me in a two month class. Then, I leveraged the training I’d gotten at Jay’s learning to stitch boot tops as a way to stay with Ray for a year and a half as an unpaid apprentice. The fact that I got to work with Jay for a year and a half and then stay in Ray’s shop for another year and a half was so valuable. The more time you can spend with a boot maker in their shop, the better!
What were some of your early struggles and successes as a young bootmaker?
I was incredibly lucky to be noticed by Tyler Beard before his “Art of the Boot” book came out. I was featured in that book way before I deserved to be featured in anything, but it was a huge stepping stone to credibility.
Struggles… ha! What didn’t I struggle with? Boot making is so incredibly complex. I remember after spending three whole years in boot shops, there were times after I got my own shop I’d still have to stop and think, “OK, what comes next?” And then there’s the issue of feet and learning to fit them. I don’t remember ever being trained to fit lasts in any sort of concentrated way, so I had to figure most of that out myself.
What are your hopes and expectations for the future of the craft?
Our future rests on young makers. While I welcome every boot maker who’s waited to start until they retired from something else, the future of the craft depends on young people learning this trade and staying in it long enough to become masters and teachers.
What advice would you give to young bootmakers just starting out?
Take classes. Spend as much time as possible with boot makers you admire. Spend time with boot makers you don’t admire. Learn everything you can from real working boot makers. Do not say, “Oh, I’m good with my hands and I think I can figure this out myself.” If you think taking classes and being an apprentice is expensive, try spending 20 years “figuring it out” for yourself.
Sorrell Custom Boots • Lisa Sorrell
The Cowboy Bootmakers. Memories and photos collected by Dana Perrotti, 2019.