You have designs that goes back to the thirties. How popular are those models today?
We have a lot of stitch and inlay patterns that date to the thirties and customers love looking thru these designs to use on their new boots. I would say that a return to these vintage styles is quite popular today. Many times customers will bring in photos of old boots that were worn back to the 1920’s.
How different are your boots from the boots made at the begining of the 20 century from the tehnical point of view?
Our boots today are very similar in techniques to the boots made in small shops in early 20th century. The differences would be in the cements we use and the difference in tanning methods that have evolved over the years. Where as lasts were always made of wood today plastic lasts are commonly used. The process of fitting a last hasn’t changed tho, using the same method and end result.
The patterns are still drawn up by hand, the boots are still stitched on machines used in 1914. We still hand last all the boots, make the toe stiffener out of leather. We now use pre-twisted hand threads to sew the welts and the rest of the boots instead of making them up out of flax as I did when Charlie had the shop. I do believe they are stronger and more durable then the flax hand threads were. The boots are hand sewn, hand pegged and the heels are built layer by layer.
The leather we use comes from all over the world… the insoles are pit tanned from Germany, the out soles are pit tanned from Belgium. We use calf from France, kangaroo from Italy, bull hide from Spain, ostrich from South Africa, water buffalo from India, and linings from the US. Many hand tools come from France and Germany and our wooden pegs are German also.
It is a little more difficult now to by high quality leather but it is still possible with a little searching. The industry in the US is in the decline and so we are increasingly relying on overseas company’s.
The key elements of a good cowboy boot would be…
The key elements of a good boot would be proper fit, high quality materials and workmanship, and beautiful styling. Interesting that really nothing has changed from 100 years ago. The most difficult part is always maintaining the high degree of skill needed to make beautiful footwear.
Charlie Dunn said once that “Bootmaking is an art that’s gonna be lost before too long“. Do you agree with him?
Many people believe that boot-making is a lost art and to some degree that is true but there is a return to hand crafted items now and young people are once again interested. As long as there is an interest there will be people making hand made footwear. I am continually asked to teach and take on apprentices and will always do so.
My main goal now is to write a book, so that there is a record of what I have learned and that so anyone who is interested can start from where I am instead of spending all those years gathering information as I did. Interesting to note, when I first started down the path to learn how to make boots and shoe, people were saying that it was a dying art, and that was 1972. There always seems to cycle to this, and generations re-discover the arts, and shoe and bootmaking is an art and craft.
What famous customers did you have over the years?
Charlie Dunn’s first customer in Texas Traditions was the film actor Peter Fonda. After that, he made boots for many other famous people. Since 1986, when I took over the shop, I have made boots for movie stars, and musicians. Lyle Lovett, a well known singer and songwriter is a very good customer. We made many pairs of boots for the actor Kelly Lebrock.
Tommy Lee Jones had boots made for the movie Lonesome Dove. David Crosby of Crosby, Stills, and Nash has boots from us as well. Jimmie Vaughan, the famous blues guitar player wears ” botinas ” ( similar to a Beatle boot, proper name a Chelsea boot ) from us as well as the guitar straps we make. We also made the singer Willie Nelson a black pair of French calf boots. There are many more, but these come to mind.
Tell me more about the source of the leathers used. What is your favorite skin and why?
At the shop, we are always working on multiple pairs. I am making a pair of boots with humming birds feeding from Mexican Sunflowers, a pair of ostrich boots with a corded design using the first letter of the customers children’s names, a black pair of Spanish bull hide cowboy boots, a pair of one piece black kangaroo dress shoes, a pair of black ostrich boots with multi-color fancy stitching, and a pair of brown water buffalo calf boots with an inlaid map of Texas, initials and fancy stitching.
After all those years spend in bootmaking what is it all about in the end?
After making boots for many years, I believe I can look back and see the craft that I have helped preserve, the amazing craftsman from around the world I have meet and worked with, and the incredible people that I’ve come to know. I do feel the sense of pride in doing something as well as I can, but knowing that I still have so much to learn. You can make boots or shoes your whole life, and never learn it all.
What is your favorite word?
My favorite word is ” yes”.
What is your least favorite word?
What turns you on (creatively, spiritually or emotionally)?
I am creatively turned on by making a beautiful pair of well fitting boots. I am emotionally turned on by beautiful guitar playing. I am spiritually turned on by the beauty of this world.
What turns you off?
I am turned off by people who lack humility.
What is your favorite curse word?
All curse words are my favorites.
What sound or noise do you love?
I really love music.
What sound or noise do you hate?
I hate the sound of traffic.
What profession would you not like to do?
I would never want to do retail as a profession.
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
If Heaven exists, I would like God to say you did well, and your family is waiting for you.
For more information about Texas Traditions boots please visit : texastraditionsleemillerboots.dphoto.com