Artisan holidays are set to boom in 2018. Amy Dawson hotfoots it to Devon.
The knife in my hand trembles as I poise, ready to make the first incision. My mind is laser-focused like a trainee surgeon’s. Or not, as the case may be. ‘Shall we break for coffee and croissants?’ calls Green Shoes cofounder Alison Hastie, interrupting my reverie.
I’ve come to the picturesque Devon town of Moretonhampstead on the edge of Dartmoor, a world of wild ponies and granite tors, to join a daylong workshop hosted by Green Shoes. The collective, which has joined forces with a local B&B to offer an artisan adventure in the countryside, makes and sells incredible shoes using ethical, traditional and sustainable practices. It is launching bag-making and moccasinmaking workshops next year.
Such breaks are set to blossom in 2018, says Kate Dewmartin, co-founder of craftcourses.com, who has seen traffic and enquiries to her site more than double to one million in a year. ‘The UK is enjoying a huge resurgence in craft courses,’ she says. ‘Making or doing something is such a powerful way to get back to our fundamental roots – these creative and practical skills of the heart, head and hands speak to our sense of being human.’
At the workshop, in The Old Chapel, a beguilingly kooky space framed by stained-glass windows and filled with useful bits, from jars of eyelets to tubs of rubber, we measure our feet. This confirms that my feet are about as wide and knobbly as an egg carton. Then it’s the fun part – time to decide on our style, material and colours. Astrella, from Manchester, is vegan so chooses from animal-free materials to make sandals. The rest of us – Polish yoga teacher Magda, Bristol couple Rob and Chloe, and myself – will work with leather.
I’m tempted by Bowie-esque silver and festive scarlet but decide to make a black buckle boot with a leopard-print backstrap. We’re given templates and cut the leather around them with knives. We then line each piece with pigskin, punch holes where needed and glue the tessellations before running over the joins with a sewing machine.
It’s an absorbing, satisfying process, and with three members of staff there’s support for us all. By mid-afternoon my ‘upper’ has started to resemble something distinctly shoe-like, though Manolo Blahnik has nothing to worry about. ‘Maybe don’t give up the day job just yet,’ quips Alison as I show her my stitching, erratic as a line of drunk ants, before reassuring me that the first shoes she made probably looked like that too.
Afterwards, it’s time to stick and sew the upper to a sole, before the best part of the day – steaming the inside of the boots, then forcing two hard, footshaped moulds into them using a massive hammer. The final heeling will be done by the Green Shoes team after we go home, and the shoes will be posted to us.
I stay overnight at the White Hart, a quick skip down the road, a cosy, tartan-tastic hotel with hearty food. Green Shoes is one stop on the new Dartmoor Artisan Trail (dartmoorartisan-trail.co.uk), which takes in the best crafting in the region. Having caught the cobbling bug, I can’t wait to come back and walk the trail in my new shoes. Instead of making a heap of New Year’s Resolutions, I’ll promise to make something else instead. After all, it’s good for my heart, head and hands.