Custom Cowboy Boots Are A Team Effort For Idaho Couple

December 27, 2018

By: Olivia Weitz

Equestrians have long worn boots with tall, protective tops. In the late 19th century, bootmakers along cattle trails from Texas to Kansas developed the stitching and heels that made American cowboy boots works of art. For those who design and wear custom-made boots, expression can be found in everything from stitch patterns and custom inlays to the kinds of leather used.

Cattle rancher Keith Hill’s boots are nine years old and without scuffs. He’s replaced the soles once, and he says, “the material is still good enough that it’s like new.”

Movie stars and country musicians have been wearing cowboy boots since the 1920s when bright colors and fancy stitching patterns became popular. It’s ranchers, though, that really put them to the test.

Keith Hill has spent most of his life working on cattle ranches near Mackay, Idaho. He has a pair of custom boots by Seth Teichert. His boots are dark brown with gold and blue stitching—his cattle brand is on the front. Hill says there’s a big difference between factory-made boots and this pair.

“These boots are just higher quality,” he says. “They’re better material, better workmanship, better fit. Of course they’re handmade and custom-made for my feet.”

Hill adds that this type of workmanship is harder to find these days.

“People don’t care. Actually, Seth takes a lot of pride in this. He builds them for friends and neighbors and people he knows, so he makes them really good.”

This is a selection of boots by Seth Teichert. He is known for building pull-on cowboy boots with tall tops and a slung-back heel.

Seth Teichert’s boot shop is located in the garage of his ranch house near Mackay, Idaho. Close to the sewing machine, a window offers stunning views of the Lost River Mountain Range.

“The majority of my boots have got a tall heel, kind of the underslung look and a small heel cap,” Seth says. “Most people want that whether or not they ride a horse—it’s that look.”

Seth says when you buy a pair of custom boots, you might not ever need to buy another pair. That’s because the design allows them to be resoled, if needed. And they’re made with leather, not cardboard or plastic.

“I think everyone knows what happens when you get cardboard wet: It doesn’t last very good,” he says. “I haven’t seen a cowboy yet that hasn’t gotten his boots wet a hundred times.”

This wooden last will give shape and form for a pair of boots that are custom fit for Natalie’s feet.

Natalie was awarded an apprenticeship from the Idaho Commission on the Arts’ Folk and Traditional Arts Program. With this arts grant, her husband is now teaching her how to be a boot maker.

Today, Seth is teaching his wife, Natalie, how to measure a foot for a boot. Besides being his wife, Natalie is also an apprentice to Seth. She recently applied and was awarded an apprenticeship offered by the Idaho Commission on the Arts’ Folk and Traditional Arts Program. With this arts grant, her husband is now teaching her the trade.

“Well, I think actually, I want this coral leather right there,” Natalie says. “I think I want that as my top. I’m going to inlay in that turquoise for a bluebird.”

But, Seth recommends she keep it simple, especially for her first pair.

“In your mind you picture you want to do this really fancy, nice pair of boots, when in reality you should be doing a basic, easy pair, getting the basics down, learning how to run the sewing machine, learning how to measure and cut and put the patterns together,” Seth says.

Seth is a perfectionist. Natalie is not. But, she says they’ve usually found ways in their marriage to balance out each other’s tendencies. She says it will likely play out the same way in the boot making shop.

“I just have to come in here with the mindset of ‘I can’t take offense to anything,’” Natalie says. “I can’t get my feelings hurt over everything. I just have to know that he’s trying to help me improve and do better. And as long as I can keep that, there won’t be any hurt feelings in our boot shop or in our marriage. I think it’s going to be good.”

Before long, Natalie is sewing together her first pair of boots. But there’s no bluebird to be found on the leather.

“I love the way that it turned out, actually—even better than if I had used my original pattern that I had in mind,” Natalie says.

After a few circular patterns gone awry, she ended up stitching a square quilt pattern with pinks and purples that cascade down the front of the boot.

Natalie is sewing the piping on the front part of the first pair of boots she’s made for herself. This vintage sewing machine from the 1920s is used to make stitch patterns and custom inlays.

“It almost looks like a chandelier coming down,” Natalie says. “It’s shorter on the sides. It gets longer towards the middle. And the colors of the thread are an ombre pattern.”

Around 35 nails per boot were used to shape the leather around a wooden last that will give the boot shape. Photo by Natalie Teichert.

Natalie has a knack for designing patterns. She’s still working on some of the structural aspects: nailing wooden pegs in the soles, for instance. But for now, where she lags, Seth will pick up the slack. They’ve become a boot making team.

“Together we would build the pattern so that we know it fits," Seth says. “And then she really enjoys finishing the boot, the dyes and the polish. That’s my least favorite part—I don’t like to paint anything.”

This polished pair of boots that Natalie has made won’t be trodding through cow patties; they’re her going-to-town boots.

“I wish I could tell you that I go places that are cool, but really I’m going to wear them to the grocery store. I’m going to wear them to church,” Natalie says as she laughs.

Maybe I’ll be able to talk Seth into taking me dancing, and then I’ll wear them someplace they deserve to go.
— Natalie Teichert

This piece was produced for the series Expressive Idaho in partnership with the Idaho Commission on the Arts’ Folk and Traditional Arts Program and with funding support from the National Endowment for the Arts.

BSPR Logo NPR One large.png
nea-lockup-C.jpg