Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Take a Look at Chinese Folk Cloth Shoes

Folk cloth shoes are significant in the history of shoes. Because the main material is cloth, the shoes are casual, comfortable, environmentally-friendly and lightweight. They have won warm praise from customers and have become needful clothing. There are several representative brands of cloth shoes including Buyingzhai and Neiliansheng.

History of Cloth Shoes

Chinese cloth shoes have a history of more than 3,000 years. In Houma Shi city, Shanxi province, it was warrior from the West Zhou Dynasty (11th century BC-771 BC) was unearthed at it was discovered he wore cloth shoes; the earliest known handicraft cloth shoes. The cloth shoes were mainly handmade before the People's Republic of China was proclaimed. After 1949, the Chinese cloth shoes reached its peak period. There were many cloth shoes factories in the country which produced a large amount of cloth shoes at the time.

Old Beijing cloth shoes are a representative of Chinese cloth shoes bearing rich history and culture. It is recorded that they began in Pingyao city, Shanxi province, where shoemakers learned and combined their exquisite craft.

Craftsmanship of Cloth Shoes

The craftsmanship of Chinese cloth shoes is exquisite and fastidious. The process of manufacturing the shoes involves making the sole, vamp, insole and stitching the sole to the upper part of each. The process also includes designing the shape, preparing the materials and tailoring. The whole manufacture process requires rich experience.

The procedures of manufacturing a pair of ordinary cloth shoes

(1) Designing the shape

The first step in making a pair of comfortable shoes is to measure the foot. According to the older generation, measuring the foot of someone is impolite and treated as a symbol of inability. It even more frowned upon when a daughter-in-law makes shoes for her husband’s parents or girls make shoes for their lovers. These ideals lead to women acquiring the ability to know the size of a person’s foot with a glimpse. It is hard for the beginner to predict the exact size so they have to wait for a rainy day to secretly find a person’s footprints on a muddy road to measure the size of the footprints.

(2) Preparing the materials

When making cloth shoes, the materials can be divided into items for the vamp and the sole. They can also be divided into outside and inside fabrics through the makeup of the shoes. Aside from the cloth, the threads are also necessary. The inside fabric is always either old cloth that has not been worn out, or the leftover materials after tailoring new cloth. The shoemakers then paste multilayer fabrics into one piece of thick cloth called “Jiangcengbu”. This kind of cloth is needed for both the sole and the vamp. The “Jiangcengbu” used in one pair of shoes can be laid open on the ground for more than 10 square meters. The outside fabric is new cloth that will be used on the upper part and the sole of shoes. The threads are mainly used in the sole so they need to be as strong as No.2 steel wire. The threads used in the sole are polished with wax several times before use to ensure it can be threaded.

(3) Sewing the fabrics


Sewing the materials of cloth shoes almost always begins from the sole, perhaps the most important part in the manufacture process. Shoemakers cut out most of the sole with sole fabric based on a paper sample or a toasted asparagus cortex sample of a sole. They will then paste the soles into one until the whole sole is about 1 or 2 centimeters thick.

It’s said the sole of cloth shoes has thousands of layers, but there are actually only about five layers. The term, “sole of one thousand layers” is exaggerated to describe the sole’s many layers and the complicated manufacturing process. After pasting, a tailor will sew “the sole of one thousand layers”, which is called the “Na” sole. It should begin along the edge and be kept one centimeter away. It should use back stitches to sew and circle the sole twice while keep the line neat and tight. The knots and uncovered threads should look like a queue of ants. After sewing the edge, tailors can sew the part into a loop. There are many stitches included in the process such as parallel stitching and herringbone stitching. Only after observation or with the guidance of a teacher can beginners work it out.


The manufacture of the vamp can be divided based on the height of the upper portion of the shoes. High cut shoes should be sewed while the front and back of the shoes are not sewn to make it convenient to operate during the process of sewing other parts. Modern shoes are mainly low cut shoes. The vamps of low cut shoes are U-shaped before the heel parts are sewn, making the front part wide and the two sides narrow. The whole vamp is symmetrical.


The vamp and sole can be sutured after the vamp is finished. The suture is the most difficult step for it decides whether the shoe is artistic and comfortable. The curve of the sole edge increases the hardship of suture, but women only use an awl to finish this procedure flawlessly and perfectly.

The Ex Factory Inspiration

There are rigorous ex factory inspiration in shoe manufacturing.

1. The detection requires visual examination in suitable light conditions.

2. Testing tools include calipers of 40mm, multi-purpose locator, dividers, measuring tape, steel rulers and steel measure tape with scale of 1mm.

3. Appearance examination is based on eyeballing and touching with testing tools.

Artistic Characteristics

Cloth shoes win lots of praise from users not only for its comfort, but also for its artistic characteristics. Their beautiful appearance involves the traditional art of paper-cut and embroidering, always taking colors and shapes into consideration. Cloth shoes are considered to be folk art in its shape, patterns and colors.


The view of a cloth shoe from above should be symmetrical. The sole and vamp of a pair of shoes are sheared at one time so one pattern can take advantage of another by turning it over. Making use of both sides of a pattern to make symmetry is a distinct characteristic of cloth shoes.


The patterns of cloth shoes are first shown through paper-cut art. The embroidering on the top cap of shoes extrudes decorative designs through paper-cut art.

The paper-cut patterns designed for embroidering are distinctively U-shaped and are seldom recorded. These patterns are symmetrical and can be embroidered around the center by similar patterns in similar or diverse colors.

The contents of embroidering almost always include flowers and birds. Moreover, patterns of a butterfly or a phoenix are also popular. Fruits that are popular locally are also welcome.

It’s said the goddess of the Zhuang ethnic group was born in flowers so the people of Zhuang pray for birth by worshiping the goddess of flora or putting flowers at the bedside. Embroidering flowers on the top cap of cloth shoes is also a way to show worship. The patterns are always made up by a string of a single colors except patters of fish and flowers.

Personalized colors

The colors of cloth shoes are frequently geared toward personalization, depending on age and gender. Cloth shoes for the older generations are always black, while the younger people like white. Girls usually choose light blue.

Sharp color contrast

Most cloth shoes are black with a white sole to have a strong color contrast. A small area of white complements the large area of black. The white also appears in the way of a line, which combines with the black into a perfect artistic effect.

Rich color

Women of Zhuang buy colorful silk thread and arrange them to show what they want to express. No matter what the color of the plants or animals, they can express a subtle change in the color that shows a lot of women’s ability in color matching and aesthetic interests. Embroidering with a thread of a color on the background of another color can enrich the picture performance. Using specific colors to express infinite colors is a characteristic of color matching that is similar to painting.

Development of cloth shoes

Today, folk cloth shoes have big changes that are no longer stereotyped but combine the leather shoe craft and modern design. Cloth shoes have become a combination of classicality and modern fashion. There have been a lot of shoe series involving Beijing amorous feelings. They also include top ten styles such as Beijing, Hangzhou and Shanghai styles. Old Beijing cloth shoes are more than a show of ethnic customs; people buy cloth shoes as souvenirs and gifts.

The development of craft denotes the beauty of returning to the ancient styles will become fashion. The development of the cloth shoes industry will also drive economic growth and obtain employment growth. In respect of history and culture, developing cloth shoes is necessary.

The art of cloth shoes, which used to be an almost necessary handicraft, are an integral part of folk arts. But cloth shoes have been fading out of the market since the 21st century. At the same time, concepts of nature, health and nostalgia become a pure feeling in people’ hearts when they recall cloth shoes. To inherit and develop the cloth shoe is a crucial task that urges further action and optimal use.

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