Tuesday, July 24, 2007

En el Taller Don German

On Friday we returned to San Dionisio Ocotepec to finally work with Don German making huaraches. His workshop (taller) is basically a shack in his backyard. You have to walk through his backyard, which is more or less a petting zoo. From what I saw, they have a cow, a dog, a pig, two piglets, a goat, several chickens, and two cats.



Don German started off by showing us the tools that he uses in order to cut leather. Mariana, the TA for the class, had driven us out to S.D.O. and she stayed and translated for a bit as Don German went through the basics. As she prepared to leave, Don German all of a sudden got really nervous that we weren't going to be able to communicate (even though Adrien and I have been able to get the gist of most conversations). He kept making her translate one more phrase and one more phrase, and then before she left, he made us ask him a question in Spanish so that he could make sure we could communicate. Kind of weird.

Anyway, Don German has a whole set of tools to make his huaraches. For example, in order to cut leather strips, he uses these tools, which he made:


And he uses them with a knife in the following way:


It's actually a lot harder to use than it looks. I was the first one to try it, and it was really difficult. Plus, everyone was yelling at me telling me how to do it, and I got really overwhelmed and freaked out, especially since I was trying to cut this leather with a knife and I was afraid to slip and cut myself. Anyway, I don't think Don German was very impressed with my skills, and for that matter, I don't think anyone else impressed him, either.

Anyway, Don German went through and showed us all the tools he uses to make the huaraches. He actually has several different styles and several of them were very cute, like this pair:


The issue is that most of his shoes are work shoes, and though some of the styles are cute, they don't all appeal to a tourist market (the people willing to pay the big bucks for this stuff), and the locals are starting to wear things like Carhartts and Timberland boots, so he really needs to do something different in order to continue making a living working with leather. Plus, the workshop is a mess and, quite honestly, though the shoes are sturdy, they are a little rough around the edges. I guess that's why he agreed to do this workshop with us...he and his family are in a difficult position right now.

So, on to the huaraches. Each of us chose a different style to make from leather to shoe, and I chose this pair:


First, we traced around a template for the foot bed:


We cut out the shape using that knife to the right side of the photo. Next, we use a compass to trace around the shape of the foot. This makes an indentation about 1/2 an inch in from each edge. You punch slits and holes along this line and attach the straps through these holes.


You punch holes and slits with tools like these:


Next, you cut all the strips you need in order to make the shoe. To make them more flexible, you get the leather wet first.

You attach the straps through the slits and holes you cut, and then you use a foot mold in order to get the length of the straps correct:


At this time, there are all kinds of other things you are doing: attaching straps to other straps with grommets, braiding the leather, etc. I won't go into details on this part. Finally, after the top of the huarache is all together, it looks like this:


You glue the straps down to the foot bed using some glue (they make the glue themselves boiling down who knows what body parts...it was kind of gross and I'd rather not think about it). :P Finally, you glue the top of the huarache to the sole of the shoe and cut it out:


Here are my completed shoes:


Ok, here's the real story: it took us FOREVER to make our shoes. in fact, I was the only one who completed the shoe from start to finish. I think we were there for like 6 hours, and again, I was the only one to finish the sandals. For reference, Don German can make 20 pairs in a day. Then again, these people get up at 4AM and work until 8PM, 7 days a week. I think he was kind of unimpressed with us. In fact, he told me my shoes were "prototipos solamente...nada mas" (samples only, nothing more). Thanks, Don German. :P

By the way, I documented the entire process in a Flickr set here:

In between making the shoes, and despite Don German's initial skepticism that we would be able to communicate, we talked about politics. Don German is super smart and very well educated on politics, even in the US. He asked if we were Democraticos or Republicanos, and when we told him we didn't vote for Bush, he seemed pretty pleased. Things took an uncomfortable turn when he started talking about how rich we are in the US and how different our lives are...and then asked if we did drugs. He straight up asked me if I had ever done cocaine. Um, NO, Don German. Let's just cut that off right now...we're not going there.

All in all, it was a good day at the workshop and we were exhausted by the time we got home. We made it out for dinner and we tried to go to a club, but when we couldn't find it, we just decided to go home. It had been a very long, action-packed week.

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