MacRostie Leathers - Custom Handmade Footwear

Crafting Fine Shoes

MacRostie Leathers product line of moccasins, boots, shoes
Lyle Reprinted with permission from the Grand Rapids Herald-Review - February 24, 1999

by Sally Sedgwick



"We know every person we make shoes for," explained Lyle MacRostie.

Lyle and his wife Elaine make fine handcrafted leather shoes and boots in their northwoods shop in Spring Lake. And even though their customers come from around the world, the couple has probably met them in person at one of the shows where they exhibit their craft.


The couple travels to three or four juried shows each summer, usually including the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York, the Park Point Craft Show in Duluth, the Powderhorn Festival in Minneapolis and the BMW Motorcycle Owners national convention.

And even though customers might have to wait up to a year, the MacRostie Leather order book fills up.

Sometimes there are surprises. After one client visited the booth to say that he loved his shoes, a neighbor said.."Who is he? He's someone."



"He's our customer, Ron Brown," said Elaine.

It was on the national news that Lyle saw Ron Brown next--their customer was then the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

Even though being at shows and meeting people is one of the most enjoyable parts of their business, the couple builds their reputation in their shop. It will take from 12 to 40 hours to make a pair of shoes or boots --"the same way you wear them out," laughs Lyle, "...step by step."

And there are a lot of steps. Elaine chooses amd cuts the leather and stitches the uppers while Lyle builds up the "last" or wooden model of the individual foot.


Knotting

To fit the flat leather around the last, it is saturated in hot water.

The size of the stitch connecting the moccasin bottom piece to the upper is also chosen to prevent wrinkles.

Neoprene midsoles and neoprene crepes are standard, but like the rest of the shoe, they can be customized.


In all, the MacRosties make five different styles of shoes and two styles of boots. Sizes have ranges from a women's 5 to a men's 16; prices are dependent on style and the amount of handwork.

Lyle learned his craft from the master shoemakers of the Gokey Company in Minneapolis, the oldest mail order firm in the country. But at first he had no plans to become a shoemaker.

After returning from military service in 1971, he met the church secretary for his father, an Episcopal priest. It was Elaine. "She knew everybody in my family," he grinned. They have been together ever since.

Shortly afterward, he noticed a pair of boots worn by a neighbor. After tracking the boots to the Gokey factory, he negotiated to use his GI bill for an apprenticeship program with the company.

There were nine shoemakers in the workshop and Lyle apprenticed for three years. In 1976, Elaine joined the shop part time, and the couple started their own business in 1978. Until their orders took off, they did repairs and contract production for Gokey.

Gokey was the first company to combine the North American moccasin bottom with the European hard sole, and even through the name Gokey no longer has the reputation of 20 years ago, some customers still recognize the style.

In the early 1980s, Lyle and Elaine moved north to where Elaine had grown up as a Dowling. Both of her paternal great-grandfathers had homesteaded near Spring Lake about 1911. Now they have their own grandchild living nearby.

The couple has three sons: Buddy, who works for the postal service; Michael, at Bemidji State University; and Douglas at Deer River High School. Lyle and Elaine work a full day in the shop, but also like to garden, put up their own food and wood, ride their motorcycles and do "all the northern Minnesota recreations" like skiing and fishing. Elaine also plays guitar in the "Tolerable Band," a family band which volunteers to play old-time songs at nursing homes and other locations.

And they've proved that you don't need a telephone to run a business. All of their correspondence is carried on by letter--handwritten. And the customers love the personal touch. When they write back, Lyle said, it's "no more Ms. MacRostie...it's Hi, Elaine!"

Some customers come back more than once; over half own more than one pare of MacRostie Leathers shoes. And because each shoe is repairable, the shop may be contacted again as the shoe wears. That may be a wait. The hand construction and custom tanned leather is so durable that shoes returned for repair might be 10 years old.

The couple has now been making their own brand of shoes for over 20 years. How have they done it? They are best friends as well as partners in the business, they explain. And Lyle's advice is simple: "Enjoy what you're doing."

MacRostie Leathers can be contacted for a brochure or an appointment at 453 Bigfoot Trail, Spring Lake, MN 56680.





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51211 County Road 4
Spring Lake, MN 56680
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