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The Trades as Practiced in the Homeland: Part II

By Alfred Opp, Vancouver, British Columbia

Edited by Connie Dahlke, Walla Walla, Washington


Tailors and Shoemakers

The tailors and shoemakers were tradesmen whose work shifted with the styles but whose methods changed little. The acquisition of sewing machines did make life easier for them – the majority of changes were on account of fashion. To get a new pair of shoes, the customer had to be measured and then endure fitting after fitting until the shoes were finally finished. Everyday footwear could be purchased by the pair at the marketplace from a Russian or Bulgarian merchant, but these were not a precise fit. In our town we had good shoemakers who produced quality products – they specialized in Shaft boots, Sunday shoes and specialties such as wedding shoes. Poor folks and foreign workers often wore Papuscha – a shoe made of one piece of leather. The shoe was a wrap-around style that had a pointed toe and was held together with a drawstring. It looked as though the leather had been pressed over a shoe mold to retain the shape. These came cheap in a few sizes that served to fit most feet – almost “one size fits all.” Our people didn’t use them that much. Mother said she did wear them sometimes during the summer – they came in handy to save her better shoes and were easy to wear. Dad had a pair of Shaft boots but rarely wore them. Grandpa wore his Shaft boots more. Grandpa never wore socks in his boots, but rather wore Fusslappen (foot wraps) – soft cloths that he wrapped around his feet. In the army this was all that they used. The Fusslappen kept their feet warm and were easy to keep clean. There was a bit of an art as to how to wrap them so that they stayed wrapped. In the army there was not much choice as to shoe sizes – if your boots were too large you filled in the gap with something. A sock would wear out in no time, and who would mend it? When I was working for the Polish farmer in 1945, I had no socks, either. I used an old shirt and made Fusslappen.

I remember so well when Grandpa would take his Shaft boots off. He would sit down on a chair and ask Grandma to help him. Grandma would take one boot between her legs with her back to Grandpa, who then used his other foot to press against Grandma’s back. With Grandpa pressing and Grandma pulling, the boot came off.

To save shoes from wearing out too fast, people had the shoemaker install half-round plates on the heel and a plate on the toe. The soles were spiked with cap nails to make them last longer. Ladies wore no high heels. My aunt had a pair that she used rarely, and only at a dance.

We had tailors of mixed nationality in town who did tailoring for men: Golle – a Bulgar; a Russian and some locals. Dressmakers for ladies were plentiful. They varied both in price and in fashion orientation. Ready-made suits were very rare and hard to find in our area. As ours was a country village, our clothes had to be suited to our environment and usage. Our people felt they were better off getting their clothing made locally. Everyday clothes they either made themselves or found someone who sewed clothing cheaply. Shirts and underwear were all homemade. Sunday clothes were a different matter. Here people wanted to be more fashionable and so went to a tailor of their choice.

Because winters in Teplitz were very cold, the use of sheepskin pelts for warmth was very important. Sewing with pelts became a specialty of the foreigners, and they were very good at it. The pelts, used to line coats, had to be pieced together very neatly. The stitching had to be done neatly and strongly so that the seams did not show and the pelt lining held together. Pelts were also used for collars and cuffs on men’s and women’s dress-coats, and for sheep-skin caps. For these items a type of pelt called Karakul was used. A Karakul was a pelt from a lamb that was forced into premature birth from its mother. These Karakul pelts had shiny, curly hair and were a pricey product. High quality pelts were used on the ladies’ garments, with lesser quality used for men’s collars and caps. These sheepskin caps were an age-old tradition in south-east Europe and the Caucasus, and our ancestors adapted to them quickly and wore them proudly.

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Alfred Opp is the author of "Pawns on the World Stage" - the memoirs of his childhood in Teplitz, Bessarabia and the experiences of his family in war-torn Europe (Poland during 1941-1945 before they fled to East Germany in 1945, then the reconstruction of West Germany 1945-1955) - available from the NDSU website.

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