New Zealand to Guthrie: A Bootmaker’s Journey
For Flora Knight, making cowboy boots from scratch satisfies her interests in old-timey handcrafts and beautiful artwork. It’s a career steeped in tradition, and Flora moved from New Zealand to Guthrie, Oklahoma in her late twenties to train under some of the most respected boot makers in America.
“I love shoes, and the smell of leather is very nostalgic to me,” Flora said. “I’m continually amazed to hold a completed pair of boots in my hand, knowing that it started out as nothing.”
The first step in making a pair of boots is to do lots of brainstorming with the client. “Their vision and my artistic ability have to come together,” Flora said. “They have to decide on leather style, toe shape, heel height, stitch patterns and design motifs. After taking tracings and eight measurements from each foot and leg, a shoe form is made to mimic the customer’s foot. Once the boot is done, it should fit like a glove.“
Music and Boots
How did Flora discover her interest in boot-making? Rock ‘n’ Roll, of course!
“I came from a musical family, and although I wasn’t particularly interested in playing, I took violin lessons. I became friends with a family of fiddle players when I was a teenager. We started playing at square dances, and it suited me,” Flora said. “But my real love was American Rock ‘n’ Roll. Since I have an interest in history, I started going backwards in time, researching the influences of music, which took me back to the early blues artists, and then back to old-time country music.”
In her early twenties, Flora rambled around the Appalachian Mountains, seeking old-timers to teach her original fiddle tunes—like one song about an old shoemaker using his awl and pegs. “That made me curious about shoes. See how music and boots go hand in hand?”
Back in New Zealand, Flora became entranced watching YouTube videos on boot making by Lisa Sorrell from Guthrie. “Lisa became a celebrity bootmaker to me. She’s known for her incredibly intricate designs,” Flora said. “It took a wild hair to write her, and I was blown away when she offered me an apprenticeship opportunity!”
In 2019, Flora went to Guthrie for the first time, pleased to learn that her bootmaking town was also rich in fiddle culture. One of her earliest pairs of custom boots was created for the late fiddle legend, Byron Berline, in exchange for music lessons at his store down the street from Sorrell Custom Boots.
Flora returned to New Zealand and weathered the Covid season, but felt drawn back to Guthrie to pursue a romantic interest and to learn more about the craft of bootmaking. Now, she continues to work under the tutelage of Ray Dorwart of Dorwart Custom Boots, where she is developing her own customer list.
“Ray Dorwart is a wealth of knowledge, and I’m so grateful to absorb it. Original bootmaking technique is archaic. It isn’t written down, it’s an oral tradition and a hands-on tradition,” Flora said. “I hope to take Lisa and Ray’s knowledge and be a link in the chain to keep the craft alive. Even though I’m not a beginner anymore, I still feel like an apprentice, because every pair of boots teaches me something. If I can learn it and pass it along to my own apprentices someday, that’s enough of a legacy for me.”
For more information, contact Flora Knight at 405-315-9278.