The art of Sole Dressing- Kolhapuri Chappals

A long time ago, when footwear wasn’t fussy and design was a response to utility, the now well known Kolhapuri chappals made their appearance. Evolving from the basic features of a simple wooden base and toe (similar to that worn by sadhus), they went on to become footwear with a hard leather sole that would bend a bit with use and with the two braided straps at the big and small toes holding the chappal in place, making it useful for everyone be it farmer or a king and for either walking in muddy areas or attending royal function.

Those for high royalties, the chappals had a softer sole and a lot of decorative work on them.

It did not stop there but went on to respond to needs of wearers, innovating along the way and involving a number of skilled workers, with expertise being passed on traditionally through generations. Men and women both do the work. Intricate and delicate work, like leather stitching on upper straps, weaving, making leather plaits and ornament fixing are some of the tasks at hand.

Leather obtained from a buffalo is used for the sole and Bullock to create the in-sole. In fact, sheepskin is often used for the belt and lining.

When stitching, an awl dipped in oil is used to make small cuts along the edges. String made from thin goatskin (or durable hide from the tail) is passed through these cuts. This then leads to the next step –stamping, which is done between two lines drawn with a compass inside the stitching.

The chappals are oiled to increase their strength and coolness. Though castor oil is the best for this process, any vegetable oil that makes the chappal stiff (with the exception of coconut oil) is used.

In the next step, cuts are made in the side flaps and upper sole to attach the big toe and main support strap. If the chappal model has one or two braided strips coming from the upper straps into the gaps between the big and small toes, then extra cuts are made.

The last worker stamps the borders and the number of the size and makes finishing cuts around the soles. Some chappals are allowed to retain their natural dark brown leather colour whilst others are dyed yellow or red with a brush and water-soluble powders.

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