Pointe shoe making
The making of pointe shoes for ballet.
|Historic area of significance||London|
|Area currently practised||London and Leicester|
|Origin in the UK||1920s|
|Current no. of professionals (main income)||21-50 (28 makers at Freed of London)|
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
|Current no. of trainees||3 apprentices at Freed of London|
|Current total no. serious amateur makers
|Current total no. of leisure makers
A pointe shoe is a type of shoe worn by ballet dancers when performing pointe work. Up to the late nineteenth century, dancers would wear modified soft slippers for ballet. Into the early twentieth century dancing en pointe became increasingly popular and thus pointe shoes were developed to offer more support and control to dancers.
Modern ballet is a demanding and athletic art form that requires a high performance shoe. Professional dancers will have bespoke shoes made and will develop a relationship with their pointe shoe maker.
Freed of London
In the 1920s Mr Freed (a trained ballet shoe maker) and Mrs Freed (a milliner) developed a new approach to measuring and fitting ballet shoes. They also developed an approach to manufacturing that, by training workers to specialise in a particular technique, enabled the mass production of shoes at a reduced cost.
Today, Freed of London remain one of the largest pointe shoe making companies in the world. They make all their shoes by hand and both their mass-produced stock shoes and bespoke shoes are made using exactly the same processes, meaning that both a beginner dancer and prima ballerina may be wearing shoes made by the same craftsperson. Each maker has their own cipher that is added to the shoe and many professional dancers will often develop a relationship with a particular maker.
Freed has two factories in Hackney and Leicester, both of which make pointe shoes alongside other dance shoes and dancewear products.
Suffolk Dance design and make handmade pointe shoes in Leicester. Whilst manufacturing takes place in the UK, the main distribution of pointe shoes is in the US.
Pointe shoe making is divided up into a number of processes. Typically, each craftsperson is responsible for one skill area only:
- Binding – first and second binding
- Cleaning and finishing
Soft ballet shoe making
Latin and dance shoe making
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
COVID-19 – This has had a big impact on the world of dance and theatre. The amateur dance world, particularly Latin dance, has been hit hard as dance clubs, competitions, teaching etc. have all been on hold. Ballet has been less affected because it is so professionalised and state supported.
Sourcing raw materials – Materials are getting harder to source. In the past most materials would have been sourced in the UK, but now they mostly come from outside of UK and even EU. The price of materials is also becoming more of a challenge.
Market issues – There are no issues with the market, there are plenty of customers and trade is buoyant. Freed also report that there is no significant pressure from overseas due to the unique, bespoke product.
British Footwear Association
Pointe shoe makers will also work with ballet companies and schools who will often have their own shoe departments.
Craftspeople currently known
Businesses employing two or more makers: