I spent my early years in New Zealand becoming a leatherworker in the 1970s, making carved leather handbags wallets, belts and sandals.
I went to England to learn to be a saddler with the idea of making carved Western saddles as I liked working with leather but wanted more skills. I also wanted to learn to make myself a pair of boots, and with that in mind applied to Cordwainers Technical College, at that time situated in Hackney in London's East End.
Thankfully, I was accepted on the shoemaking course the day before being accepted for the saddlery course, so I became a shoemaker, and the rest is history.
Starting as a trainee technician to gain work in factories, I moved to design and pattern cutting part way through the year.
Before graduation (City and Guilds Pattern Cutting, Production and Science and Materials) I became pattern cutter for Frederick Freed's theatrical shoe factory.
Not much of what I had been taught was for the sort of shoes and boots that I was asked to make, so an intense learning period ensued.
Luckily another student on my course had been a hand shoemaker some years previously and passed on information to start me on a path I followed avidly for some years. I knew at that stage that I would be working for myself and knowledge of the machinery for factory use was going to be of no use to me so I concentrated on learning old techniques.
Coming to Australia in 1981 I set up making bespoke shoes in Far North Queensland. One difficulty was that at that time the nearest shoemaker was 1800 kilometres away in Brisbane so there was no one to ask questions of, and because of the brief period of training (one year) there was not enough information given to allow me to carry on with this career easily.
Learning from old books and applying this knowledge was the start of a long period of self improvement. The manuals on shoemaking by hand were already very old, with few images and some archaic expressions that no longer made sense. I learned about George Koleff, a Bulgarian Master Shoemaker who taught handmade shoemaking in Adelaide, and arranging a 2 week course with George set the scene for a new, exciting approach to handmaking for me. I went home ready to start again using a completely different pattern cutting method and some more traditional skills.
A year later I moved to Adelaide to learn to teach shoemaking from George. I found that I had all the skills required, just not the expertise and suddenly so much of what had been problematic, became simple.
Eventually I set up a workshop of my own and started teaching for myself. Because of the lack of text books from which to teach the students, I wrote a small book, and while doing that, realised that it did not go far enough.
The knowledge needed to become a shoemaker working on a small scale was a long way outside the scope of the initial book. So the idea for a comprehensive shoemaking manual was born.
Taking at least 10 years to complete, mainly because of getting sidetracked, this book is now finished. Hopefully the information contained in this book will enable anyone to make at least one pair of shoes, and provide the memory aids to keep students going when they finish their training.
I was a shoemaker for 25 years and it was so much of my life that I am known as Tim the Shoeman to a lot of acquaintances. I would not have thought of myself as a shoeman, but it is a legitimate term and others applied it to me, both in Kuranda, where I started my career, and in Adelaide, where I finished it, by people who had no way of knowing that that was my original nickname, so I had to accept it.
Tim Skyrme. 2006