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Old Russian Tradition of Bast Shoe Braiding
May 15, 2015 19:27


 Bast braiding is one of the oldest handicrafts in Russia. Since time immemorial peasants used bast for making bast shoes first of all. Bast shoes (“lapti” in Russian) became a sort of a symbol used in a number of Russian proverbs and sayings. They were traditionally considered the footwear of the poorest part of the population. It was not by mere chance. Village folks all over Russia, but for Siberia and the Cossack areas, used to wear bast shoes all the year round.

Therefore wide distribution of wattled footwear generated an improbable variety of its sorts and styles depending first of all on the raw materials used in it. Bast shoes were made of bark of numerous foliage trees: linden, birch, elm, oak, brittle willow, and others. The names of wattled footwear varied depending on the material. The softest and strongest of them were shoes made of lime bast.
Quite often bast shoes were named according to the number of bast strips used in braiding: five, six or seven. Seven strips were usually used for braiding winter bast shoes, though sometimes the number of strips could be up to twelve. To make bast shoes even more durable, warm and good looking, they were additionally braided with hempen ropes. Leather soles were sometimes sewed on for the same purpose. 
The technique of braiding bast shoes varied a lot as well. For example, Great Russian bast shoes, unlike Belarusian and Ukrainian ones, had oblique braiding, or oblique grid, whereas in the western regions there was a more conservative type of straight braiding, or “straight grid”.
Anyone in the country environment was able to braid bast shoes. The description of this handicraft has remained in the Simbirsk Province, where whole artels went to the woods to bark lime trees. They rented lime wood from the landowner for this purpose. Bast was taken off with a special wooden tool that stripped the trunk bare. In most cases it destroyed the tree. Hence is the expression “to strip somebody like a 
Carefully removed bark strips were tied into bundles and stored in the outer entrance hall or in the attic. Prior to braiding bast shoes were soaked in warm water for a day and night. Then bark was scratched out to leave pure bast. The speed of braiding bast shoes varied depending on the skills. Thus, a peasant could make from two to ten pair of shoes a day.
A wooden boottree and a bone or iron hook were required to braid a bast shoe. 
The Russian saying testifies to fragility of wattled footwear: “Before starting off a trip, make five pairs of bast shoes”. In winter a pair of bast shoes lasted for no more than ten days, whereas in the summertime a peasant would wear out one pair of bast shoes within four days only.
Skillful bast shoe makers sold out big carts of their goods at fairs.
With the increase of industrial production of footwear and its reduction in cost the need for bast shoes fell away.
 
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Sources: http://nhpko.ru 


Author: Vera Ivanova

Tags: Bast Shoes Folk Arts Arts and Crafts Wickerwork Woodwork 

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