Learn to build your own custom pair of Scandinavian turnshoes, step by step from barefoot to finished shoe, with Laughingcrowe.
About this project
From Jason Hovatter at Laughingcrowe: “In this video I will walk you, step by step, through the process of making a pair of Scandinavian turnshoes. I’ve been teaching this class for many years now and have been making turnshoes for even longer. I’ve made every mistake many times over and am very confident that you will be able to make a beautiful custom pair by following along. We’ve filmed every step of the process from several angles with detailed instruction, including what to watch out for and common mistakes. Calen Kennett at Village Video has really geeked out on this project, building stop-motion animation robots to capture key parts of the process in a fun and illustrative way. There’s a little taste in the Kickstarter video of the butt seam coming together!”
At Village Video our mission is to empower people to build authentic relationships with the world around them. We do this by creating educational videos focused on methods and designs that support earth-centric economic, cultural, and environmental values. We partner with passionate teachers who are dedicated to a hopeful vision for the future, bringing their teaching to a wider audience through artfully crafted media, while supporting the positive impact they bring to the world by sharing all video sales proceeds with them.
We are very pleased to partner with Laughingcrowe to bring you this video!
All rewards above the $30 level come with a DVD and streaming and downloadable HD instructional video.
The Essential Shoemaking Tools Kit includes a McKay hand stitcher, curved bladed awl, skive knife with ten blades, and a turning tool. These tools are largely out of mass production and are sourced and hand altered by Jason Hovatter.
The Essential Tools and Materials Kit includes all the tools from the Essential Shoemaking Tools Kit plus the leather and other materials needed to make your own shoes.
Custom Turnshoes made by Jason Hovatter. Cast your feet, pick your colors, and receive your own custom pair of Scandinavian turnshoes.
Custom Boots made by Jason Hovatter. Cast your feet, pick your colors, and receive your own pair of custom boots.
The Basic Shoemaking Tool Kit includes everything you need to set up your own basic shoemaking shop: stab awl, stitch and registration punches, curved bladed awl, stitch goover/edge beveler, skive with ten blades, 4x and 1 x ⅛” lace chisels, ⅛” calf lace (16’), flat split lacing needles 2x, sm spool 207 bonded nylon thread, #4 harness needles 2x, qt. Barge cement, McKay hand stitcher, leather rougher, 3 cups sifted rubber dust, gooping spreader.
Custom Oxford Shoes made by Jason Hovatter. Cast your feet, pick your colors, and receive a pair of custom Oxfords.
Full Tool Kit and Materials includes everything you need to set up a complete shoemaking shop and the materials to make your own turnshoes: stab awl, stitch and registration punches, curved bladed awl, stitch goover/edge beveler, skive with ten blades, 4x and 1 x ⅛” lace chisels, ⅛” calf lace (16’), flat split lacing needles 2x, sm spool 207 bonded nylon thread, #4 harness needles 2x, qt. Barge cement, McKay hand stitcher, leather rougher, 3 cups sifted rubber dust, gooping spreader, foot tracing paper, duct tape, pen, stockings, chip board, pattern paper, Sharpie, C-Thru square, tailor’s measuring tape, 12” metal ruler, 12×12 poly punching board, 14 oz poly mallet, leather shears, 2 sq’ bridle leather (soles), 5 sq’ 8-9 oz bullhide (uppers), silver gel pen, #2 beveler, needle-nose pliers, cobbler’s hammer, vintage table mount jack stand.
Hi, I’m Jason Hovatter, aka Laughingcrowe, and I teach non-lasted shoemaking classes at my home workshop in Portland. I’ve been working professionally as a shoemaker (supporting my family, paying my bills and mortgage) for the past fifteen years, and I’ve never made a pair of boots or shoes on a last! The closest I’ve ever gotten is to cram one of the two pairs of lasts that I own into a finished shoe to help stand the toe up a little…
I teach three basic methods of upper to sole construction: the turnshoe, the welted moccasin (aka renaissance moc), and the internal stitchdown. None of which require a last to put together.
In my early twenties I was a freight-train-hopping, dumpster-diving, traveling punk rock kid. You know, the kind who looked like they just stepped off the set of The Road Warrior.
During that time I began to repair all of my gear and clothes, but this quickly developed into a fetish for making all of my own stuff. When I eventually got to my feet and hands, I really started to get excited. Not only did it have to fit, it also had to function! You can fake a pair of pants or a bag or even a simple shirt, but a pair of shoes has to carry you (and your stuff, when you’re on foot like I was) on all your adventures and not fall apart.
Having no money, no home, no phone, no car, no access to someone to teach me—nothing but the clothes on my back and what I could carry in a few simple side bags—I made my first pair of shoes. I actually sold my 16-hole Wolverine lineman’s boots to buy a few simple hand tools in order to make them. I traded a friend for one of his brain-tanned elk hides, and I started draping and cutting.
That first pair were pretty much knee-high, lace-up-the-front, soft-soled moccasins of my own odd design. They looked great and fit pretty well too! All hand sewn with needle, thread, and awl. I put ‘em on and pretty much didn’t take ‘em off for three days—at the end of which there were great big holes in the soles!
I tried a time or two to add second and third thicknesses to the soles, but abandoned them in short order when I found an old pair of Carl Dyer mocs in an alleyway in Denver, Colorado—lovingly placed on top of a trash can for me to find. I recognized immediately that I could take these back to where I was staying, deconstruct them, replicate the pattern, and make a new pair. I remember after pulling that old pair apart, the one thing I really couldn’t guess at how it had been done was the bit of skiving he’d done around the toe area of the vamp. (I also could never have guessed that all of Carl’s moccasins are assembled on a last.) I worked with what skill my hands and heart possessed at the time, and came up with a pair of shoes that I wore for two solid years before they needed any repair!
I recently checked out Carl’s website and saw this great quote on the home page: “THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR SUCCESSFUL EXPERIENCE.” That is exactly what I did have—a successful experience—and that is honestly what propelled me down the path I’m still on today.
I never met Carl, but I did meet his wife many years ago. She was traveling to medieval reenactments, still taking orders for and making those beautiful shoes. I told her my story, how grateful I was to have found that pair of moccasins, and how much they meant to me. She thanked me and assured me that Carl would have loved the story and been pleased.
After a couple more years of experimentation and refinement, I was feeling like I might one day call myself a shoemaker (though I really had no idea what that might eventually look like). I made more pairs for myself and friends along the way. I began to take orders for custom pairs from friends, and friends of friends, really just making it up as I went.
Eventually I ended up in southern Oregon and found myself agreeing to build a pair of five-inch platform boots for a local fashion designer diva character. I was completely out of my depth and realized I needed some advice. I remember passing by a shoe repair shop on the south end of Ashland’s main drag. I walked inside and introduced myself to the fellow behind the counter. As I told him what I was working on, I could see the incredulity in his eyes. Here was some tattooed kid with a bone in his nose and crow’s talons hanging from his ears asking about an absurd pair of boots that he was completely unqualified to make. To his great credit, Bill Shannor was not put off. He could have simply written me off and run me out of there, but he was actually genuinely excited by my passion and determination! He did of course tell me he wouldn’t touch the project with a ten-foot pole, and listed off a number of obvious reasons why. He was more interested in the weird homemade shoes I was wearing—sort of a cross between medieval and Southwest native styles, a low boot with mountain bike tires sewn on for tread.
He invited me to take an un-lasted moccasin-making class with him, which of course I did. I think he asked $350 from me. It wasn’t easy as I had a new baby daughter at home, but I did have a job and an understanding partner. I saved the money and worked out a date with Bill for the class.
I remember the moment it hit me during that first weekend class, as I was bent over the table working on my pattern with intense focus:
This is what I want to do. I am a shoe maker!
It was the focus, the attention to detail, that I fell in love with. After that first weekend class, I walked into the sewing shop where I’d been working for a while and gave my two-week notice.
Bill invited me to hang out with his next class, and for the next several classes I did my best to assist where I could. We got on famously and eventually started a little business together, traveling to Ren Faires and taking orders for side-lace welted moccasins. You know, the kind with silver buttons and appliqué dragons on them…
He decided pretty quickly that he wasn’t interested in playing dress-up and doing the whole Lord and Lady thing. I think I remember him saying something to the effect of, “You’re a young man, and I’d rather be working in my shop anyway, so why don’t you go ahead and do this if you like? I’m out.”
So I built a new tent, and off I went for the next six or seven years!
After the first year, I expanded from Ren Faires to medieval reenactments. The reenactors were a little more serious about their costumes and in need of period-specific footwear. I’ve always been excited by how folks lived before our modern age of convenience and forgetfulness. I had been fascinated by Native American culture, and now I realized that I could begin to access my own European roots through shoemaking as well! I delved into period footwear with the help of a few books (first among them Stepping Through Time), and luckily for me the reenactors were pretty wide ranging in their interests. They had me make shoes and boots from the early Scandinavian migration period all the way through to seventeenth and eighteenth century high court fashion.
Now, I do employ a few tried-and-true period-accurate shoemaking techniques, and I use many similar tools, but for the most part, when I started traveling to these events I only had the scantest training, and really only in one specific and very modern style of shoe construction: the welted moccasin I’d made with Bill Shannor. I’d seen Bill working on cowboy boots, and we’d sort of played with a few period-looking pairs of stitchdown boots, but really I had to just sort of make it up as I went along. Early on I took many orders for boots without having any real idea how I was going to actually assemble them once I got back home and into my shop! “Fake it ‘til you make it.” Well, this is surely what I was doing at those first few events, taking orders for period shoes I had no clear idea how I was gonna build…
Luckily Bill had shown me that I can take a #33 Champion McKay needle, put it in an awl haft, and stitch anything by hand—a human sewing machine—making the exact same stitch that any lockstitch machine makes. The first pair I attempted was the tenth-century Scandinavian turnshoe. This remains my most popular class and has been sort of my signature shoe for many years now. (In fact I’ve been working on a book these past few years with more than 400 color photos and detailed descriptions of the process of making a pair from start to finish!)
So, after turning a bit to my books, I took a wild swing at the turnshoe and it worked out really well. The fellow I made ‘em for was very happy. He showed them off to all his friends and they in turn swamped me with orders. The more pairs I made, the better I got, the more confidence I developed to try other styles from other periods, and in time my reputation grew.
It’s how I developed my signature styles of upper to sole construction, and they really haven’t changed all that much to this day. I’ve also begun experimenting and developing new styles. Other than my short time with Bill Shannor in southern Oregon, I haven’t taken another class or worked with another teacher to learn new styles.
“There is no substitute for successful experience.” You know, as I read this again, I think it gets right to the heart of what I’m aiming for in my classes today…
I’ve set up these classes with my own experiences in mind, creating the classes I wish had existed when I was first getting interested in making shoes. I keep them simple to make them accessible for complete beginners as well as more serious or experienced shoemakers or students.
I try to pack the four days of classes with reflections on tool design, proper usage, and bits and pieces from a thousand years of shoe history. I try to keep it simple enough so that everyone has some level of success, but I sort of program some difficulty and failure into the mix as well. You know, if the whole thing went perfectly smoothly and everything was easy, no one would leave having any idea about why or how they had succeeded! People usually laugh when I get excited to see folks struggle in class, but I really do see it as an opportunity to actually learn something. (I also try not to torture students for too long with something if they just aren’t getting it. I’m happy to step in and help.)
I used to live and work at Corey Freedman’s Skin Boat School in Anacortes, Washington. I’ve never forgotten something he used to always say: “The first and most important thing I do as a teacher is give people a good experience.” If they had a good experience, even if they didn’t really get all that he’d tried to share with them, they’d be more likely to try it again on their own, or even come back for more.
So after traveling around the country for six or seven years, going to roughly sixteen events each spring summer and fall, I got pretty burned out and just stopped for a while. We were trying to buy the house I still live in, and it’s where my shop is and all my Portland classes happen.
Over the next few years, as people started to find out about my classes, I started getting requests from all over to come and teach. In 2012 I loaded up my truck and drove ten thousand miles across the country and back, teaching at a number of schools.
Today I run classes pretty much every week of the year. I teach two to three regular classes per month here in Portland, with one-on-one private classes in between, and I travel for about two months each year teaching at various schools around the country.
Risks and challenges
From Calen Kennett at Village Video: “There are many possible obstacles to creating a successful DVD, which is a very time-consuming and expensive process. The biggest risk will likely be getting a finished DVD done by November if we run into any delays. Our production is complete, however, and the funding will mostly go toward post-production. I have successfully completed Kickstarter projects in the past. We are committed to completing this project with or without the Kickstarter.”