he colorful universe of clog lovers is populated by strange bedfellows. I count myself among those footwear fanatics who respond to the fashion potential of wood-soled shoes. Yet I recognize there are those clog wearers (e. g., chefs, doctors, nurses) who are motivated solely by the comfort and utility of this distinctive style. And any clog afficianado worth her or his wooden base knows that these shoes have a rich heritage as a work shoe in both rural and industrial settings. But there's another category of clog fans that are driven by a both practical considerations as well as decoration and design. I'm referring to those citizens of the planet who delight in the traditional folk practice of clogging. Obviously, the sound of a pair of feet adorned with wooden soles is much more remarkable than a regularly shod pair. Marry that "tock-tock-tock" sound to a musical beat and execute it with precision, and you have the unique appeal of clog dancing. It's an art form with origins traced to Wales and England (not to mention the wooden shoe dancing enjoyed in the Netherlands) with offshoots that have taken root in the Appalachian regions of North America. Suffice it to say, if you want to do clogging the way it was intended, you need to have a properly constructed pair of clogging shoes on your feet. And for just such footwear there are a number of traditional clog makers ready and able to supply your needs. I've showcased these craftsmen on ECHID in the past, and even more recently, I've had the opportunity to post videos featuring two of these footwear artists (Jeremy Atkinson and Trefor Owen). The latter of these gentlemen was kind enough to volunteer to pull back the curtain on clog making and give us all a clearer look at the intersection between our favorite footwear construction and traditional fok dancing. But while Mr. Owen and his wife Rhiannon are known for traditional clogs, their shoes are not limited to use in dancing. As he explains on his website treforowenclogmaker.co.uk,
We use traditional hand methods and techniques for all our production from Dance Clogs to Leisure and Work clogs.
The business was first established in Yorkshire in 1978. We now live and work in Cricieth, Gwynedd - just south of the Snowdon Massif in the Snowdonia National Park and on the edge of Cardigan Bay.
Why here? We can watch the dolphins play in the sea in front of our house whilst we laze in bed with a breakfast cup of tea!!! Can you?
ECHID: How did you become a clog maker? Your clientele seems to be primarily from the Morris dancing community. Were you a dancer first or a woodworker?
TREFOR OWEN: Early in the 1970's I started dancing with a team called Horwich Prize Medal Morris in Lancashire. They got their clogs from 1 of 2 makers either Walter Hurst of Hindley near Wigan or Mr. Tickle also of Wigan. I thought I could make better as both of them bought in ready made bits and just assembled. So I did!
75% of my trade is dance work. Last year 25% of my production went into export, mostly to the US. Other important markets are local farmers—a boot clog with chunky grippy soles—local people for normal use.
I got into dance at an early age as my sister was a ballet dancer when I was about. I got involved in UK traditional dance at college and have published a volume of my research into traditional dance. After college I did a few jobs before training in furniture making and upholstery.
ECHID: For the uninitiated among us, what makes a dancing clog a dancing clog?
TREFOR OWEN: Dance clogs have little difference to normal clogs though some styles are better (gibson or other lace up). Possibly a little more up curve (called the cast of the sole) at the toe. This allows the wearer to rock forward onto the ball of the foot into the start position. Decoration is usually called crimping though also known as scrolling. Simply put it is a series of incised grooves built up into a pattern. Each maker had their own "trademark" pattern and copying is (or rather when there were a lot of makers, was) frowned on.
ECHID: One of my readers has a co-worker who does Morris dancing, yet doesn't seem to wear wood soled shoes at other times. Do you find that's common among clog dancers?
TREFOR OWEN: Not all styles of Morris dance uses clogs, but all forms of clog dance do. Appalachian Clogging started off in clogs, but as there was no tradition of British style clog making there also were no repair skills. Once [the wooden clogs were] worn out, the dance had to be done in shoes and developed different but in parallel to the UK dance style.
ECHID: You mention that in their heyday, clogs were the preferred footwear for industrial workers. Why were they so popular? And what led to their falling into disfavor?
TREFOR OWEN: The full answer to this is very long and complex. Simple answer: clogs were cheap (both in materials and labour) to make. A pair cost the equivalent of 1 day's wages, shoes were 1 week's wages. Also, they were harder wearing and easier to repair than shoes.
Shoes were still handmade as the equipment to mass produce did not come into being till the late 1800s/early 1900s thus expensive. Clogs became associated with the lower classes and poverty.
After World War I, shoes were produced more and more by machine. They became cheaper at the same time. Add in changes in social aspiration and clogs became shunned.
There is a much longer dissertation (which I'm part way through) about all this!!!
Clogs designed by Fflur, manufactured by Trefor Owen
ECHID: You've created footwear for several fashion students over the years. How did those collaborations come about?
TREFOR OWEN: In the last five years we have had a lot of television and press coverage. A local girl doing her final year wanted to produce clothes in leather. She came to chat, saw the clogs, and her imagination took over. So clogs on the catwalk came to the eyes of other students and from there........
Mostly they leave it to the very last minute but we normally cope!
Lace-up oxford in various colors
ECHID: What are you most proud of as a clog maker?
TREFOR OWEN: No one thing has made me particularly proud, but lots of small things have made me feel good...
Watching 175 dancers performing on the main stage in the Pavilion during this years National Eisteddfod of Wales...all dancing in clogs I made. It's on YouTube.
Helping the clog flash mob event in Newcastle upon Tyne to happen.
Teaching other people to make clogs and seeing them realise just what goes into a handmade pair.
Seeing a child manage to do a particular set of difficult steps in my clogs that they couldn/t do in another maker's.
Loads more like that really....
[On my feet as I blog: well, you've certainly caught me in a far cry from clog orthodoxy today. What can I say? These colorful Litas from Jeffrey Campbell were marked down considerably on Solestruck, and I couldn't let the opportunity slip away.]