November 13, 2014

The Search for the Hypoallergenic Shoe with Socks

I made a sketch of a man seated near a table that was set for a dance party. The sketch had a long expanse of blank floor at the bottom. This was an awkward, empty space so I did not complete the sketch or resolve to paint the scene.

Now that I am using my past sketches to make new drawings, sketches with blank spaces are welcome. The blank areas in sketches serve as stages for the dramas being played out in my daily life. The sketch delineated above served as an illustration for my continued search for the hypoallergenic shoe with socks. In what was formerly a blank area in the sketch I drew in shoes and socks. For these I had an array of my husband’s shoes to sketch from as well as my Crocs slides. I dropped a pair of socks into the mix, letting them fall into position naturally.

In the midst of my continued wrangling about shoes and socks, my microbarrier booties and dermasilk socks arrived from Alpretec ( ) These were neatly packaged in sturdy hypoallergenic plastic containers. The company must take the business of allergies seriously, I noted from the careful packaging as well as the detailed instruction contained within about the proper care for their product. There was a picture on the package of someone pulling regular socks over the booties so I followed suit.

After a day walking around in my new paraphernalia I was pleased to find that there was no rash on my feet by late afternoon. The barrier booties soon came due for their first washing. Instructions called for hand washing in tepid water with a small amount of hypoallergenic shampoo. I used Johnson’s Baby Shampoo. The next day I wore my booties underneath my socks again. This time results were decidedly different, with two red feet by day’s end. Could it have been the washing in the Baby Shampoo? I checked the ingredients and there was a long chemical list, including fragrances that I was supposed to be avoiding. I killed them, I thought with utter despair. I killed my beautiful Italian booties with an American industrial product! Johnson’s Baby Shampoo may be gentle enough for babies but not for this baby.

So I washed the booties again with hypoallergenic soap and gave them several rinses. Next time I wore them I also added the dermasilk undersocks for good measure. I went about my day with my undersocks and refreshed booties. By the end of the day I checked my feet and found that they were free of rashes but had some small spots of redness which I attributed to pressure. So I live and learn and try to remain as itch free as possible.

November 10, 2014

The Search for the Hypoallergenic Watch

A new pencil drawing is born. A man sits in a café at a table in front of a window. A potted plant forms an intricate halo around his head. There is a drink on his table, and a basket full of unidentifiable breads or snacks. On a white napkin on the table is a tiny detail which encapsulates what has taken up a large portion of my present search for allergy free products. The watch sits unworn on the table, an object for reflection rather than use.

My search for the allergy free watch has yielded fascinating results.

After wondering what to do about my allergy laden watch, my sister initially gave me the bright idea of not wearing a wrist watch for the time being. This alone had some unforeseen benefits. For one, I had noticed that my autoimmune illness tended to peak at certain times of day and it was helpful not to look at a clock and increase awareness of my impending "witching hours." Illness rolled in anyway of its own accord but at least I did not anticipate it as much.

Clock watching in general has been a carry over from my teaching days when I had to adhere to a strict schedule. Taking the watch off my wrist was an acknowledgment, finally, that those days were over. Nevertheless, having a wrist watch would still be useful for keeping track of appointments for both self and spouse. Besides, opening and closing a cell phone to obtain the time has proved somewhat problematic for someone whose hands are often wet with clay or some other substance.

While my wrist was taking a vacation from watches, I looked for allergy free substitutes. I found two companies with intriguing solutions. Sprout watches, for instance, produces eco-friendly watches made out of an array of natural materials. I was most fascinated by a watch that has a face made of bamboo, a cotton strap, a corn resin casing as well as corn resin buckles and a mercury free battery. I never did find out what kind of glue was used in the cotton strap - problem being that I am allergic to glues used in both leather and upholstery. But for people allergic to everything but glue they may be a viable product: Their products are very economically priced and a purchase may not only be healthier for the body but for the environment as well.

My immediate solution to the watch problem came from a combination of my take home instructions from my allergist as well as from the Global Watchband company. I carefully coated the back and side of my metal watch with polyurethane and ordered a watch band made of lorica from the Florida based Global Watchband company. The customer service at Global Watchband was excellent. I spoke with Amy by phone, who charmed me instantly by offering to go to the warehouse and look for allergy-free prospects in watch bands. Anyone who offers to leave their desk and hunt for things on my behalf wins my allegiance. Amy knew quite a bit about hypoallergenic watch bands and will be added to my rapidly growing resource notebook.

The Global Watchband company had a striking array of watch bands made out of metals, synthetics and natural animal skins - even python! This last substance piqued my curiosity because I knew that pythons are invasive species in Florida with no natural predators. I suppose the purchase of a python skin watch band could be said to be an action in support of Florida Everglades preservation.

The newly coated watch with the allergy free watch band works well. I’ve been wearing it for a few days now without a rash.

For those wishing to replace their watch bands with allergy-free alternatives here are a few links to the Global Watchband company:



November 4, 2014

Purple Clay from the Wilds

For the last several blog posts I have been writing about the slow expulsion of allergens from my environment and the hunt for replacement items. This has been temporarity interrupted by my coming in to about one hundred pounds of locally mined South Carolina Clay. Processing this has taken up a significant portion of my time this week but the work has yielded exciting results. The raw clay, mined from the Congaree area, was found in striations of unusual colors; white, orange, buff, pink and purple. I had heard about the purple clay and begged an archaeologist friend for a sample from an excavation. I received a number of samples to experiment with. The orange and white clay was fairly pure and strained rather easily, if not always expeditiously. The purple and pink clay was another matter. Those colors were quite sandy and took a while to force through a colander. But, oh what remarkable colors the pinks and purples were! I took a picture of the purple clay drying on a plaster bat with purple pansies as a backdrop for color comparison (photo at right). The purple clay reminds me of the color used in some of the yixing ware produced in China, which makes me eager to see how this fires. The completely processed wild clay, in all of the color permutations, is shown above.

Should anyone reading this wish to try their hands at processing "found" clay I’ve outlined a few steps here:

1. Test the clay for plasticity by rolling a coil and bending it. If it cracks in many places it is too "short" to use.

2. If desired, sort the clay into component colors if it is mixed. (I did this with most of my found clay until I got tired of sorting and threw the remainder into a mixed bin and homogenized it).

3. Wild clay can be made stronger by the addition of volcanic ash. To make it more plastic add ball clay.

4. The wild clay should be divided into smaller pieces (preferably while still moist so as not to created dust) and soaked under water for a few days to a week.

5. The soaked clay should be made into a thin slurry by kneading with hands under water or by using a drill fitted with a paint mixer. If a small amount of clay is being processed, then it can be run through a blender.

6. The clay slurry should then be forced through a fine mesh colander (if there is a small supply) to remove debris, rocks, and coarse sand. If processing a large supply then it might be better to use a sheet of wire mesh screen fixed onto a wooden frame.

7. Strain into a plastic bucket or bin underneath the wire mesh. I sometimes use a stiff paint brush to force the clay through the mesh.

8. The slurry should then be allowed to settle in the bucket for a few days to allow the water to rise to the surface, where it can be siphoned off. I find a turkey baster very useful for this.

9. The thickened slurry should then be spread out on a plaster bat to dry.

10. Roll up the clay when sufficiently dry and wedge.

November 2, 2014

The Hypoallergenic Purse

Sometimes there are gifts that truly brighten a day. Yesterday I received a package from my sister. The contents were hand sewn fabric purses and wallets. Instead of metallic snaps, buttons or zippers, the purses and wallets closed with velcro. With no metals, leathers, or adhesives with allergens in them, these were truly hypoallergenic purses. Even the plastic button was sewn over with fabric. Finally, an object I can use on a daily basis without having to wear protective clothing or immediately wash my hands after touching!

The actual purses are shown above. In keeping with my art/allergen/restoration projects I incorporated the design into a drawing of two women looking at pictures in a museum. The pencil sketch was initially made from life as I observed two women looking at an expressionistic painting of two women. They were both standing in a similar way - holding purses behind their backs. I just tweaked these a bit to match the fabric purse gifted to me.

This drawing was completed with water soluble ink color pencils that I had received earlier as a gift from my sister. It seemed fitting at this time to complete a small art work of two women holding fabric purses. One more brick in my wall against multiple allergens has been placed - the replacement of the leather purse with a fabric one.

October 29, 2014

Max Ernst, Birds and Barrier Socks

The last few days of art making has been a synthesis of the observed present, the remembered past and the anticipation of future events. In reviewing my sketch books of former years, I came across a sketch I had made of an odd rock formation. It looked almost like two long necked birds facing away from each other. I recall at the time I made this drawing that the bird like shapes reminded me of the surrealist painter, Max Ernst. Abstract birds were a predominant feature of his drawings and paintings, hearkening back to his own memories of a pet parrot from his childhood. I was inspired to complete this drawing in charcoals and pastels shortly after reviewing a biographical film of Max Ernst. His drawings now fresh in my mind, I was able to add textural details to my work similar to the Ernst rubbings and fastidious collages.
After completing the birds underneath the arch in this drawing, there remained the problem of a vertical blank area on the right side. Enter contemporary experience. I am still in the slow process of replacing allergens in my home and on my person with allergy free materials. The next solution to the allergy problem will be a few pairs of barrier socks from Alpretec. Realizing that a truly allergy free support shoe most likely does not exist, I decided to go with barriers. With that purchase, one more brick will be set in my wall against myriad allergies. The white booties that I ordered had an interesting shape to them. So I drew in five impressions of white barrier socks on the right side of my abstract bird drawing. In the drawing the socks take on an almost fossil like appearance - very much in keeping with the original stone fossil that inspired this work.
For those who have been searching in vain for solutions to shoe and sock allergies and are considering a barrier solution, the web address for Alpretec is: The company was founded in 1997, specializing in the design and production of medical textiles, obtaining a patent for DermaSilk therapeutic clothing in 2001. Their customer service is excellent and they do ship to the United States. They do not yet have a distributor in the United States but perhaps that will change. I will write again on this subject after their product is on my feet for a while instead of just in my drawings. By that time I should know a little more about Barrier Socks and DermaSilk. For now this exists as potential mana from heaven for the relief of shoe and sock allergies.
The solution in general to multiple environmental and chemical allergies seems to be elimination when possible, avoidance when a choice is in the offing, and sealing off with barriers when the first two aren’t options.

October 25, 2014

Fair Returns

The season of the state and county fairs has concluded. This year, health issues so preoccupied my time that I was unable to attend either the state or the local county fair. But I was able to send work to both these venues. The state fair yielded no honors or awards. I have no problem with that because in years past I won a Best of Show Award, First Place Award, Second Place Award and numerous merit and purchase awards. I suppose I had my fair share of prizes.

I did win first place in miniature art at the Orangeburg County Fair. There were only two entries in that category so at least second place was a sure bet.

The larger painting that I submitted to the County Fair came out without accolades or prizes but it was a nice painting to have worked on and I am glad I completed it. This painting, reproduced above, was a remake of an earlier painting of a scene at the Tarn Gorges in the South of France. The previous painting was made with an overlay of thin washes so that it looked more like a watercolor than an oil painting. In my remake, I made the paint more opaque for a thicker, more substantial surface. The end result was something that looks a bit too impressionistic for my taste but is still an improvement over my earlier attempt at the scene. I do like the shadow of the gate at the base of the painting and the large expanse of subtle shades of green in the middle. The haphazard network of tree limbs satisfies me as well. For now, the painting hangs in my sunroom overtop a marble table set with a large pot au confit jar. This large ceramic piece was something I had painstakingly carted in a large sack ( in lieu of a carry on) through several airports to get it back home from France. It looks at home now with a this painting hovering above.

October 23, 2014

Socks and Crocs

The hunt for allergy-free footware has been ongoing. This search is now melding with my concomitant project of revising/restoring sketches and drawings from my travel notebook. My most recent intriguing finding was a pencil and pen sketch of an actor in a play that I made some years ago while watching a live performance at the Trustus Theater in Columbia, South Carolina. The actor was dressed in a woman’s shoes and tights. He donned a gold blouse, I recall and a wig of long dreadlocks. During his performance, he histrionically snapped his fingers. I caught him on paper with his right hand raised about to make a snap. In completing this drawing, I added lace details to the shoes and drew a long sock dangling from his right hand. I gave him a long sock to celebrate my finding hypoallergenic socks made of bamboo and cotton. There was most likely some spandex in these, however, for my characteristic rash appeared at the top when I wore them, but the rest of my leg and foot were fine and comfortable. All cotton socks with no elastic in them whatsoever are on my horizon. For these I envision two wads of material clustering around my ankles. No rash, no cling.

Another source of comfort were my second pair of crocs. The woman’s flat didn’t work out too well and were sent back. But the Baya slides were fine, allergy free and comfortable. As sandals, they are not supportive enough for problem feet to walk, run, or exercise outdoors but they make for an allergy free sojourn around the house. Good enough for now.

Should fellow allergy sufferers wish to try Crocs, I have found, as have many others, that sizes run large and that one would do well to order a full size down. My slides were a half size down and still a bit large.

October 21, 2014

The Hunt for the Allergy Free Support Shoe

Last night I completed my drawing of a woman glancing down rather forlornly at shoes. This was influenced by my search for the hypoallergenic shoe with hypoallergenic insoles that also provides good support for problem feet. For various reasons, this beast may not exactly exist. What is left is a step down into using what may be the least provoking of materials. My search for latex, neoprene free insoles did not pan out. The insoles would have to be made almost completely of GORE tex which would not offer stability and support. So the next best solution may be neoprene with a synthetic barrier cover.

As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, there are still small companies that make hand stitched shoes with leather soles. But cost aside, there are a few draw backs with these. Many of the higher end brands do not make wide width shoes. I am speculating that this is because the companies are making a well crafted product that looks good. A shoe made in a width that would fit my feet would not be pretty. Also, many of the hand stitched shoes that are sturdy and supportive of feet come in styles for men only. The women’s lines tend to be mocassin. But one solution here is to find a small men’s shoe that has an equivalent in a woman’s size. There are size charts on line that help with this conversion. But since sizes vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, I found that the best solution is to take measurements of your foot (see and provide these to the shoe makers to be sure. Depending on the brand, the sizes to fit my measurements vary all the way from 6 to 8 ½"! Rancourt shoes has men’s hand stitched in a size that could fit women so I’m told. I haven’t nailed that down to specifics yet, but the men’s boots could easily double for women’s.

But even with a shoe that is hand stitched the problem of the insole will emerge again. So what to do? Barrier socks, and keeping feet and shoes as dry as possible seems to be the answer - a decidedly low tech solution.

October 19, 2014

Allergic to the Shoes on One's Feet - The Continuing Search

The crocs shoes did not work out. They were too loose, made my feet chaff and had virtually no breath ability. They had no support, which I already knew before ordering given they were slip ons, but I thought better of using them even for just walking around the house. I sent them back to the company on Friday. I will still try their shower sandals, which for some reason have been stuck at a post office in Atlanta these past two weeks. Something to investigate for sure.

The Gabor shoes did not work out either. Although a very stylish and well made shoe, they are really more of a dress shoe with their narrow width and low heel. They might be fine for someone with narrow feet that aren’t fraught with orthopedic problems. But with feet that are extra wide with a weak right ankle and right tendonitis they were decidedly impractical for me. I sent them back on Friday.

The hunt for the hypoallergenic shoe that will also accommodate my frail pronate duck feet continues. I went back to my allergy list that I obtained from the test results and wrote out the list of chemicals found in shoes that I am allergic to. The list was seventy-one items long! This would be a challenge indeed. It soon became apparent that I would have to either resort to shoes that are still hand sewn, thereby skipping the use of the resins and adhesives that I am allergic to, or find a good support shoe that has the least amount of the offending chemicals in it and find good barrier socks and a latex free orthotic insole.

There still are companies in the United States that are small, family run businesses that craft hand sewn shoes. They are pricey, generally beginning in the upper $400 range for one pair. The less expensive hand sewn alternatives that some of these companies make are mocassins. The companies I had found thus far are; Rancourt shoes, Sebago, The Eastland shoe company, and the Feit shoe company. Such beautiful shoes these companies make! I have no problem with their price - the price reflects what the value of a handcrafted shoe is. My problem is my budget. But these may be something worth saving up for some day. I only chatted with the folks at Sebago and they were delightful. I may call the rest just to talk briefly about their craft. The art of shoe making in general interests me as an artist, but in particular because I am descended from a long line of Welsh shoe makers on my mother’s side. Talking with these shoe makers is like a homecoming. Since my foot problems preclude the use of a mocassin I would be obliged to purchase a very pricey shoe indeed.

The stop gap measure became one of finding something more economical and expedient for the near future - especially since I am trying to make do with a makeshift bubble-wrap insole of my own design that I have been using to replace the latex insoles that I was allergic to. The tiny explosions coming from my shoes as I walk make walking into public, government run facilities prohibitive. Bubble wrap insoles aren’t working out too well. I did find latex free, EVA made insoles from The Insole Store which will ship out tomorrow.  I started the above ink and color pencil drawing of a shoe while I was waiting on-line with them.

Barrier socks, made for people with allergies to latex and leather adhesives, are available from Alpretec, manufactured in Italy. They cost $65.00 each and they do ship from Italy. They are unfortunately not manufactured anywhere in the U.S. Perhaps that may change one day as the demand for allergy free good increases. I will contact a few allergy supply stores and suggest that they consider having these available if possible.

After countless hours of searching, I did find a 6" high boot made by LL Bean in Maine that was only $99.00 ($89.00 if you get their credit card) with a sewn leather on the top and polypropylene on the bottom. The sole is rubber but that may simply be unavoidable in just about any shoe today -although some hand sewns have leather soles for a premium price. The interior of the boot is lined with allergy free materials. So I decided to have a go with this.

The customer service at LL Bean was excellent and very helpful. To my surprise they did not shun the question about the chemicals used in their adhesives and will compile a list that will be ready in two weeks. My guess is that it will have at least some of the seventy-one aforementioned chemicals on it. But with so many internal barriers that might not be too much of a problem. Besides, after reading through my shoe allergy literature more carefully, I found that shoe allergies can be staved off to an extent by keeping shoes and feet as dry as possible. The allergens from the chemicals used in the adhesives leach out with moisture. I found to my dismay that the boots I ordered from LL Bean are out of stock and won’t be shipped out until December 4 when they have a supply again. Good thing my orthotics are on the way as my bubble wrap won’t hold out much longer! And I do believe it is making me itchy.

October 15, 2014

Allergic to the Shoes on One's Feet....And Everything Else for That Matter

This autumn was supposed to be a "fall without agendas." This was because I had decided to concentrate once again in finding answers to the nervous system, eye and muscle problems that changed my life so dramatically. Illness removed me from the world of being a productive and basically healthy teaching artist to that strange underworld of the disabled. Firm answers were not forthcoming, only theories - some legitimate others quacky.

Things began to change when I pulled out all my records and did some painstaking research. On the basis of my research I requested more professional investigation into the field of allergy and immunology. It was determined that I had autoimmune illness but determining precisely what caused that and what to do about it is still a work in progress. What did emerge in greater focus was a veritable plethora of environmental allergies, which I already knew about. But what I didn’t know about was the legion of chemical allergies - upwards of thirty or more commonly used chemicals in the manufacturing, agricultural and medical industries. Each of these had lists of ten or more chemicals that cross react and several alternative names for each. It was overwhelming.

For my next entries, I will address some possible solutions I have found in my research because I am certain there are others in need of help for multiple allergies. And it gives me a great excuse for making new art work - like my drawing of toxic shoes.

I began the long search for allergy free materials from the ground up - starting with the shoes on my feet. Shoes turned out to be the most problematic allergy free item to locate. Almost all contain latex products, to which I am allergic. If they do not contain latex they contain alternative rubber products to which I am also allergic. The leather in shoes is glued with adhesives I am allergic to. The insoles are often sprayed with metallic substances to which I am also allergic.

After weeks of searching I did finally come up with some solutions, each with it own pros and cons. It was an interesting, albeit time-consuming journey. The most difficult part of this search was getting information from manufacturers about what exactly is in their shoes. For adhesives, the answers to my queries ranged from "don’t know" to "can’t find out," to "that changes monthly depending upon availability" to "that is proprietary information." It soon became clear that finding out about the actual adhesives used in shoes would be an impossibility. I found only one company that claimed not to use adhesives with known allergens in them. That was Gabor shoes, made in Portugal. I will have to take their word for it. These are available through Nordstrom Shoes. The one company I found in the United States that manufactures shoes without adhesives is Crocs. Their shoes are made from an EVA composite material that is molded as one unit. ( The actual composition guessed it... proprietary information). I learned about Crocs from my dentist and from my sister. Customer service at Crocs was excellent! There are just two drawbacks to Crocs: 1. The use of EVA was apparently banned in Europe as a possible carcinogen 2. The shoes don’t offer much in the way of support. But I decided to get them anyway as slip ons for the shower and slip ons as light dress shoes. They fit fine. I am more concerned about autoimmune illness and allergies at this point than cancers anyway.

Now for the insoles. These are problematic as well. Some products that are touted as allergen free in fact are most likely not. Ortholite, for instance, used in insoles in many shoes is actually a rubber amalgam and therefore probably not safe for people allergies to latex, rubber products, or chemicals used in the rubber processing industry. Cork insoles are not pure cork (it would be too unstable and inflexible) but a cork and rubber composite. New Balance does offer insoles made from Gore tex, which is a material so inert that it is used in medicine as a tissue replacement. Poron insoles are another option for the allergic-to-shoes crowd. Many of these soles, I found were sprayed with Medzap, an anti-bacterial which may contain metal that I am most likely allergic to. Lost soles all those. One company that has been very helpful was The Insole Store, which has a great customer service and a shop online. I’m still working with them on insoles. (Update on that ...couldn't find a definitively allergy free insole)  As luck would have it though, the Gabor shoes I received today have plenty of support without the added insole. (Update on that, they don't have quite enough support for tendonitis).  But I am still going to obtain an allergy free pair to use as an interface in shoes I already have, as I need something to use as a work shoe. These will need to have a pair or two of socks "segregated" from my "clean" socks used only in the allergy free shoes. This is because I read from my allergy warning list that I am obliged to discard all my socks and start anew. Reason being, that allergens from adhesives and rubber are absorbed into the socks over time and do not wash out. Yikes! All the more reason to try to get the shoe and insole allergy question right the first time. Dreadful to think of having to throw out all one’s socks a second or third time.

If someone wants to be a purist and obtain shoes with no adhesives whatsoever, there are small companies that make shoes the old fashioned way, with hand stitching. I have my shoes, but I may look in to these companies anyway - just out of curiosity.

Many thanks to the shoe companies, Crocs, New Balance, Nordstrom, The Insole Store,, Foot Solutions, Finn Comfort, who aided in my search.