I was stunned to learn, upon arriving in the villages, that these baby shoes take an entire day to make. I thought, surely, it was an exaggeration. But every village I visited, and every grandmother I spoke with said the same thing. The shoes...they take a day to make. Even the soles are often hand-stitched, pressing layers of fabric and newspaper together to form a sturdy base. It takes a day for that kind of attention.
The shoes come in all sizes. In fact, they are often made for adults as well as children. The shoes come in a variety of styles, depending on the season. Mary Janes. Lace-Up. Sandals. Mary Janes are common in the spring and fall. Lace-up shoes are often padded and worn during the cold winter months, when much of China is without any central heat. And the sandals are, of course, worn through the muggy Sichuan summers.
The shoes come in a variety of fabric, depending again on the season and on the maker's preference. Corduroy is common in the fall and winter; cotton is debuted for spring and summer. The fabrics are playful, colorful and happy. One grandmother explained to me, her finger pointed very close to my face, "It's important for the fabric to be happy. Babies should be surrounded with happiness."
Each shoe is an original. Some have buckles; some have snaps. Some shoes have neither. A woman who sat by a river, stitching away, explained, "You can't put a snap or buckle on a baby shoe. Who knows how big that baby is? Only the mother can know that."
The shoes protect little feet. I never saw a baby's bare feet during my entire visit. Even babies swaddled in carriers wore the softest of the baby shoes. I saw toddlers in the shoes and older children, on their way to school, the neat red scarves of the Communist Party tied at their necks.