To Make a Huarache.Posted: June 16, 2011
Months ago I saw some impressive Huaraches in Zamora. I was impressed because of the perfect balance of sturdiness and quality. Most Huaraches are either made for the field; thick and full of small imperfections or made for casual wear; well made but rather flimsier than the traditional Huarache. But these particular ones had both; the traditional sturdiness, well-cut, carefully woven leather and even an stylish last shape. I asked retailers and Huaracheros if they recognized the workmanship and could tell me who this Huarachero was and where he worked, but either they didn’t know or would not tell me. Everyone had a different story, some told that they had asked him and he replied he didn’t want me to find him, one even said that he had just died. It turns out the retailers were probably afraid that I would buy all his production and leave them with little or nothing to sell.
So a few weeks ago after relentless questioning I was given the name of the small village in the middle of Michoacan. Thinking I was just given a village name out of courtesy, or to get rid of me and put an end to my pestering, the following day I sceptically headed out to find a Huarachero whose name or address I did not know.
I got off the bus at a small roadside village and asked at the convenience store if and where the ‘Huarachero’ worked. I was told to look for a house after the stream, so I headed down the hill with some excitement, but at the same time a little hesitation, wondering why I had originally been told that he didn’t want to be found? Should I be worried, after all curiosity did kill the cat.
Actually Senor A the Huarachero seemed as happy as I was to meet him. He was very pleased that I was interested in his work and he openly to spoke with me and even showed me how he makes one of his 15 styles of Huaraches.
Senor A like many was saddened that the Huarache trade is disappearing, none of his sons joined him in the business and all his employees slowly left as production declined. Unlike many Huaracheros however he was very open about his work and offered to show me how he makes Huaraches. He said if people want to copy a design they will regardless if they see him make it or not. I also think that if the craft of Huarache making is slowly disappearing then it should be promoted in as many ways as possible and not just through sales. If anyone wants to learn, even if it is for personal reasons they should be encouraged so as to keep the knowledge from being forgotten.
Below is the small ‘Taller’ where the Huaraches are made.
The lasts were all purchased used from another Huarachero who was going out of business.
Senor A has been making Huaraches since he was 14 in the closest town to his village and as Huarache production there ceased he began making Huaraches from his home. The leather he uses is a local veg. tanned from a small supplier that works with the local slaughterhouse. No chemicals are used to make his Huaraches except a little motor oil to soften the occasional tough leather strips, but no glue and no electrical tools either.
Here are the basic steps on how to make a woven Huarache.
1. Using a template cut the leather sole and panels out, carefully nesting the leather so as to have minimal waste. Its surprising how soft hard leather seems when cut with a freshly sharpened blade and Huaracheros sharpen their blades often.
Leather used to make traditional Huaraches can is between 5mm and 2mm depending on the part and use of the Huaraches.
The unique benefit from making shoes out of woven strips is that there is little wasted leather because strips can be cut following the curvy uneven shape of the hide.
2. Skive the upper leather to create an even thickness.
3. Mark out, and then punch the upper panels and sole to create holes to weave through. Animal fat is spread over the area before punching to lubricate the blade and create a cleaner cut hole.
4. Wet then fold the heel piece at the base and hammer the fold to create a perpendicular surface to nail into the sole later.
5. Nail the heel piece and sole to the last to keep them securely positioned during weaving.
6. Take a strip of leather and soak it for a few seconds in water to soften it. Cut a point at the head of the strip you are weaving to facilitate weaving and pull the entire strip through some animal fat.
I have no photos of the leather strip cutting process, but it is quite interesting. Leather strips are usually cut by pulling the leather over the bench and under a fixed handheld blade, not the other way around as you might think. As the hide is pulled and cut it also butts up against a small wooden block to prevent it from sliding sideways, thus the leather strip can be cut at a consistent thickness. Strips are also skived on the flesh side to have a faint triangular cross section.
7. Secure one end of the leather strip with a nail onto the underside of the sole.
8. Begin weaving around the last and through the holes, this is called ‘Encorreando’ (strapping).
9. As each leather strip ends it is woven into a new one and the weaving process continues.
10. As the woven areas begin to fill around the last, the woven leather stretches less and fits tighter up against the last making weaving progressively more difficult. A metal spiked tool called a ‘Corregidor’ is used to pry open tight strips of woven leather.
11. Once the weaving is finished the damp upper is tapped with a hammer to form it to the last shape and reduce some of the leather thickness, this is called ‘Asentando’. In traditional Huarache making wooden Mesquite lasts are used because the wood is stiffer than the plastic used in modern lasts thus providing a better hammering surface. Mesquite is also used to make Huarache lasts because it does not expand much when absorbing the moisture from the wet leather around it.
Once the upper woven, its time to cut out the sole.
12. The outsole is cut out of used tyre a little bit wider than the Huarache leather sole, in this case out of airplane inner tube.
13. The outsole is nailed onto the Huarache sole; the nails do not have to sit flush on the leather sole just yet.
14. The Huarache is turned over and the nail ends are hammered sideways, this also pulls the nail in and makes it sit flush up against the leather sole.
15. The rubber outsole is then trimmed together with the leather sole to create a smooth surface.
16. The final stage is giving the Huarache a touch of luster and burnished using a wooden ‘Cuna’.
Some Huaracheros like to bleach the Huaraches with lemon juice, or put them in the sun to darken, some will do both.
And in about half an hour one Huarache is finished. It takes about an hour to construct a pair, but depending on the weather an additional couple of hours in the sun, or days in the shade to dry the leather before the last can be removed.
Unassisted Senor A. makes about 7 pairs per day.
His work was so fast that unfortunately many of my photo’s came out blurred.
Here are 4 of Senor A’s 15 designs.
The ‘Capellada’, this design he also makes with small decorative rivets.
356 rivets to be exact.
And the ‘Rienda’.
Notice how Senor A’s designs all have heels pieces that are nailed to the sole and not floating straps like other huaraches, this to reduce the amount of small stones entering the sandal in the field.