Wednesday, August 31

Way way back in Lapland

Oh the memories! Digging through all these photos of the old objects of creation, brings back alot of them. I studied from '99 - '03 in Inari in The Sámi education institute, and I wanted to share some of the gems that I made during that period. The title I now possess is Artesan of Sámi handicrafts, and it took a good three years to become one.
I for one wasn't too enthusiastic about the education to begin with, but was rather dreaming of becoming an music instrument builder. With the handicraft education I merely wanted to learn basic craft skills, since I had none. That's right, none. I had only been drawing before crafting, exploring different techniques.
The first year was pretty boring, with a minimal focus on actual crafting. I felt fed up, since I didn't even have any favourite material nor real inspiration to focus on. During the second year, nonetheless, everything changed: I discovered the possibility of sculpting the reindeer antlers, and a completely new dimention opened. I could actually create small objects that were sculptures! In a frenzied hurry, I started making necklaces for friends and as gifts. Slowly I moved to bigger projects, and this all climaxed in my diploma screening: I had made a board game with 25 individually shaped small characters as playing pieces. Each character took about 6-14 hours of work and designing.
So the main materials for Sámi handicrafts are all natural, reindeer leather/fur, reindeer bone/antlers, wood and special woods. We even made our tools by learning the art of blacksmithery.

Let's take a look:
Left: A kiela which is used in the lasso of Sámi people, called as suopunki in finnish. I really grew fond of the bear design and made many variations of it in different objects.
Right: A traditional wooden cup kuksa which is made from a single piece of a wood burl. It was made by my teacher and master Ilmari Laiti. There's a story behind it: He had the cup almost ready, and he came to me saying: "Otso, you think yourself clever when it comes to design, so draw me how this antler piece should look on the handle", and gave the cup to me. So I drew a curvy line that really was a joke on my behalf. The next day he came with a ready inlaid antler on the handle, exactly like I had drawn, and said: "So now you can finish the decorations". :D Ok... I sat the whole weekend in my dormitory room with my pencil and tools, and this was what came of it :) I'm very pleased with the celtic themed swan carving as it's just perfect for the shape. Still on my top 10 of all the handicrafts I've done.

Left: A close up on the previously mentioned kuksa project.
Right: A matchbox...Well, more like a matchtube :) One of the latest works,  an order received from a friend as an anniversary gift for his wife. There's an hindu god Ganesh sitting in meditation on the lid. Love it <3 The engraving on the bottom part is also my own design.

The matchtube opened with a scratching surface glued to an antler piece inside it.

My diploma screening subjects: 16 of the 25 character pieces, each of them about 4 cm tall. Can you see my love for the detail? ;)

A close up on the finnish group of four mythological characters: (from the left) Kouko the ancestral bear, Väinämöinen the celestial hero of the finnish national epoch Kalevala, Joukahainen the young Sámi warrior also from Kalevala and Kokko an celestial eagle aiding in the creation of the world.

The irish mythological gang: (from the left) Aengus god of youth and love disguised here as an old man, Lug the deity of light holding a sword, Lia Fáil the coronation stone and Ethaun the fair maiden playing a harp. I used 0,5mm thick silver wire for her harp's strings and during the drilling of the middle string the drill broke so I couldn't attach it.

Oh, look at that skinny young hippie! :D It was the highlight of my studies, as at the end of my last year in Inari I was selected to be one of ten finalists in Paulig's tahto & taito (translates: will & skill) crafts competition! There were about 300 participants from all over the country, so this was a huge honor! The judges were long line professionals and teachers from the design/prod. field. Paulig is an old finnish coffee brand that's been adding focus on craftsmen and women for decades in their advertisements. Luckily I was smart enough to take a copy of their web pages, because they're non existant now :)
Here's a translation of the part "The judges arguments":
In this jewellery-like, tradition styled object one can clearly see the precision of craft
and the will for details in the ornamentation. The box was held as an perfect example
of the vanishing, detail respecting tradition which invokes stories with it's history.
This object that represents "great craftmanship" is decorative carving/sculpting
at it's finest.

And here's the box :) Funnily, I was the only one who hadn't given it any fancy name, so all around in the magazines and internet it read: "wooden box". :) I still think that's funny. What's it for? See the next pic.

It's a small box to keep a chanter reed (the long one in the middle) for my irish bagpipe (Uilleann pipes). There's also a compartment for guitar picks (right side) and another for swedish styled bagpipe reeds. Yup, that's right: the swedish have their own ;) The shell is from willow burl, and the rest are just engraved decorations from reindeer antler.
A detail of a decoration that I designed, though it's heavily styled after celtic ornamentation.
Whoa! That took some time :) There's lots and lots of pictures and stuff I've made through the years, and like I said before I just wanted to show you all some gems :)

Ah näitä muistoja! Ja niitä riitti kun kävin läpi tuotoksiani Inarin saamelaisalueen koulutuskeskuksen ajoilta '99 - '03. Poimin niistä parhaimpia; saamelaisen lasson osa kiela, mestarini Ilmari Laitin tekemä kuksa johon hän yhytti minut tekemään kaikki koristeet, hääpäivälahjaksi tilattu tulitikkuputkilo (perinteinen esine, muttei design :), päättötyönäin tekemän lautapelin käsinveistettyjä hahmoja sekä kermavaahtona vuoden 2003 Pauligin Tahto & Taito kisassa ollut puurasia joka vei minut kymmenen finalistin joukkoon.
Kyseessä on siis perinteiseen saamelaiseen käsityöhön (sámi duodji) pohjautuvaa ei-niin-perinteistä taidekäsityö esineistöä joista olen kaikki omin kätösin suunnitellut ja tehnyt. Noh, niin, paitsi sen kuksan mikä tulikin jo aikaisemmin mainittua.

Monday, August 29

Prototypes and mishaps

It's time to gaze on what happened years ago: I have two pairs of shoes in boxes, that haven't been used nor accepted any feet as their own. This is due to the nature of my whim, as not only were they technically unfitting but also lacked some basic elements to make them wearable. At the time, I was so consumed by the sheer vision of specific techniques that I forgot to follow the fundamentals of making shoes. Also, the other pair was made while I was still studying to become a shoemaker and the other one was my first bespoke tryout at the very beginning of my career. So, you learn from your mistakes. But there's still some ideas I'd like to still try with more experience.

There's a finnish translation that follows / Suomenkielinen käännös lopussa :)

The first pair I made while still studying. This was part of training how to draw patterns for shoes, and so I did! They're quite simple, with only a back seam and some loafer-like rubber bands to keep the shoes on. The main vision for these shoes was to try and make some decorations on it's characteristic vegetable tanned leather. A style which is traditionally more common to see on wallets, belts, bags and especially in western saddles. This technique of decorating leather is know as tooled leather.

You can maybe tell from this picture, that the breasts of the lasts were way too outward for this kind of a cut. So it's virtually impossible to get them to stay on your feet. 

A close up on the tooled leather. A design I drew myself.

For some crazy reason I wanted the back to be pointy. Quite impractical, and besides the back height was way too low.

Here they look quite ok, though the colour is another "what was I thinking?" moment.

Yeah, they're not hand sewn welt. They're glued shoes! So what? : D

The second pair was my first bespoke tryout for my wife. Pretty much everything was new to me, but I had to give the tooling another try. The faults with these are numerous, and I was again more driven by another burning vision: completely seamless shoes! Whooot? Is it possible? Well, here they are. I just managed to first last the lining over the whole last, let it dry, lasted the uppers and voila! Well... I did make some mistakes; I used the crappiest vegetable tanned leather we had for the uppers, didn't sew anything and didn't even add laces. Great going!

I used an art nouveau pattern, which I then modified to have a flower and a dragonfly. The dragonfly is only on the right shoe.

Moving more to the back, you'll see more of the art noveau design.
...And around to the inner side of the shoe, where you see the rest.
Usually there has to be some kind of seam here somewhere.

Esittelyssä pari kenkäparia vuosien takaa, jolloin olin vielä täysi noviisi kenkien tekemisessä. Itse asiassa toisen parin aikoihin vasta opiskelin koko taiteenlajia ja toisen aikaan olin vasta urani alussa. Joten niihin tuli paljon perusvirheitä, eikä omistajia sitten löytynyt ja kengät siirtyivät laatikoihin arkistoon. Kengissä oli aikanaan enemmänkin kyse erilaisten kummallisten tekniikoiden kokeiluista, joita luomispäissäni sitten toteutin. Kenkänteon perusteet saivat jäädä taakse :)
Ensimmäisessä parissa halusin kokeilla nahan kaivertamista. Tekniikkaa joka tunnetaan paremmin lompakoista, laukuista, vöistä ja etenkin lännen satuloista. Virheinä olivat kuitenkin lestin rinnakkuus, joka olisi pitänyt huomioida mallissa: venykkeillä varustettuna rinnan tulisi olla matala, mutta kyseisissä lesteissä se oli vielä ekstrasti rinnakas. Lisäksi takakorkeus oli liian matala, sekä omituinen terävä muoto takana ei olisi tuntunut kovin hyvältä akillesjänteelle.
Toisessa parissa visiona oli koristelun lisäksi täysi saumattomuus! Sekä vuori että päällinen pakotettiin ja pinnattiin koko lestin päälle. Harmi vain että käytin varmasti huonointa nahkaa koko talosta, ja tulos oli aikas huono. Virheistä oppii.

Be right back...

I know it's been unfortunately quiet for a few days, since I've not had any on going projects. But most surely there'll be a change to start one this weekend! There's an exciting project coming on, which will we revealed later, so stick with me :)

In the meantime I thought of sending a few historic items. Made by yours truly, these were projects that had some nice ideas, but due to the lack of skills and knowledge they didn't turn out too well. That's what's coming up next! Also I thought of letting you all take a look at what's inside a high heel, and since it's autumn starting, some tips on how to maintain your precious shoes!


Friday, August 26

Business? No, it's just a card.

Howdy! I finally had my business cards from Vistaprint (in finnish). Exciting, especially because I had some foil effects to them and all, so I didn't actually know how they'd end up. But they came out really great!

Ta-da! They're two sided! WT*? There's a metal case for them too.

Here's the front. You can see the foil effect on the 'Mäensivu' logo. It's golden! Sweet.

The back.

I have couple of questions for you:

  • Should there be anything other than plain color on the back of a business card? Is there a rule to it or something?
  • I've had a couple friends comment on this new look on my blog/business cards that they remind them of Minna Parikka. This really bothers me. What do you think?
ps. If you'd like to have 5 cards, I can send them by mail to you  :D
Just send your Name & address to: maensivushoes/a/

    Wednesday, August 24

    Shrimp and Gumbo

    What's to uplift your spirits more than find out two packages waiting for you when you come home from work? Not many things I tell you :) Getting new stuff hit's the spot: today, the packages came from two different locations; Budapest and New Orleans, let's take a look:
    Two very exciting locations! Can't wait to open!
    Ah-ha! A CD from New Orleans and tools from Budapest!

    Special tools for the trade: Sold by a great fellow shoemaker Marcell Mrsán, from his shop in Hungary. He's also an enthusiastic blogger! The top long white stick is for sharpening, the knife with the curved tip is for trimming leather soles and the last one is for cutting uppers. Can't wait to get some hands-on experience with these! Cutting the uppers with a knife is a lot faster than with scissors, so I'll need to start practicing with it.

    If there's something I love more than crafts, it's music. I can practically listen to any kind of music, the genre isn't important to me, it's just the song that matters. This CD is by Rebirth Brass Band, a native New Orleans band, and it's their latest recording. I fell in love with the New Orleans's culture with the HBO's magnificent series "Treme". At first I thought the series would be a bit boring, but when the first beats of music started in the first ever episode, my heart was flabbergasted. "What is this music?!" I couldn't answer. It resembled a lot of things I'd heard before, but it was definitely something new to me. And that was a bit strange, because I've listened to sOoo much of different music during my life.
    It was something like a military brass band had suddenly hired James Brown (R.I.P) as their conductor, and instead of playing in a parade, they played in the clubs and the streets. Needless to say, it's a great recording :D

    Some links to previously mentioned subjects:
    • A great shoemakers blog from Hungary: Koronya
    • A video by Koronya, making a pair of high heels and using the curvy tip knife during the process (in 1:04): here
    • HBO's series, Treme: A great opening video from the first episode: here
    • Basin Street Records, New Orleans: here
    • Rebirth Brass Band, a great video: here
    All in all I must say that I'm very excited to have found New Orleans's unique culture, and surely hope to end up visiting that place in the future. <3NOLA


    Sunday, August 21

    My vintage designs

    As many of you might have noticed, I have a soft spot for vintage ladies shoes and designs. Right now there's something magical with the late 19th to early 20th century shoes. The earliest shoe designers started when the industrial revolution began, and shoes were getting cheaper, thanks to machinery. Before that every pair was completely hand made and took a hell of a lot more time to make and was thus also very heavy on one's purse. The industrial shoe making has climaxed to our time when you can get a pair of leather shoes for way less than 20€ from many stores. In contrast, completely hand made bespoke dress shoes cost about 2000€ - 3000€ in europe nowadays. And that's the starting price.

    I can preach about that subject more in the future, now it's time to go back to business:
    I drew these designs heavily inspired by some vintage shoes, and men's fancy dress shoes of old. There's just something very applicable when transforming classic men's dress shoe designs to women's high heels:

    The left one's inspired by a boot design from the 1920's. The right one is an adaptation of a classic men's ankle boot model, that's still manufactured by some brands.

    Friday, August 19

    Time for some tuning and repairs

    Yesterday and today I've had two requests for shoe repairs from my wife, and some tidying of those marvellous vintage lasts I presented in the last post:

    Warning! Contains a few bad quality shots. Darn it, my shaking hands...

    First up was the rasping of the high heel lasts to get the shapes smooth and flowing.

    Next, my wife asked to do some shoe magic and transform her red suede shoes to black because they didn't suite any of her clothing. No problem, madam! There's some thread for sewing the tips by hand, and some leather dye.

    So I took the pretty shoes to my lap, and before dyeing they're always good to clean first. Use a suede brush if it's just dust.

    Some vigorous brushing!

    After cleaning, it was time to apply the dye with a cloth. Sorry for the bad shot.

    For comparison, here's the before -> after shot.

    They got a nice reddish black tone to them, and the stitching is still visibly red. Nice!

    Then it was time to sew the tip rubbers by hand with a special hook.

    The Paubellarinas had suffered, since I had made the rubber band too tight, and now they had lost their flexibility. Time for a change!
    I decided to cut the bands abit longer, to see what kind of effect it'll have while worn.

    Wednesday, August 17

    Some moment's from summer and the what-next?

    Hi everyone! I must apologize for the long pause; during the last couple days I've been busy making myself and my blog some business cards. They'll hopefully arrive next week as I'm very excited to see how they turned out. Maybe some of you've noticed the slight differences in the graphic design of my blog? Well, that's been going on too :) I wanted it to match my business cards, so a change was necessary. I'm not completely satisfied with the outcome, though. There's just something that doesn't quite work... I'd be  ever grateful for any advice or feedback about the design.

    Back to business: My summer vacation was nice with days filled with sun, two music festivals and just plain rest from all the planning and thinking about work and shoes. I don't know about you all, but usually, all that's running around my mind is shoe related, especially now that I've started the blog. It's just constant! So that was another fine reason to keep a pause, so I'll remain even partially sane ;)

    I want to share some images from the summer, and a peek of what's going on right now:

    I was fortunate to visit a place dear to me: kasakallio. Can you guess where it is? Many would be surprised, as it isn't  far up north or anything: it's in Helsinki! Quite close to vuosaari actually. There's also a grave from the bronze age, with a huge pile of rocks on the top. Funnily this place isn't mentioned in the maps anymore. The location: here.

    I went to an exhibition in the national art museum, ateneum with my cousin Saana. Another nostalgic trip, since I haven't been to lapland since I moved back to helsinki in 2003. Through the years I've gotten that longing for lapland, so this exhibition was a nice remedy. Recommended if you're into lapland :)

    Inside Ateneum, we found a workshop wherein one could make he's own graphics with a pressing technique. It was maybe meant for children, but we were right at home :)

    Here's my cousin Saana working on her graphic work.

    And what a surprise! It's a high heel!!! :D

    Here's our masterpieces ready for printing.

    The works were pressed on special thick paper through this über cool press :)

    And voilá! Maybe the museum would take it to their exhibition? ;)

    And here's what's laying on my table at work this very moment. An polyurethane copy of the lasts I made the Eallins with. Although they look a bit rough around the edges, after some tidying they'll work as a fine pair of lasts. I borrowed the originals and with the owner we estimated that they're propably from the 40's or 50's. Could be older, but they're a real piece of design candy nevertheless. These will be a part of my next project, so let's just see what happens.

    Thank you all for your patience.