Woman wearing sombha boots.
Woman wearing sombha boots.

Diversity and Continuity

Field study: Making Women's Sombha Boots

In May 1999 Mr. Sajan Moktan travelled to Gangtok in Sikkim and Kalimpong on a research field trip for the Bata Shoe Museum. He documented the process of making various boots, which are generally produced on special order from August to September onwards. His research included recording the use of lasts and paper patterns. Lasts and patterns used in traditional Indo-Tibetan bootmaking have been handed down from generation to generation. Leather, which is acquired from the market, was traditionally yak hide, but today is mainly buffalo. The manufacturing process was demonstrated by Mr. Pemba Bhutia and his employees in Kalimpong.

Construction Method

  1. The required midsole pattern is identified and the midsole is cut out with a knife (rapi) from a very thick jute cloth (bora) or buffalo hide (ko).
  2. The midsole is bound on all sides with a narrow strip of cloth or plastic (tirpa). The strip is glued to the edges of the midsole with flour paste.
  3. The midsole is placed on a rough-cut buffalo hide and a sole of corresponding size is cut out. The leather sole generally consists of two layers of leather.
  4. The leather sole, the midsole and an inner layer of bora (three inches wider than the midsole) are then sewn together with a crooked needle using coarse white sing thread.
  5. The extra material of the inner layer of bora sticking out is embroidered with coloured sing in raised stitches, which forms a shell structure above the sole about an inch in height.
  6. A thin cotton cloth lining is glued to the inner surface of the shell with wheat flour paste. Excess fabric is cut away and edges of the shell embellished with embroidery.
  7. The vamp, quarter and shaft parts are cut from thick hand-woven nambhu wool cloth using a pattern.
  8. The vamp (ghonam) is embroidered with coloured wool and metallic tequi thread. Floral motifs called mhedo are favoured.
  9. The vamp, quarter and shaft are assembled using a sewing machine.
  10. The lower edges of the finished product are turned in and then stitched to the edges of the shell structure with sing.
  11. The shaft is left open at the back for easy wear and removal. The boot is secured to the wearer's leg with a hand-woven garter called a humdo.