Darn Shoes

Went up to my teacher after ballet class the other day, ballet book from the 1970’s in hand, and asked, “is it ok with you if I darn my pointe shoes? Like this? (pointing at illustrated instructions)”
And he was all like, “well, my dear, you don’t need to. People did that in the old days because they weren’t allowed to use rosin on the floor.”
And lé assistant butts in with, “You shouldn’t! It could make your shoes have too much traction and stop themselves on the floor!”
And in my head I was all like, ‘hey lé assistant! This is an A and B conversation! C your way out of it! And maybe I would like a little traction up in here! The only thing between me and sprung linoleum is satin acetate for fuck’s sake! Bambi had better traction on the frozen lake!’
I said, “I won’t do it if you don’t want me to. But I would like more traction, and I’d like to keep the satin from ripping, and I am good at sewing…”
Cause, see, the thing is, I really want to darn the shoes. Because it’s something old fashioned that dancers used to have to do and I want to do it too. Want to be part of a grand tradition.
We have a saying in the costume world, which is: Making Love To A Garment. It’s derogatory, as in, ‘what the hell is taking so long with that hem?! It should be done already! Oh. He’s over there making love to the garment. I’d better go give him a gentle reminder that it’s due in twenty.’
I want to darn the shoes with all the obsessive time-wastery that making love to a garment refers to.
Wanna get all Barry White and darn them all night long.
Plus, really would like some traction. Like, any traction at all.
And I’ve read online that the main reason people don’t darn is that no one knows how anymore.
Just my kinda challenge!
Smirnoff says, “Yes. You may darn them. They will make your shoes last and they will make them quiet. You must use a special thread. I will bring some and show you how to do it.”
And then he swats dismissively and says, “and I don’t need that book!”

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About adultbeginner

Had my first ballet class Ever at the advanced age of thirty-two. Yikes.
This entry was posted in Ballerina Class, and other pointe-y stuff and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Darn Shoes

  1. Acacia says:

    I love how you look for every little detail, every ritual of ballet! I’m that way too, but too much of a beginner to focus on much more than getting my turn out somewhat decent and exercising my toes so I get that cool bend when I point my feet.

    • Yes, the rituals! These little rites of passage that are so mysterious and alluring and important seeming. At least to the outsider.
      I bet all of us who have never worked en pointe shared a collective swoon of satisfaction during that montage of shoe destroying in Black Swan- rasping the sole, banging the toe box, pulling stuff out- while everyone who has worn the shoes shared a collective eye-roll at the stereotypical Ballet Movie moment.
      This came up in class the other day, the question of, ‘what was all that stuff they were doing to the shoes in Black Swan?’
      Smirnoff has not seen the movie but said they were probably removing the shank in order to use old pointe shoes as soft slippers in ballet class. And he said people don’t really do that anymore, it was done in the old days in Russia when people had no money, nowadays people go shopping.
      Although, I got the impression they were preparing their pointe shoes for use as pointe shoes. And yet, when I asked if I needed to do anything to break-in my shoes it was a big fat No-That Happens In Class.
      So, more mystery

      • candice says:

        It fits that character that she needs to control every aspect of her shoes. Some people have crazy shank-shortening antics, others add grooves in the leather sole (traction) if the shoes don’t have it.

        The banging around thing is to have the shoes ready to go sooner than you or I would need – brand new shoes take an hour or two of use to settle onto your feet – and that’s really the correct way to break them in, in class. When you wear one pair a day, it’s different?

        One of my teachers advises to wear them under a pair of old socks while doing housework; being on your feet but not doing pointe in them, to help soften the shoes up. Not for too long, though.

        • Right now I’m imagining wearing pointe shoes under socks around the house, and Mr. Adult Beginner’s horrified expression of, ‘what the hell is wrong with your feet?!’ hahahahaaaaaa!

  2. roriroars says:

    I never knew there was such a thing as darning until recently (the past year or so). And to be honest, I totally don’t get it. Any of it. Like how to do it. Or why anyone would do it. Or how it works. I certainly hope you will take copious photos to document the process to show us!

  3. Juliet says:

    I always heard of dancers darning their shoes, but have never understood what that meant…please, explain, if you get a chance! This is something I’ve been curious about for awhile.

  4. Nikki says:

    I just picked up a vintage ballet book printed in the UK during the 1960s called Classical Ballet Its Style & Technique by Joan Lawson (forward by Dame Ninette De Valois.) It talks about darning through out ballet history which reminded me of a video I also watched on YouTube of the creation and distressing/breaking in of new shoes at a UK ballet Corp which includes one type of darning? Fascinating idea! Tell us how you like the results!!

    • Neat video!
      She removed the satin from the tip to expose the canvas and then blanket-stitched the cut edge. An interesting variation as most of what I’ve found online is 1) removing the satin and melting the cut edge with fire *or* 2) blanket stitch around outer edge leaving the satin intact.
      And then there’s 3) the less common more loco-for-sewin’ chain stitch/ blanket stitch/ blanket stitch over bar-tacks filling the circle of blanket stitch.
      And then there’s also 4) same loco as above plus covering area from tip to sole.
      PS Old ballet books. Yay for them!

  5. odile says:

    Darning used to be de rigeur eons ago, but nowadays, most people just cut the satin off the platforms. If traction is what you’re after, save yourself the bother and just do that.

    Warning to Gaynor Minden wearers: Do not do ANYTHING to the platform! It’s not necessary, and it will destroy the shoes. You can glue moleskin to the platforms, but that’s it.

    Darning will make paste shoes a little (not much) quieter and will help the platforms last a little (not much) longer. Break the shoes in a little (one or two classes) before you darn them, start with a ridge right along the junction of the platform and the pleats, make parallel padding stitches across the platform, then finish with a blanket stitch ridge around the edge of the platform. All the way around.

    Personally, I belong to the “cut the satin off the platform and be done with it” school of thought. It would still take me the better part of an evening to do a pair of shoes, and while darning has a certain quaint charm, it’s long since lost any allure for me!

  6. chrisgo1 says:

    There is something to be said for ritual, and ballet is nothing but ritual. I find it fascinating that what I’m doing (minus pointe work) in class is the same thing done in every studio around the world and in every class for the last few hundred years and will be the same well into the future.
    I say break out the Barry White and get your darn on.

  7. Jennifer says:

    I totally darn my shoes! Except it’s more modified darning. I actually darn a piece of suede onto the platform and wrap it down into the sole of the shoe (only the satin part of the sole; it overlaps slightly with the leather that’s already there). After many other anti-slip techniques and variations on darning (I started out with the traditional method), I’ve found this one to be my favorite. :) I’d post you a pic as an example, but it won’t let me. Anyway, regardless of what you end up doing, I think everyone should try darning their shoes at least once to see what it’s like. Also, when I first tried darning I found that it really made it easier to balance, but maybe that’s just me.

    • I darned my shoes when I danced too … though I’m not at all sure they came out very well compared to what AB will probably do! I hope you’ll post a picture, Adult Beginner! And let us know what the special thread is… I used a very strong poly-blend of some kind. I just couldn’t stand the look of the cut satin, personally. I also used to sew a tiny flower on every leotard, somewhere inconspicous in thread that matched the leo. It was like a fun, ballet-dork secret – and totally a factor of the whole making love to the garmet/dance gear in retrospect, lol!

      PS – Smir knows what your day job is, right?

      • Ha! A tiny flower! Love it.
        I’m curious about his Special Thread as well. Suspect it will be an all-cotton button twist, or cotton embroidery floss, although poly would hold up better.
        Will see!
        And yeah, he does know what I do but it’s entirely possible that in his mind no modern girl cooks or sews or waits for her man to open the car door like a lady should.

  8. Lunochka says:

    I about died when I read Smirnoff’s remarks there at the end. A good story, be it fiction or a blog entry, needs a good stinger, and dang if I didn’t bust out laughing when I read that one!

    Now I’m curious about the special thread. I have size 5 feet in women’s and between 2.5-3 in children’s. Finding shoes at all is tough, and I don’t mean for dancing. Anything that’ll help my beloved all-purpose black flats last a little longer, y’know?

    • That old dude never did remember to bring in this alleged perfect thread of his. But it sounds like, whatever it is, it’s thick thick thick. I love the idea of darned flats for street wear. Do it!

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