Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Making Custom Cowboy Boots: An Interview with Lisa Sorrell, Bespoke Cowboy Bootmaker

Making Custom Cowboy Boots:
An Interview with Lisa Sorrell, Bespoke Cowboy Bootmaker
By Gina McKnight
As seen in the November 2017 Issue of Florida Equine Athlete
No duplication without permission.

As Marilyn Monroe eloquently stated, “Give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world.” And that goes for boots, too! Every cowgirl and cowboy – whether they ride a horse, or not – knows the aesthetic value of the right boot, especially when your boots can be made-to-order from one of the top artists in boot design, Lisa Sorrell.

Raised in Missouri, now residing in Guthrie, Oklahoma, Lisa Sorrell knows design. She was taught to sew at an early age, and eventually found her calling crafting custom cowboy boots. Lisa creates “dialog through interplay of color, texture and technique, preserving tradition and keeping consistent with pioneers of the craft by interpreting vintage designs in contemporary and modern ways.”

Lisa has won many awards for her work in the United States, as well as in the Netherlands, Germany, and throughout the world.  She was a featured artist on the PBS series “Craft in America” (2011), and she has been featured in many magazines, including “American Craft” and “Cowboys and Indians.” Lisa is the author of “The Art of Leather Inlay and Overlay” her first book detailing the process of creating art for traditional cowboy boot tops.

Welcome Lisa!

GM: Congratulations on your great success as an artist! I recently read about your accomplishments in a fashion designer magazine and was impressed with your creativity! You have been creating bespoke boots for a long time. Do you remember the first pair of custom boots you made?
LS: I got my first job in a boot shop in 1990, and I’ve owned my own business since 1996. The first two pairs of boots I made were for myself and my husband. Because I was just learning to be a bootmaker, they were both very plain, and neither of them fit well. Cowboy boot making is incredibly complex, and it takes years to master, making a beautiful pair of boots that fits.

GM: You have crafted custom boots for celebrities, such as Wynonna Judd, LeRoy Parnell, and Trisha Yearwood (to name a few), and have customers all over the world. I know you treat every pair of boots as if they were your own. Through the years, can you pick one design that has been your favorite to craft?
LS: I name all of my boots after Bluegrass and Classic Country songs. One of my favorite designs is based on a vintage cowboy boot design. I changed the shape of the leaves and flowers, but kept the idea of bluebirds and butterflies. I also made my version into a triad—the foot part of the boot ends before the side seam, and the boot top extends all the way down to the sole. I call this design “I Heard the Bluebird Sing.”

I Heard the Bluebird Sing

GM: Your innovative style, artistic skill, and quality craftmanship have launched your notoriety as a bootmaker. What are the steps for creating a custom boot? How long does it take from start to finish?
LS: It takes me a month to build a pair of cowboy boots. There’s a lot of wet/dry time and it’s not efficient to only make one pair of boots, so I usually make 2-3 pairs at a time.

The process begins with measuring the clients foot and customizing a last to build their boot around. The first step is to create the cowboy boot tops with all of the decorative work. The foot part is sewn onto the two front panels and the heel part is sewn onto the back panels. The side seams are sewn and then the boot is ready to be formed around the last. After lasting, I hand sew the welt, then lay the soles, and finally add the heels.

GM: I know you use only quality leathers and threads to create your one-of-a-kind boots! What leather(s) do you use? Who is your leather and thread supplier(s)?
LS: Because I typically make very intricately designed boots, I use kangaroo leather for the boot tops. It’s thin and light-weight, but also very strong. It’s ideal for creating layered inlaid and overlaid designs.

I mostly use alligator or ostrich for the foot of my boots. I prefer American alligator because unlike most reptile skins, it’s soft and durable. Ostrich is also quite strong but soft and comfortable.

GM: Your designs are intricate with great detail. To date, how many pairs of cowboy boots have you made? What has been the most challenging design requested?  
LS: I had an old bootmaker tell me that I wouldn’t know what I was doing until I’d made at least 500 pairs of boots. I found that he was quite correct! I stopped counting after I’d made over 1,000 pairs, and I have no idea how many pairs of boots I’ve made now.

The most challenging pair of boots I ever made featured the eagle from the Austrian coat of arms on the boot tops.  The detail in the design and the delicacy of the eagle’s feathers weren’t easy to recreate.


GM: I am thinking custom belts with custom boots. I saw a pair of boots on your website with a matching belt. Do you create custom belts, too? What other products do you create besides cowboy boots?
LS: I only make cowboy boots. I have a belt maker I work with when a customer commissions a belt to match their boots.

GM: You are a busy bee! Your creativity and motivation is inspiring! What do you like to do in your spare time?
LS: My hobby and my passion is music - listening, not performing. I enjoy attending Bluegrass festivals!

GM: With your vast talent and experience, what is your advice for novice bootmakers?
LS: My best advice for beginning bootmakers is to practice, and practice, and practice. You’ll never completely master boot making, but the journey is immensely satisfying.

GM: As an expert craftsman, winning many accolades and honors, what are your plans for the future?
LS: My goal for the future is to make more of the boots I enjoy making. Bespoke cowboy boots are commissioned work, and I’m moving into a time in my career where I’m more choosy about the commissions I accept. I’ve realized that I find joy in working with designs and clients that interest me, and that joy shows in my work. I want to pursue the commissions that bring out the best in me.

Connect with Lisa and view all of her amazing creations…  https://customboots.net/

Gina McKnight is a freelance writer from Ohio USA. gmcknight.com

Lisa Sorrell at her shop in Oklahoma

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