foot forward

(Photograph taken January 9th, 2010. I had my stroke a little further along that same path a couple of weeks later.)

Well, for those of you who were interested in the coat, it is from Cabbages and Roses Autumn/Winter ’09, and it is probably my favourite garment in my wardrobe – I absolutely love it – not least because its fine woollen cloth was woven in a mill in Delph, close to where I grew up. I was actually wearing that coat when I had my stroke on February 1st. It says something about me – or perhaps just about how much I like it – that one of the first things I did when poor Tom appeared, ashen-faced at the hospital, was to ask him to check if my coat was ok. There was a small tear in the lining from when I fell over, but the coat of dreams was happily otherwise unscathed. That anecdote will suggest to you (if by some miracle you didn’t know already) that I am very attached to my clothes. I suppose this is true of everyone, to a greater or lesser degree, and everyone has their preferences and foibles. I think of myself as someone who loves coats and dresses most of all, but I am also very fond of shoes. I’ve now decided to get rid of all the pairs I can no longer wear.

(Remember these?)

The bits of me that have been most obviously physically affected by the stroke are my leg and foot. I can mostly get about just fine, in a lopsided sort of fashion, but the ankle has no stability and the foot and lower leg have quite a limited range of movement. I have some great orthotics which stabilise the ankle, and with them I can now walk in a reasonable range of shoes that are entirely flat – any sort of raised heel sends me woefully off kilter. Now, I really feel very lucky to be able to walk at all, and, being a committed walker, appreciate the sturdy, reliable qualities of a good, comfortable shoe or boot. But I have many shoes in my wardrobe that do not fall into this category. Even the pair pictured above – whose virtues I celebrated in a couple of posts from Philadelphia last year – are now unwearable because of their unsupported sides against which my left ankle flops uselessly. If I can’t walk in those shoes, imagine the insurmountable challenge that is posed by these babies:

When I came home from hospital, I put all such shoes away so that I didn’t have to look at them. But I’ve been unable to pretend that they’re not there. For several weeks now their dumb presence has been really annoying me. I feel that there are things I have to do – big things like looking forward – that these shoes are preventing me from doing. Somehow I have to get rid of them, to accept that I am now a person who will walk into the future on the flat and not in any sort of heel.

In all cultures, footwear is deeply symbolic, and I can understand many of the obvious Western feminist arguments that have been made both for and against high heels. Personally, I have never regarded them as agents either of empowerment or oppression, but they are certainly bound up with my identity, if not my femininity. Like all special objects, they are invested with individual significances, and each pair has their history – a set of meanings tied up with the moments of their wearing. There are the shoes I kept for conferences and interviews, and regarded as being ‘lucky’; there are the shoes I liked to to teach in; the whacko pair bought just for fun. . .

. . . and the pair I got on a whim, and had been sort of saving for a very special occasion.

This blog has also kept a record of my shoes, and different pairs have accompanied many different hand-made garments and occasions over the past few years. There are blue shoes in this post; the fun red pair that I am wearing on my birthday here; the suede stilettos I wore when modelling Manu, and another green pair of which I was particularly fond.

Perhaps this all seems rather vain and self-regarding. Perhaps it is. I say again that every day I feel immensely lucky to be able to walk – and indeed to be alive. But I wouldn’t be human (or perhaps I just wouldn’t be me) if I didn’t have the the odd wallow-y moment of regret for what my leg and foot could do before. These shoes – these objects, these ornaments – are bound up with that regret, and that’s why it is now time to say goodbye. So a few days ago I took a deep breath, photographed seventeen pairs of shoes and boots, shed a few tears, and put them up for sale. When I mentioned I was thinking of doing this a few weeks ago, several of you emailed me to ask about it, so if you are in the UK and fancy a pair, you can find them all here. Please don’t feel weird or sad about this – I’m sure you can see that it is an entirely positive and necessary step for me, and I intend to buy myself a fabulous pair of flat-heeled boots with the proceeds.

72 thoughts on “foot forward

  1. Two things: thank you for sharing your trials with us. I can’t imagine what it would be like.

    Secondly: I wish I lived in the UK. I could probably fit most of your shoes and they’re all gorgeous.

  2. Well done, what a brave, difficult step.
    I don’t think it’s vain, because it’s not about the shoes, it’s about the part of your identity that they represent. I hope you get a beautiful new pair of boots with them – are you thinking city boots or walking ones? I love my supalite (or similar) leather and goretex brasher walking boots passionately.

  3. If only I had size 5 feet I’d be up for contributing to your flat boot fund by buying a number of those Kate. All the best with the sale, and enjoy exploring new shoes.

  4. Oooooh most of those shoes are gorgeous, and they’re my size. I may just have bid on several pairs of them! I promise they will have a happy life doing shoe type things.

  5. What a very difficult and brave thing to have to do.

    I’m a magpie and would find it very hard to part with such a lovely selection of shoes, but I can see that it would be important to face up to the “new shoe you”. Its such a shame, that even though I’m in the UK, your feet are much smaller than mine!

  6. DARN – my feet are just a tad too small…but I so admire your shoe collection. How sad that you have to sell them. They are absolutely fabulous !!

  7. Onwards and upwards! I have parted ways with more than one pair of beautiful shoes in the past which ended up just hurting my feet whenever I wore them. Banish them all, and replace them with something marvellous :)

  8. Dear Kate

    Such beautiful shoes…they really are an expression of one’s identity aren’t they? And these are so very you…..I picked up a pair of Spanish shoes very cheaply recently and was absolutely smitten with them….I hope you can transfer your affections and self-expression in other equally satisfying directions.

  9. When you get to investigating more ‘sensible’ shoes you’ll see how many funky and interesting styles are around. Naot and Joseph Seibel are two brands I love, and some of their styles are made for orthotic insertion. In the meantime, I hope you find some really great boots.

  10. wow. I usually don’t say much here in the comments but I am aways reading. First of all I thing your a strong woman. I don’t know of anyone who would take on the challenge of walking as much as you do to get back on track and get your life together again after a stroke. It’s very courageous of you.

    Also, It’s nice to hear you lived in our great city of Philadelphia. I am only a small 45 minute drive away, however in 2006 I moved to Sweden for a few years…we sorta switched places in a way…americaeurope

    I actually talked to a guy online once who moved from the Uk to here the same month I did and we moved back to our respective countries on the same day 2 years later…odd to know we shared the sky is fascinating. Well keep going as you have been and maybe someday you will find the lucky fortune of having full use of your ankle again

  11. I love that you photographed your shoes and sent them and their way. How often do we all still hang onto things that we don’t need or even like because we can’t let go? I have several large and heavy boxes of items relating to a theatre career I no longer have or even really miss, but I’ve had a hard time recycling their contents. Bravo to looking forward. I’m *hopefully* moving soon, and it would be a good time for me to look forward as well.

  12. I love the shoe photos! I have a thing about shoes like you, but also cannot “do” heels. It certainly curbs the spending although it does add a little to the frustration, but then again finding the beautiful needle in the haystack makes the spends that do happen more enjoyable.

    I’m still astonished at your self awareness and willingness to share those insights here.


  13. Ohhhh I know the power that beautiful shoes hold over us, and to sell them must be such a parting :( I’m full of admiration for your courage…

    I’m in the midst of making Vogue 8469 dress and so have put a bid in for your beautiful green shoes; I spotted you wearing them in your helpful frock post :)

    Delighted to hear that you’re from Delph – I spent my wee years in nearby Chadderton :-) [before moving up to Edinburgh, coincidently! Now living in the W Country and getting my Scottish fix through your blog…thank you for making north of the border feel less far away to me…]
    All the very best, Kate!

  14. Another wonderful post, Kate. I admire your courage in being able to let go of those shoes and the added courage to share the process on your blog.

    Hope today is full of good energy for you.

  15. Thank you, as always, for your eloquence and the great beauty that you share with us. I hope that selling the shoes brings you lots of money and freedom beyond your wildest dreams!

  16. I admire you for doing this. I can appreciate how you feel – I have a long term illness, nothing in comparison to recovering from a stroke, but it has meant I have had to change the way I dress. I had to put away all the clothes I could no longer wear and I shed a few tears because it felt like I was putting away part of myself. I’ve actually come to prefer the clothes I wear now, but initially I resented the enforced change. Hope you find a lovely new pair of books and I’m very envious of that gorgeous coat.

  17. You are very brave, Kate. And right to send the shoes on their way – let’s hope they find someone who loves them just as much.

    I always have a hard time getting rid of clothes and shoes that no longer fit, or are inappropriate, or that I never wear (even though I love them). But I always get a little thrill out of seeing them in a charity shop, or seeing someone else in town with them.

    And think of all the new exciting flats you can buy! Warm and comfy boots – sounds great. I am particularly fond of this pair that I got recently: (sorry, long link).

  18. Nothing about this post seems silly or vain to me; instead, it’s a beautifully written (as usual) tribute to the things you loved in your pre-stroke life. I, too, get attached to things, and I understand how hard it is sometimes to let things go. Congratulations on taking this next step toward embracing change (no pun intended), and I hope that you can buy some fabulous, sturdy flats with the money you earn from your shoe sale.

    On a side note, I understand your (stated in a previous post) feeling of superstition about clothes. I had a fantastic, vintage Styx tee that I loved, but I only wore it twice. On the first day, my boyfriend broke my heart. The next day, I failed a test and my dad went into a coma. That shirt sat in the bottom of a drawer for years, and I eventually threw it out like a coward. You, on the other hand, are a badass.

  19. I truly understand you. Ten years ago I have to said goobye to all my great “pretty girl” shoes. It had breake my heart for a while…because I like to keep et to charish my things for Everlasting… But now it is o.k. but sometimes I miss them when I look to my dresses…Here in Qu├ębec, it is hard to find great and well dones shoes because they are a lot of “made in China” and I have to search hard to find lovely shoes who would make me look pretty. And once again your coat look so beautiful.

  20. Truly…I had not thought of that as a side effect of stroke. I shall never take my much-loved heels in all their frivolous and delightful variety for granted again.

  21. How brave of you, but it’s obviously the right thing to do. I have cast aside shoes I loved (eventually) when they just hurt my feet and if you feel they are holding you back in other ways, then out they’ve got to go. I love the fact you documented them, and thank you for sharing them with us, the last green ones are beautiful.

  22. If only I lived in the UK.. they are even my size. The thing is, you have great taste, so those shoes are fabulous, and the new shoes you get will be fabulous, because your fantastic style has not changed at all. There are more fabulous shoes in your future!

  23. Beautiful post, Kate. I am reminded of the spikey heels with fragile leather straps that I wore out dancing when I was in my twenties. Other foot issues require that I now wear comfortable open toed flats, but I hold that pair of shoes in fond memory!

    I am de-stashing and de-cluttering, and have adopted the attitude that I am sending away things that no longer serve me, and the space that opens will be filled with wonderful things that do. Here’s hoping that comes true for you as well!

  24. Good for you. That’s not an easy task. I understand the attachment to certain articles of clothing. The collection of shoes is a sight to behold! I looked at the website for the clothing. I love the dresses! The shoes are sooo tempting, especially the little red shoes. I have to be a good girl, as I have quite the shoe collection myself.

  25. Deciding to give up your eclectic shoe wardrobe is both sad & admirable. Makes me ashamed of the times I used to buy shoes that I could barely walk in and might have worn once only to gather dust in the bottom of the closet until the trip to Goodwill.
    Violet suede, toes like a dragon’s claw and a 4 inch heel…who could blame me.

  26. Thanks for sharing your shoe collection — I often like to “scope out” people’s shoes, but today I was able to without seeming rude. I know I sound like my mother when I say and truly mean that sensible shoes can be fashionable now–though, I love my sensible and unfashionable shoes a bit too much. It seems that your footwear is another way you express yourself; that’s evolved particularly far in the last nine months. I’ve read your blog for about two years and I appreciate your sharp wit and unique perspectives. Thank you.

  27. Kate, you have taken very good care of your shoes. I love them all and they are my size… I am so glad that I’m not in the UK…

  28. If I win an auction for one of these pairs, I plan to photograph them on some peak somewhere and email you the photo – having trudged up in sensible shoes, of course! Kudos to you for just getting the whole thing over with. Closets – physical and metaphorical – are so hard to clean out and prune down.

  29. Sob.
    For myself, a little bit, too. I haven’t been able to wear ‘nice’ shoes for a long time and really miss that opportunity for self expression.
    Still, better to be able to walk, as you say.

  30. Well done for taking that step with your shoes. I have a foot condition that means I can’t wear heels, it’s too painful and I don’t really have the foot stability and on the one occasion where I did try (my wedding) I could literally barely walk and consequently spent large chunks of my wedding (where I had to do more than just stand still) walking barefoot with my shoes in my hand.

    I have to admit it can be tough shoe shopping with a limited range of styles that are ok for your feet, like all fashion led items shoes as you know go through phases and over the last few years there has been a fantastic range of flat shoes in the shops and I’ve been dancing around in my pretty, shiny, well strapped in, brightly coloured flat shoes however last summer and I noted this Autumn as well, there are less and less flat shoe styles and far more heeled styles, so now shoe shopping requires a greater intake of breath and a greater deal of fortification as I trudge round the shops looking for the right pair that’s ok. So fingers crossed for both of us that the current trend for just heels in the shops doesn’t last too long!

  31. I’m really not sure I could bear to do that if I was in your position, especially with such fantastic shoes. (Curses – they aren’t my size. Actually that is probably a good thing for my bank balance.)

  32. I do hope your shoes find suitable Cinderellas! I would have been fighting for several pairs… but they are the wrong size. Grrrr. You have some fabulous footwear there!

  33. oooh lovely shoes, and my size too but, sigh, since I am paring back and trying to live a thrifty life, I’ll just have to admire them virtually. And, you know, what you’re doing is just a normal part of moving on with life – for various reasons we all come to points where we stop doing some things (fantasising about pop stars; wearing only black; dyeing our hair blue; knitting with acrylic). It’s just a shame that this particular type of moving on is associated with illness and not really choice. I’m sorry about that – but wish you much joy in your boot/shoe shopping. I’ve got three pairs of lovely Think! shoes (from Rogersons in Rose St). DH has got Think! shoes too, and we both love them. I’ve walked miles and miles in mine.

    you know, the picture with snow had me all confused for a minute – I thought you’d been op north and managed to find some snow to pose in! i think there was some snow in Scotland last week… at least, that’s what is said in Metro.

    Love the coat btw! I just wish I had your petite figure to go with it..

  34. Let’s neither of us repeat February 2010 – okay? My life was nearly lost – more than once – during a long and difficult illness. In February I went septic and through two surgeries – one of which required the removal of my stomach, my spleen, part of my pancreas, part of my liver, part of my diaphragm, and a huge area of abscess and the damage it had caused. I spent 4 months with an open wound – and all that that entails. For 8 weeks I literally could not sit up. I couldn’t knit – because my very large open incision meant complete separation of my abs – and holding needles became impossible. It was only in June that I was able to pick up needles again. What blessed relief! I’d been knitting in my head for weeks and weeks!

    I think the thing that is most surprising to me – now that by all appearances I should be “recovered” – is this sense that I’m really not quite HEALED yet. And I don’t mean that in a physical sense – although my doctors and surgeons assure me that I twill take upwards of a year to truly be physically there. But moreso in an emotional, spiritual sort of way. In a lot of ways – that is more wearying than the physical trials I’ve been through.

    I so understand the fatigue you mentioned (can’t remember which post – just found your blog this morning – and did a little nosing about!) – I so GET that! I also find myself – I suppose you can call it – hibernating. Home just seems so much safer than anywhere else. I guess it’s post-traumatic stress or something – but I find myself so reluctant to go places and do things – even when they are people, places, and things that I adore.

    Crazy, this whole recovery thing, isn’t it? Oh – and I’m a flat shoe girl, too. (My orthopedic surgeon calls me ‘orthopedic nightmare girl’ – endearingly, but well – its accurate.) I feel quite confident – given your beautiful eye for detail, you’ll soon be sporting (or designing) flats that every girl only dreams of sporting on her feet!

  35. I find your relationship with clothes refreshing and, if I’m honest, enviable. I have a complicated relationship with mine – lots of guilt, lots of desire and on my shoulder a teenage version of myself urging me to make rather dubious choices! Anyway, I didn’t find this post vain in the least, though I had a sense of where you going with the shoes, and was mentally shouting, “no! no! don’t do it!” But you have, and I see that you are right to say goodbye, and to move on. And I do know that a purge of this sort can feel exhilarating as well as liberating. Well done!

  36. I really felt for you when reading this post, and his brought home to me more than anything else you’ve written just how far-reaching the effects of the stroke are. I am sorry, but I know you’ll find something incredibly stylish and ‘you’ to replace these shoes.

  37. Oh, this is such a sensible response. I, too, am a shoe fanatic, and have more than sixty pairs. I shattered some bones in my foot about six months ago and have also been facing the prospect of not being able to wear my old friends again. I can’t wait to see the boots you choose. Frye makes some nice flat ones, though I’m sure you’ve got your eye on a pair somewhere already. <3

  38. What a positive post. You are so right to kiss the shoes good bye and move on with your new life – always looking forward, Kate – but my, those green ones with the embroidery – they must have been hard to let go – and I can’t even bid as they are the wrong size ! Well, obviously not meant to be.
    Well done, you!

  39. Clothes are important, they are part of who you are, so definitely not vain and silly. That is an absolutely stunning coat, I thought it might Cabbages and Roses (or maybe Toast).

    Heels and I don’t get on, very occasionally I get frustrated that most of the really pretty shoes are heeled (I don’t even like kitten heels), maybe you should start documenting your new shoes for us fellow flat wearers.

  40. I had to do the same many years back after I had my stroke. It probably took me longer to part with all the heels and I must admit that there are clothes that I didn’t wear anymore because they just didn’t look good with flats. I now dress up in pants just to avoid the shoe problem. There will always be days when I look at clogs, flip flops, and heels and wish I could but my new shoe collection is growing and I am finding as many options as I can in the flats.

  41. I love shoes, too. Why not–especially when you choose such lovely pieces for your wardrobe? I can’t wait to see your new, flat boots–I can only imagine they will be fabulous and will make you very happy.

  42. Thank you so much for sharing your trials and pains and joys with us all! I enjoy reading your blog very much.
    Shoes are the last thing people think of after an injury, yet can have a great impact. I had a serious back injury 20 years ago, and haven’t work heels since. It’s just too uncomfortable on my back. Luckily now there are many fabulous flat heeled shoes out there! Enjoy your flat sole shopping expedition!

  43. Ah, Kate. How very well you capture our relationship with our apparel. And, if I’m reading you right, how very healthy of you to send any regrets packing.

    There will, of course, be many more happy boot and shoe moments (days, years!) for you.

  44. Liberation – all shapes and sizes :-) Gorgeous coat, inspiring shoes, perfect prose. And if you do have a pair or so tucked away still, there’s always the option of filling them with the good earth, and violets, or ivy or geraniums or juicy succulents…

  45. Kate, love your coat. That’s my style and I wish I owned one just like it. If my feet weren’t too big and I lived across the pond, I would definitely bid on several pairs of your shoes, they’re exquisite. You’re a brave woman and I admire you.

  46. I wish I had the same shoe size as you, not just because you have some wonderful shoes, but because I could guarantee them a good home! I hope you raise a bit of pocket money to buy some really lovely shoes, and I hope you will find this experience to be a new beginning rather than a sad event. All the best! x x

  47. Love those hot pink bubblegum flat ballet like shoes too…I have progressed to a size 40 now.
    There will be plenty of gorgeous shoes, and boots out there for you to enjoy, don’t worry.
    Love the big red teacup picture and red shoes.
    Love your sincere blogs too.

  48. Thanks for sharing such a personal experience. I have fallen in love with pretty much all of your shoes but can’t really afford much right now. However, I have placed a bid on the ankle boots, they’re awesome!

    I love your style and I’m looking forward to seeing your new shoes in the future.

  49. Oh dear…giving up fancy shoes is something I had not thought of…I admire your courage in moving forward! Beautiful shoes, BTW, and I wish you the best in your search for more functional shoes that give you the same sort of joy.

  50. Ah. One pair of boots remain in my closet that, since my accident, can only be worn for an hour or so at a time. Hope springs eternal.

    Happy new shoe hunting!

  51. I don’t think this seems vain or self-regarding. I think it’s probably part of the normal process of moving on with your life, and I hope it goes well. For the record, I have flat boots from Camper that I think are just great, in case you need recommendations. :) (and I think it’s a horrible pity that you can’t even wear your Red or Dead flats anymore–I will confess that I liked them so much that thanks your blog entries, I now have a pair of my own!).

  52. Oh Kate – why couldn’t you have little feet like mine – although I could always knit very thick socks to make them fit! Recently I’ve put on some weight, and a lot of too small clothes have gone to charity shops – but there are some things I just can’t part with – like the Laura Ashley dress and jacket that Malcolm bought for me for one of our wedding anniversaries in the 80s. Yes, you’ve said that you should be grateful that you’re still alive and it’s only shoes, but you wouldn’t be human if you weren’t upset at parting with them.
    ps – I love that coat!!

  53. what a very great post, kate.
    i would buy up several of your gorgeous shoes if they were my size – best of luck with the sales and on to new and even more beloved footwear!
    i love that you love your clothes. what kind of woman would you be if you did not fall in love with that coat? it is simple femininity – fairy tale sweet – wool and heavy skirts and tailoring – subdued and still interesting color – many many fine things all at once.
    just like your own creations. just like you. :)

  54. HI KATE — please forgive me when I say in a joking fashion – ‘LOL’- but getting rid of those shoes is as they say a” step in the right direction ”

    – its so true, we all have those things that define us, our hair , our clothes— it always seems easier when we change of our own choice , rather than having the change made for us

    I agree with you , that now making the choice to get rid of your shoes is a positive step , a step to make your life turn in a different direction , rather than stagnate and dwell on what once was

    I have a little saying on my frig to remind me – it says ——don’t keep insisting you ought to be where you once were—-don’t keep dreaming about where you might be one day —-figure out where you are , and who you are—- and move forward from there—

    – you wear that lovely coat well —-pat j

  55. I think photographing them is a wonderful way of documenting them and honoring your feelings about them. I applaud you – it’s a difficult decision, but you’re right, it’s the one that allows you to move on.

    And I cannot wait to see that fabulous pair of boots!

  56. I recently found your blog through Ravelry – I just love reading about your patterns, your adventures, your life. Most importantly I wanted to wish you a full and speedy recovery. It appears that you have come so far since the stroke. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

  57. It took me a long time to accept that I had to wear flats, after I developed arthritis secondary to chemotherapy. I even bought new pairs with heels, in complete denial.
    Well done for moving on. I still need to get rid of three unwearable pairs.
    I must also say also,, there are lovely interesting flats available if you keep an eye out.

  58. I just love reading your blog. Your writing is so beautiful, almost poetic, and the photographs make me wish I lived in Scotland (until I see how rainy it is, ha ha :). Thanks for being a blessing to me!

  59. Your continued positive attitude always amazes and inspires me. I think you are so right that you (well, we all…) should be looking forward to the times to come rather than lamenting what used to be.

    I’m certainly not comparing what I go through with the progress you are making, but without meaning to, I keep so much baggage by storing clothes that no longer fit. Eventually, I clean the closets out, but sometimes it takes a long time to let go because I hope I can wear that garment again.

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

  60. I only wear Birkenstocks and only certain styles. Comfort and non slip soles are a must! I can’t knit anymore but I can crochet by holding the crochet hook in my fist. I also felt and paint etc, etc, but more slowly. And although some things have become more difficult I believe I am enjoying life more! Love your beautiful designs and thanks for sharing your journey.

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About Kate Davies

writer, designer and creator of Buachaille (100% Scottish wool)