Bast shoes for money and for everyday use

A landscape by the Urals in Bashkiria, 2009

Bast shoes are characteristic of the craft skills and hobbies of those Latvians living and farming at the base of the Ural Mountains. In the late 19th century, Latvians voluntarily migrated to the provinces of inner Russia, where they could purchase land on reasonable terms. As well as agriculture and dairy farming, the preparation of linden bast was also a source of income for Latvian farmsteads. Latvians often headed to the larger cities – Ufa and Beloreck, to earn money with linden bast, which was mainly used for weaving bast shoes.

Home-made linden bast footwear also provides a picture of the Latvian lifestyle and circumstances in Bashkiria. Bast shoes were among the most widespread footwear until the Second World War – Latvians worked and danced in bast shoes. Bast shoes were mainly made at home, using linden bark. This was usually men’s work and one pair could be woven in an evening. Bast shoes quickly wore out. They were worn both in summer and in winter, especially during the war and in the post-war period, when circumstances became more difficult. Ēvalds Inspēters remembers:

I went off to the army wearing bast shoes. There were about 30 of us from Bakaldyn who had to join the army, and I think only two of us had shoes. We arrived at the camp wearing bast shoes, and that’s where we were given real shoes.

Leonīds Ermansons, born in Bashkiria in 1936, remembers:

Bast shoes! We wove bast shoes ourselves. I know how to weave bast shoes myself. I know that when I put on eight pairs of woolen socks, I wasn’t cold in winter wearing bast shoes.

Nellija Ermansone, born in Bashkiria in 1932, remembers:

I don’t know how we are still alive! The horses running along in the water and ice; we get out wearing our bast shoes in icy water up to our knees, to load up (the cart). Water, ice, snow – like porridge! And then the load had to be adjusted, and everything needed to be tied down, and afterwards you sit up on the load, pull your legs up and try to warm them . I don’t know why we didn’t even get the sniffles!