So get this: for quite some time, one of the world’s most prominent cowboy bootmakers didn’t realize that women were even allowed to make boots. Good thing for everyone she figured that out. 

Before she ever picked up a pair of lasting pliers, Lisa Sorrell was a seamstress who had stumbled into a gig stitching boot tops for a cowboy bootmaker in Oklahoma. Bootmaking certainly wasn’t a craft she had ambitions for while growing up in a conservative, Mennonite-adjacent community. But, Lisa’s always had a bit of rebellious streak, and when she began to understand that women—not just men—were just as capable of crafting cowboy boots, she grew determined to become a bootmaker herself.

Lisa started Sorrell Custom Boots in 1996, and she quickly gained fame from the beautiful inlay and overlay artwork she put into her boots. After being featured in the book Art of the Boot by renowned Western clothing expert/curator Tyler Beard, demand for Lisa’s work skyrocketed, and people all over—including Arnold Schwarzenegger!—were knocking on her door for a pair of her cowboy boots, which now start at $10,000 with a list of customers beyond happy to pay it.

In recent years, Lisa has scaled back her bootmaking to keep the passion for her craft alive. Much of her time these days is spent tending to her newer business, Sorrell Notions and Findings, which is one of the few places hobbyist shoemakers in the United States can go to find a plethora of different and often-hard-to-find tools and materials.

In our delightful chat with Lisa, we talked about her journey into cowboy bootmaking, and along the way we learned a bit about the unique features of cowboy boots, how they’re made differently than other footwear, the toughest pair she’s ever had to make, and much more.

All photos are from Sorrell Custom Boots, Sorrell Notions and Findings, and Lisa’s Instagram.

Also listen to an entirely different conversation with Lisa on the Stitchdown Shoecast


bluebonnet lane lisa sorrell

“Bluebonnet Lane”

Stitchdown: Let’s talk a bit about how you got into bootmaking. Before all this, you started out as a seamstress, right?

Lisa Sorrell: That is correct. I was raised in a conservative little church similar to a Mennonite church, where the ladies all wore long hair and long dresses, and most of us made our own clothing. When I was 12, my mother began teaching me to sew. By the time I was 15, I was sewing clothing professionally for ladies in my congregation. It took me years to understand that the average person cannot look at a jacket or dress and imagine what all of the pieces to make that jacket or dress would look like flat, and how they would go together and see a three dimensional image in their mind of how that works. I didn’t know I was special that way.

Stitchdown: It’s a pretty unique talent, I’d say.

Lisa Sorrell: I guess, yeah. When I make boots for my husband, I’ve learned to not even bother telling him, this is what I’m gonna make, this is what the design’s gonna be, and these are what the color’s gonna be. Because he has no imagination and he can’t see it.

Stitchdown: Yeah, clothes are one thing. Then western boots, cowboy boots…it’s a whole other language entirely.

Lisa Sorrell: It is. And people also don’t understand that. They think, oh, you work with leather, so you can make holsters and you can make athletic shoes and you can make cowboy boots and you can make ladies pumps and, you know, anything that’s made with leather, you can make it. That is not true. I specialize. I am a cowboy bootmaker. I’ve just started making shoes in the last couple of years, and it has been hard. It’s a totally different craft. It’s easier for me because I have the foundation of the hand skills I need, but the way a shoe is constructed is completely different from the way a cowboy boot is constructed. I’ve had to learn that just like a beginner.

Stitchdown: What have you found to be the most dramatic differences between cowboy bootmaking and more conventional types of shoemaking or bootmaking?

Lisa Sorrell: For one thing, I will say that I am not making a traditional man’s dress shoe construction after the upper is together. I am making oxfords and derbys on a cowboy boot last. I’m making actual shoes that fit and feel like a cowboy boot. So once we get to the construction, then I’m doing it just like a cowboy boot.

lisa sorrell shoes

Stitchdown: I see.

Lisa Sorrell: But when I’m putting the upper together, oh, that’s been so hard for me. Shoe linings are completely different from cowboy boot linings. The lining doesn’t match the outside and they go in at different times. It’s just been a huge learning curve for me. I told you that I’ve always been able to visualize things, but shoe linings…I hit a brick wall with shoe linings. I couldn’t understand how they functioned and where they went and why they were that way. It took me several months to get it straight in my head how a shoe lining worked. It’s that different than cowboy boots.

With a cowboy boot, the tops are lined and the lining is the same shape as the boot tops. The vamp (foot) lining sandwiches the boot top between the vamp and the lining, but the vamp/lining are the same shape and size. 

Shoe linings are cut from an entirely different pattern than the uppers, and they’re sewn together differently too — the inside of a shoe doesn’t look like the outside of a shoe. It took me a while to remember the order of how to install shoe linings; I kept sewing pieces together and then belatedly remembering it wasn’t time to sew those pieces together yet. 

Stitchdown: Gotcha. Well, let’s go back to talking about how you got into this whole thing. So, you started out learning how to make clothing. Did you then apprentice with a cowboy bootmaker?

Lisa Sorrell: I wasn’t really apprenticing with Jay [Griffith]. When my husband and I got married, we immediately moved from Missouri, where we had both lived, to Guthrie, Oklahoma. I left my sewing business behind in Missouri. I was 20 at the time. I’d been running my own business since age 15. I graduated high school at 16, and didn’t go to college, because girls didn’t do that. So, I’d been home for four years running my own business, and then we got married and moved to Oklahoma. 

After six months in a three-room apartment, I just got bored and I answered an ad in the paper for stitching boot tops. I had no idea what that meant. I’d never worn cowboy boots, but it sounded like sewing. So I called the number listed in the paper and told the guy I could sew, and he cussed at me and told me that sewing leather was nothing like sewing clothing. And he was right. But he did hire me, and as it turned out, I had an aptitude for that as well.

I worked for him for a year and a half as an employee. He taught me what I needed to do my job. He did not teach me cowboy boot making. I don’t think it would’ve even occurred to him to teach a woman cowboy bootmaking.

Stitchdown: Really!

lisa sorrell boot tops

Lisa Sorrell: I think he treated me better than he treated most people. Not that there weren’t rough days, but for the most part when he was screaming and yelling and cussing, it was at someone else, not me [laughing]. I think one of the reasons he treated me better is that he couldn’t imagine me as competition for him. Every other male—especially every other bootmaking male—was potential competition. And I wasn’t. I think that helped our relationship. I’ve always wondered how his attitude might have changed if he had stuck around long enough to see me as a bootmaker.

Stitchdown: How long ago did he pass away?

Lisa Sorrell: He died in ’95. I worked for him ’91 through ’92. After working for Jay, I stitched tops independently for bootmakers across the country for three years. But I had decided at Jay’s that I really wanted to be a bootmaker, and I’ll tell you how that happened. 

One day, Jay brought a magazine into the shop and he wanted me to look at it. There was an article about a lady named Deana McGuffin, who as far as we know was probably the first woman to have her own boots shop. She’s out in Albuquerque. Her father had resisted teaching her for a long time because she was female, but she eventually convinced him. She had become a bootmaker probably 10 years before I started with Jay. So, Jay brought in this article about Deana, and he wanted me to see it. 

I just remember I felt like a cartoon character with a lightbulb above my head. I looked at that and went, girls can be bootmakers too! The culture I was raised in, there were very strict rules about what girls could do and be. I fought that a little bit, but not much, because I’d been raised in it my whole life. It took me some encouragement to think outside that box.

walking the floor over you lisa sorrell

“Walking The Floor Over You”

Stitchdown: And you got that mainly from Deana’s example?

Lisa Sorrell: Yeah. So I started plotting, well, how long will it take me to learn everything I need to know and get all the machinery I need? I remember having those thoughts at Jay’s workshop. I had to quit working for Jay because I reached the point where I couldn’t cash my paychecks anymore. When I left, I remember thinking, if I don’t find a way to stay in this business, I’ll never get back into it. The only skill I had was stitching boot tops, but I was very good at that. I had heard rumors of a woman that used to stitch tops for various bootmakers—or maybe she only worked for one bootmaker—but she did it from her home.

Anyway, I had this vague idea that it might be possible. Tyler Beard’s Cowboy Boot Book was out, and I went in the back and got the address for all of the cowboy bootmakers, and I just sent them a letter saying, “Hi, my name’s Lisa Sorrell, I stitch boot tops. You send me your boot tops, tell me what you want, I’ll stitch them and send them back.” And a few of them bit.

Stitchdown: That’s all it took? Did you include any photos of your work or anything like that?

Lisa Sorrell: I don’t think I did.

Stitchdown: That’s great that they were willing to take a chance on you!

Lisa Sorrell: I offered to do one pair for free, so that they could see my work. No one took me up on that. I guess they liked it because everyone paid me.

Stitchdown: So you were doing that for a few years. How did you eventually start making boots from scratch by yourself?

Lisa Sorrell: We ended up with a little extra money, and my husband said that we could use it for me to hire Ray Dorwart, who is a former student of Jay’s, to teach me how to build boots. I paid him for three months of training and then he let me stay for a year and a half as an unpaid apprentice. Often I’ll have people email me or call me and say, I wanna learn boot making, how much does it pay? [Laughing] And I’m going, it doesn’t work that way. You have to pay me. But anyway, the reason I got to be an unpaid apprentice with Ray is because I brought him those skills. I could stitch his boot tops and I had a few other skills and I could pay my way with work rather than having to pay him rent every month. After a year and a half, I opened my own business. October of ’96, I believe.

Stitchdown: What were those first years like for you?

Lisa Sorrell: I was lucky. I remember thinking I don’t have the money to buy all the machinery I need for a boot shop. I wish I could find someone who had all the machinery and wanted to trade me for building boots. But then I thought, well, nobody’s gonna do that, they’re not gonna give me their machines and let me build their boots. But sure enough, there was this guy in Wichita named Jack Smith, and he contacted me and said, “I own a shoe repair shop and I learned to make boots, but I don’t like it and I’ve taken a lot of orders and I don’t want to make these boots.” So he said, “I’ll give you all these machines and you finish out my boots in trade.”

So that’s what I did, which was a valuable, valuable experience for me because Jack wasn’t that great of a bootmaker and I wasn’t that great of a bootmaker because I had just started. So it worked out just fine. His customers got the quality they were anticipating, and I got a whole lot of practice and some boot machines.

lisa sorrell a satisfied mind

“A Satisfied Mind”

Stitchdown: Do you recall how many pairs you made for Jack?

Lisa Sorrell: I would guess 50 or so.

Stitchdown: A good amount of practice, then!

Lisa Sorrell: Yes. It was an invaluable experience. After that deal with Jack, that gave me all of the machines that I needed and then I was able to just start taking orders. I made so many mistakes. Because I mean, that’s the only way you learn bootmaking, is by making boots. I remember I had an old bootmaker tell me I wouldn’t know what I was doing until I’d made at least 500 pairs. He was right. And that took about 10 years.

Stitchdown: Right. Clearly though, you became skilled enough to the point where you were getting a ton of demand.

Lisa Sorrell: Yes. Also I was incredibly lucky because Tyler Beard saw my work very early. When I first started my own shop, I was building boots. I was supposed to be building for Jack, but in the downtime, since I didn’t have many of my own customers, I was just making the boots I wanted to make for myself and my husband, entering them in contests or whatever. Tyler saw a couple of boots that I had made for myself and Dale and he loved them, and he put me in his second book, Art of the Boot. That was way before I deserved to be featured in a book. But I was making these bright, colorful things that he wanted to have in the book. Then, because I was in the book with these bright, colorful things, that’s what people thought of me. That’s what they thought I made, and what they needed to order from me. Tyler’s the one that put me on the map—especially put me on the map as that person.

Stitchdown: That’s huge.

Lisa Sorrell: It was. If he had for some reason included me in the book, and I’d been making three-row stitching work boots, then that’s what people would’ve formed as their opinion of me.

Stitchdown: There are not many bootmakers out there who do what you do, with all these exquisite details in all the boots you make.

Lisa Sorrell: Most people make working cowboy boots. Some of them enjoy that, but some wish they could get orders for fancier things. But, once you get a business going, it’s easier to just keep going where that business leads you.

lisa sorrell turning to the light

“Turning To The Light”

Stitchdown: Do you see yourself more as a cowboy bootmaker, or as an artist?

Lisa Sorrell: I consider myself both, because I learned from guys that made working cowboy boots, and I learned how important it is to make a boot that’s actually functional and fits. So when I make a cowboy boot, I never forget that it is a functional item, and as a matter of fact, a true cowboy boot is gear. But at the same time, the tops on a cowboy boot are just an open canvas for art.

Stitchdown: I really enjoy just scrolling through your Instagram, just soaking in all the details on your boots. It’s great stuff.

Lisa Sorrell: I think what people don’t understand is that is also historically correct, in that cowboys were very vain. They cared about their appearance, they cared about the way they looked, the way they dressed. There is not a contradiction, historically or traditionally, between wearing a cowboy boot to work in, and also caring very much about whether or not it’s pretty.

Stitchdown: I feel like there are some parallels between that kind of mindset, and the mindset of the people who enjoy a lot of the workwear-oriented boots we often feature on Stitchdown. People like to have their stuff be tough and rugged, but also presentable, and aesthetically pleasing. It’s an interesting quirk in this hobby.

Lisa Sorrell: For some reason, there’s a very emotional component to shoes, and especially cowboy boots. They express personality. I think sometimes, particularly with men…women have a lot of socially acceptable ways to express themselves with clothing and shoes. But men often get pushback.

Stitchdown: Yes.

Lisa Sorrell: Or they’re intimidated to wear much more than black or brown. But, cowboy boots are really a way that you can express some personality. I always tell my customers that cowboy boots are a way for men to wear high heels and bright colors. Of course I don’t care if a man wants to wear red pants, fine by me. But if he’s not quite daring enough to do that, cowboy boots are a good answer.

Stitchdown: Absolutely, agreed. I wanted to shift gears and ask you about some of the things that make a cowboy boot a cowboy boot. There are a few different ways that cowboy boots are built differently from other types of footwear. For example: why do so many cowboy boots feature a pegged waist?

Lisa Sorrell: They’re not just pegged because it’s pretty. According to Sam Lucchese—and I’m not a cowboy, I haven’t done my own research on this, but I’ll take his word for it because he made a lot of boots—according to Sam Lucchese, a pegged boot is stronger in the shank area than a stitched boot. A shoe is typically stitched from the heel breast to the heel breast. You can do a cowboy boot that way, but it’s stronger if you peg it, because the pegs actually reinforce that area. If you’re riding it in the saddle, this is important. I’ve found with European shoemakers, they’re very suspicious of the peg construction, because in Europe that peg construction is more of a work shoe sort of thing, like cheap and clunky. But there was a reason it developed here.

lisa sorrell pegging

Stitchdown: what is the type of wood typically used for these pegs?

Lisa Sorrell: That’s a good question.

Stitchdown: I’ve seen lemonwood mentioned before.

Lisa Sorrell: They’re always called lemonwood, but as far as I can tell, it’s just birch.

Stitchdown: What about the process of crimping? It’s not something you really ever see outside of handmade cowboy boots or some other pull-on styles.

Lisa Sorrell: Crimping is important, because for one thing, a cowboy boot is difficult to last. A true traditional cowboy boot has an inch and three quarter, two inch heel. That changes the shape of the last, it gives it much more defined curves. The more defined sharp curves you have, the harder it is to last. That’s the reason why a lot of your factory boots look like fudge popsicles, they don’t have any curves. You can hardly tell the left from the right. That’s because a machine is lasting them, and it’s easier for that machine to last that boot. But when you have a nice high-heeled boot with these beautiful curves…Jay always said a cowboy boot should look like a Coke bottle or a beautiful woman, and then he would do this hourglass shape. So, you want those curves, and when you have those curves, it’s more difficult to last. 

With a shoe, an oxford or a derby, you have multiple pieces and you can cut curves into them to where when you put that on the last, it already has some shape to it. But cowboy boots, it’s just one big old piece of leather that you’re trying to wrap around a very complex last.

Stitchdown: Right.

Lisa Sorrell: So putting it on the crimp board gives it a hint of what’s to come. You don’t have to crimp, I know bootmakers who don’t crimp. But it just makes lasting so much easier when you crimp.

Stitchdown: How much time does the crimping add to the process?

Lisa Sorrell: Well, I have a crimp break—which you don’t have to have either—but you can get a pair of vamps on the board in, I don’t know, five minutes if you have a crimp break, maybe 10 if you don’t. So it needs to sit on the board until it dries. Or it needs to sit in the crimp break for half an hour before you put it on the boards. But I don’t count that time. If something’s drying, I don’t count that as working time. So crimping add 20 minutes at most.

Stitchdown: Gotcha. Are there other unique facets of cowboy boots that people often ask you about?

Lisa Sorrell: There’s this myth that the high heel is for bulldogging cattle. I have a friend who’s a working ranch cowboy and we were discussing this myth and how stupid it is. Because, he was saying, if you’re on a 1200 pound horse, you’re not going to jump off and dig your high heels into the dirt to stop a cow that you’ve roped. You’re gonna stay on your horse. If you’re having fun and seeing what you can do, like young guys like to do, then maybe you’ll try that. But no, that’s not the point. High heels are to look good. High heels make your legs look longer and your butt look smaller.

Stitchdown: [laughing] Right.

lisa sorrell my elusive dreams

“My Elusive Dreams”

Lisa Sorrell: They’re also a status symbol. They show that you don’t walk, you stay in your saddle. You’re a cowboy, and you don’t have to get off and walk. You don’t want a lower heel that might be comfortable for walking a long distance, because you have a horse.

Stitchdown: Oh yeah! I never really thought about it that way. I figured it had mostly to do with keeping your foot in the stirrup, but the status symbol aspect makes sense.

Lisa Sorrell: It’s the same with the toe shape. You can find your stirrup if you don’t have a pointy toe. The pointy toe, it’s not so you can find your stirrup. It’s because the original cowboys riding up the trail were wearing leftover Civil War boots with low clunky heels and big fat toes. I’m sure they found their stirrups just fine, but that pointy toe is just more graceful. Makes you look good.

Stitchdown: Right, yeah. It’s very distinct. I imagine the unique style just adds to the appeal of the cowboy boot.

Lisa Sorrell: Right. There aren’t a lot of crafts that you can say are uniquely American or from the US, but making cowboy boots is one. It has its roots in European shoemaking, absolutely. But it became a totally new and unique and distinct craft form here. Somewhere between 1880 and 1910, magic happened, and unfortunately nobody was taking pictures or writing it down. So we don’t really have much history, but something happened and a whole new craft form was created.

Stitchdown: I wanted to ask you a little bit more about inlay work. Was that something you were doing pretty much from the beginning with your bootmaking?

Lisa Sorrell: Yes, absolutely. I remember learning inlay at Jay’s and learning to skive, and I was just fascinated with it. Because of the way I was raised, girls did girl things and boys did boy things. I liked sewing. But what I didn’t like about sewing is it was a girl thing and I was expected to do it, and that annoyed me. So when I found bootmaking, I loved the fact that I got to hammer on things and pull and work hard, which had typically been a boy thing, but I also still got to do these intricate colorful designs. I liked that marriage. I’ve always been fascinated with inlay and what I can do with it.

Lately I’ve been playing with creating art with leather inlay and overlay. I’ve always told my students with leather inlay and overlay, because every piece is a separate piece—every color is a separate piece of leather—you can’t blend like you can with paint. It creates a very unique look. I’ve always told my students that it’s difficult to convey light, shadow or movement with leather inlay and overlay. But recently, I’ve been playing with how to convey light, shadow and movement, and it’s limited, but it’s there.

Stitchdown: I’m looking at some pictures of your work right now. “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand.” That one is incredible.

Lisa Sorrell: [laughing] I had so much fun with that one, and it took me weeks, not because of working time, but I had to think about it, and I kept getting scared of it. I’d do a little bit, and then I’d go do something else because I just didn’t know what was gonna happen with it. I’m literally doing something that no one else has done before and I’m as surprised as everyone else when I finish.

on jordans stormy banks i stand lisa sorrell

“On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand”

Stitchdown: It’s so good. I mean, to get the symmetry, was that really tricky?

Lisa Sorrell: Well, I just turned the pattern upside down and marked it back on again. But it was unexpectedly difficult, because I’m used to working in mirror images. A lot of times on cowboy boots, the right side of the design is the same as the left side of the design. But for some reason, right side up and upside down was a challenging way to think.

Stitchdown: So am I understanding correctly…essentially you have to walk yourself through the logistics of knowing which piece is going to go where, what color’s going to go on top of the other, before you actually set out and start putting the whole thing together?

lisa sorrell whispering hope

“Whispering Hope”

Lisa Sorrell: You have absolutely described it. That’s one of my favorite things to teach, patterning for leather inlay and overlay, because you do have to think about it, what’s gonna go over and what’s gonna go under.

Stitchdown: Yeah. Wow.

Lisa Sorrell: It’s not like marquetry in woodwork, where the pieces butt up together. Something has to go under and something has to go over. And so you’re always thinking how you’re going to get the design that you want without random pieces sticking out.

Stitchdown: From an inlay/overlay standpoint, what was the most challenging pair of boots you’ve put together?

Lisa Sorrell: I made a pair of boots for Arnold Schwarzenegger that had the eagle from the Austrian flag. He had long pointy feathers and oh, he was hard. Lots of tiny little details. That boot was definitely the most challenging boot I’ve ever made.

Stitchdown: Oh man. I don’t think I’ve seen that one yet. I saw this great photo of him with a dog sitting in one of your other boots.

arnold schwarzenegger lisa sorrell boot

Lisa Sorrell: That one is a close second. I’ve only made that American flag design twice, and that one’s also a real challenge. But the Austrian flag ones just…they hurt my brain. I don’t have many pictures of them out there because like, if you look on my website, that’s not all the boots I’ve ever made. That’s all the boots I’ve made that I would like to make *again.* I’m not gonna put a boot that I don’t want to make again on my website, because then you’re gonna see it and you’re gonna go, oh, I want that one!

Stitchdown: So there’s a little selectiveness to what goes into the gallery. I get it.

Lisa Sorrell: Absolutely. Bootmakers don’t claim their power enough. [laughing]

Stitchdown: What was it like working with Arnold on putting that pair together?

Lisa Sorrell: He was very pleasant to deal with. For a while we emailed, and he was so nice to send me a picture of himself wearing the American flag boots. And it was funny, he sent me a picture of himself wearing the boots. I was so pleased because I rarely ever see pictures of my boots after they leave my shop. No one sends me pictures, and he was nice enough to do that. So I emailed him back and I said, thank you so much for these pictures. I am laughing with delight.

He wrote back and he said, you say you’re laughing, but I can’t see you. And I’m going, Hmm, I don’t know where you think this is going, but let me tell you…[laughing] he had sent me a picture of himself next to a truck, a big humongous truck. We have a tiny little Japanese mini truck and I’m a tiny little person, so I put on my own boots and kind of copied his pose and sent back a picture of little me next to my tiny Japanese truck. After that, for a while, he would send me pictures, like, this is me bicycling around Barcelona. And I would send him a picture: This is me jumping on a pogo stick in my driveway. It was fun. He was obviously busy, but it was really fun to correspond with him for a brief time.

austria boots arnold schwarzenegger lisa sorrell

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Austrian flag boots (which Lisa never wants to make again, so please don’t ask her to!)

Stitchdown: Oh, that’s terrific. Well, now that your prices are what they are, what is your clientele like these days?

Lisa Sorrell: I don’t know. I’m still waiting to find out. [Laughing] I’ve raised my prices before and there is always a lull. After you raise your prices, then it drops off and no one contacts you. Then all of a sudden it’s like a train building up steam, and suddenly people start calling and you’re overwhelmed with orders again. I’m starting to get inquiries where people aren’t scared off by the price. Maybe I’ll have to raise it again, because I don’t have time to make too many boots.

I discovered this really fun new hobby. I love classic country music and bluegrass music, I love musicians, and those people can’t afford my boots. So my new hobby is making boots for musicians that I like and buying their friendship that way.

Stitchdown: Perfect.

Lisa Sorrell: It’s very fun. I get to be their friend and I get to make boots without deadlines, because when I give you a $12,000 pair of boots, you don’t get to call me and say, when are these gonna be done? It works out great. I get to design and do whatever I want, and they’re very grateful. There’s no deadlines and there’s no money.

Stitchdown: It seems like you managed to flip the script. Cowboy bootmaking was your passion, then it was turning into your job, and now you’ve turned it into your passion again.

Lisa Sorrell: That’s exactly right. When you do something like this long enough, if you’re not careful, it becomes a job. I could see that it was becoming a job. Most people couldn’t tell it, but I could see the lack of joy and passion in my work, and it bothered me. I was just trying to do whatever I could to get that joy back. For me, it turned out to be cutting way back on my customers and making boots that I wanted to make for people I wanted to make them for.

Stitchdown: Taking your time back, taking your passion back. That’s pretty powerful.

Lisa Sorrell: And I wouldn’t have had the freedom to do that without the supply business. Something’s gotta pay the bills.

Stitchdown: Let’s talk about that. When did you originally launch Sorrell Notions and Findings?

Lisa Sorrell: Oh goodness. It was probably 10 years ago. I had a YouTube show called It’s a Boot Life on my channel Sorrell Custom Boots. I haven’t put anything up there in several years. But “how to wipe in a toe on a Cowboy Boot,“that information doesn’t get old. It’s still current. People are still watching my videos and still learning from them. 

Anyway, when I started that video series, I used a particular skiving knife, and people began contacting me and saying, “We love that knife, where do we get it?” There wasn’t a place to get it, so I found a company that would make it for me, and I started selling that knife. Then I was having issues with breathing the fumes from solvent-based cements. So I had found a water-based substitute, and I started talking about that, and then people wanted that. So I started selling it. Then it just snowballed. 

When I was learning and becoming a bootmaker, I would have older bootmakers say to me, “Oh, you used to be able to get this tool, but they don’t make it anymore.” Around this time I began making friends in Europe, and what I learned is, yes, they do still make that tool, but no one’s bringing it into the US. I started tracking down tools that were hard to find and selling them just so people would have them. Now it’s my full-time job. When five or six people call me and say “do you have this product,” then I try to find it so I can sell it. Obviously somebody needs it.

sorrell notions and findings tools

Stitchdown: Right! And you’re one of the few American-based vendors for all this stuff where you don’t need to have a tax ID to actually access the catalog, which is huge. There’s a dearth of places in the States to buy shoemaking or bootmaking equipment, so it’s great having a resource like your shop.

Lisa Sorrell: There are so many companies that you have to have a business in order to purchase, or there’s a minimum quantity you need to purchase. Mine is, anybody can buy in any quantity they want.

Stitchdown: As a hobbyist shoemaker, I often think, what should I try out next? What’s a cool tool that would maybe help me out a little bit?

Lisa Sorrell: See that’s another thing. People will say, sell me all the tools I need for boot making. I have a toolkit for bootmaking and a toolkit for shoemaking, but I tell them, this is not all the tools you’ll ever need. There will be other tools that you’ll find that would make the job easier. There will be other tools you find that are just prettier to look at. There will be other tools that you just want cause you don’t have one. It’s an endless journey.

Stitchdown: Yeah, you’re telling me!

Lisa Sorrell: It’s so fun though, isn’t it?

Stitchdown: Gosh, Lisa, there’s so much more I’d like to talk to you about, but I don’t want to take up too much more of your time. Thank you for teaching me a bit about cowboy boots. I really appreciate it.

Lisa Sorrell: Oh, you’re welcome.

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