Hawthorne & Heaney at the V&A’s Shoes: Pleasure and Pain Exhibition

Claire Barrett

World renowned for its calibre of art and design exhibitions, the V&A’s Shoes: Pleasure and Pain Exhibition was no exception to the museums prestigious reputation. As the title implies, the exhibition housed an amazing array of shoes for men and women from all over the world, ranging from Egyptian times to modern day.booties


For any embroiderer there is lots there to capture your interest and ogle though the glass at such as the silk work on these 19th Century Lotus shoes, to the classic beadwork on the 1958 Christian Dior pumps.

lotus 2 dior

There are also some great example of goldwork in the exhibition which demonstrates golwork’s uses aside from in military pieces. These examples are both from the shoes as a status section which is unsurprising given the skill and time necessary to create pieces of this quality. Below: Gold Mojari  covered in goldwork (1890) and Pale Blue Heels, with silver lace and braid (1750’s).

gold blue

Along with the shoes themselves, the exhibition also covers other aspects relating to shoes as well such as the making and collection. Projected onto the dome of the building a video takes you through the making of a bespoke shoe , that gives you a behind the scenes view of one of our customers, Foster & Son. Watch the video below for a taster of the action.

Other videos throughout the exhibition brought the shoes to life, to show how the wearer would walk in them and the sounds they would make. This is most noted in the few pairs of Japanese ‘Geta’ (1880) shown where the wearer has to balance on one foot and swing the other foot across the floor in a half circle motion in order to take a step, more like a dance than a walk.


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It shows the break down of what goes into making a shoe from designing the heel and arch shape which can be seen below to all the pieces that go into a shoe and how they come together as a functioning object. Above those pieces you can also see some embroidered uppers which helps to explain the shoe’s shape and the poitn at which is is possible to embroider them before they are put together.

heels minolos installation

All in all there is plenty to see and we would encourage anyone with an interest in embroidery or shoes to go and have a look while you can as you never know what might be the key to your next inspiration. The V&A’s Shoes: Pleasure and Pain exhibition is on now until 31st Jan 2016.


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