"Frankly, I think the blog is the best one devoted to shoemaking on the Internet."

D W Frommer II, Bootmaker

Friday, 31 July 2015

Finishing and Pattern Making for Bespoke Shoes

Welcome back shoe fans and here we are celebrating another successful pair of shoes. Jenna has been an evening class student for the past couple of terms but is relocating to Switzerland. After plenty of sole stitching homework she returned to London and rejoined us in the workshop last week just to get them finished. 

And finish them she did. Don't they look lovely?

Congratulations and hope that Andy enjoys them!

This week has been all about pattern making with Fiona Campbell taking a keen group through the foundations of creating a good bespoke pattern.

Unusually there were more women than men on the course this summer
Grant, Aijaz and Karina watching Fiona's demonstration closely
The standard, upper and lining patterns taking shape
A break in proceedings
Layered pattern pieces - beautiful in their own right
Fiona showing the techniques of pattern making
The Valentinas (a lovely name and we had two in the class), Matt, Barbara, Grant, Aijaz and Karina watching Fiona
Barbara and the group working on their patterns
Aijaz and Matt working on their patterns.
It was lovely to see Aijaz again - he is one of our New York shoemaking alumni!

Next week the intensive course gets under way when Matt, Grant and Valentina will be joined by Lisbet and Liesbeth (could get confusing!) making a pair of Derby shoes by hand. Looking forward to it guys and well done on a hard working week of pattern making!

Until next week, happy shoemaking!

Friday, 24 July 2015

Repairing Squeaky Shoes

Every now and then, things can go wrong with a pair of our bespoke shoes. It is rare, but it does happen

We recently saw a customer who we hadn't seen for 4 years. The good news was that he wanted to order two new pairs. The less good news was that his first pair had developed a squeak - the right shoe to be precise. He asked if we could repair it. The answer was yes we can... and here is how.

The first thing to find out is where it was squeaking. So, after careful bending with the shoe at my ear, I ascertained that the squeak was at the toe.

Shoes can develop a squeak for various reasons, but the basic one is two components rubbing together. In this case it was the insole, the sole and the filler. What it might have been is an area of fluff on either leather component which we normally skive off. But even a practised eye can be deceived by an insole/sole that looks dense and solid.

If the squeak is in the waist, it is usually the shank which is shifting. Again, it is important to glue it in well if it is leather or stitch it in securely if it is metal. I've never used wooden shanks, but I imagine they are glued?

Finally, if the squeak is located in the heel, it is because you haven't roughed the skin side of one of the lifts and it had cracked a bit and is moving.

Squeaks can also be caused by a crack in the skin side of a piece of leather (toe puffs, stiffeners, side linings etc) which is why we glass or rough the surface when we are making the shoes.

Now to solutions.

In this case, with the squeak at the toe, what we did was to cut a section of the sole stitches at the offending area and then, with a magic syringe, inject a whole load of contact adhesive or rubber solution into the space between the sole and the insole. As much as will fit without it squeezing out of the gap.

I always insert a screwdriver into the cavity to make sure the glue will fill all the space. And stand the shoe up so that gravity helps a little. Once the glue is in, leave it to dry over a few days with a clip holding the seam together - the glue will glue it shut if you leave it to go tacky for 10 minutes or so.

Once it is dry, you can re-stitch the sole and then re-finish the edge as best you can using the same fudge wheel and edge iron.

If it is the shank, you can try the same solution. A square waist is no problem, but a bevelled waist can prove a little trickier, especially if it is a metal shank. You have to go in from the fore part because you shouldn't cut the stitches in the waist.

Squeaky heels require a rebuild - you have to take them apart until you find the lift that squeaks and then build them back up. This is time consuming and laborious, so prevention is always best.

To avoid squeaky heels:
- make sure you rough the skin side of your lifts well.

To avoid squeaky soles:
- skive off any fluff from the insole once you have welted
- skive off all of the fluff from the flesh side of the sole before you stitch
- secure shanks well with glue and/or stitches depending on what type you are using

This repair worked perfectly and the shoe no longer squeaks. We always like to return shoes looking better than ever, so we also gave the shoes a service, adding new top pieces....

...And toe plates to give the soles a few more years of life.

So our loyal customer has a well serviced pair of shoes.

Interestingly, the leather is not calf, but sheep. A special kind of sheep which our tanner in Scotland calls hair sheep. It is buttery soft and only very lightly grained, so looks a little like calf. And it makes for a very light, flexible shoe, but also seems to last very well by the look of these shoes.

That's all for now. Until next week, when we'll be catching up with our Pattern Making for Bespoke Shoes class, happy shoemaking!

Friday, 17 July 2015

10,000 miles for shoemaking

Welcome back shoe fans and here's the promised update on Olivia's shoes. 

Olivia has been with us for the last fortnight for some one-to-one training. (Don't worry, she didn't do a 20,000 mile round trip just for shoemaking, although as you can see, the results were well worth it. She's had a busy few weeks going from the very elegant role of being a glamorous bridesmaid to the slightly more physical, of learning handsewn shoemaking).

Anyway, here are the fruits of her labours. 

Realising just how important finishing is...and how much it is worth spending time doing well
And it's quite a satisfying activity!
A good pair of straight, matching heels
Matching toes...
And even time for a military shine!
Capturing the results of all of her hard work...quite right too! 
There were nerves all around as she put them on.
Would they be too small as she feared? 
No! Relief all around. In fact, as Olivia has slim feet we inserted a full sock
with a foam forepart to take up some of the room. Then they were a perfect fit!
And not only did Olivia make a fine pair of shoes, but we were treated to a box full of
chocolatey Mast Brothers delights at the end. Yum!
It's been a great two weeks and we look forward to seeing Olivia's next pair of shoes. She headed back on the long flight back to Melbourne with a making pack, lasts and uppers all set to make these beauties...a pair of plain black Oxfords.


Until next week, happy shoemaking!

Friday, 10 July 2015

New bespoke shoes: Crocodile loafers and Norwegian welted walking boots

Welcome back blog fans, with Olivia in the throws of sole stitching and then heel building we've had the chance to capture two new bespoke commissions that are ready for delivery. The first are the croc loafers that James has been making...

Note the 'shover' shoetrees to protect the vamp but to avoid any stretch at the heel

And I finished the Norwegian welted walking boots I have been making. This handsome pair are finished with natural polish and a ridged rubber sole.

'Slightly deep toe spring so the feet don't get too tired
Three pairs of brass eyelets and three pairs of hooks

Sturdy 5/16" soles

Gently rounded toes
Strong, integral boot tugs 
Photos of Olivia's shoes next week - top pieces are going on today so it'll be finishing, finishing, finishing from here on in. Until then, happy shoemaking!

Friday, 3 July 2015

Companions, Compagnons and Chateaux

Greetings shoemaking enthusiasts...it's been another busy week and a warm one! You know how we Brits love to talk about the weather, but for once it is well worth a discussion - 30+ degrees. So we have only been able to keep making and teaching with our air conditioner in full swing!

Olivia and Alistair in air-con comfort
(We think that the weather may have come with Olivia, who is studying with us for a few weeks on a visit from Melbourne Australia, but she assures us that the weather there is just as changeable as here)! 

And we have had hot dogs to consider too...

After much pleading, Olivia relented and brought the delightful Woody (see above) in for a visit. She and her partner are both house / dog sitting for friends, so we jumped at the opportunity of a 'studio dog' (even if he is only borrowed for a day or two!) Sigh, one day....

We were also delighted to welcome a visit from closer to home - France. Prescilia is an award-winning (Silver Medal, L'Un Des Meilleurs Apprentis de France) and determined, aspiring shoemaker who is taking part in the Compagnons du Devoir et du Tour de France

Braced heel
She is juggling her apprenticeship training with working full time and meeting the demanding standards of the Compagnons... truly impressive! The Compagnons is an organisation of craftsmen and artisans dating from the Middle Ages who strive to combine tradition and modernity and to share knowledge. It is the original way to learn a trade and an approach we emulate. The Compagnonage is a lifestyle that gives importance to community life, quality work, travelling to improve technical skills and knowledge and an openness in sharing that knowledge. 
Ducks from beneath
Similar to the German journeymen, the Compagnons still operates in more than 49 countries and covers many trades. Participants undertake an apprenticeship and produce a piece of work to demonstrate their commitment before embarking on their own Tour de France, now a world tour, where Aspirants work and train with many different masters and companies. The tour not only helps them to develop their skills, but to experience life and to develop their character too. At the end of the Tour the Aspirants produce a masterpiece as testimony to the techniques that they have learnt.

The 'ducks'
Prescilia shared some fascinating insights into her own training - in France and soon in Germany - and the wonderful 'ducks' that are used to practise welting and heel building. She is a fine example of an aspirant and we look forward to hearing more of her journey to becoming a master shoemaker.

Nouvelle livrée du Château des Fougères.. (4)

Continuing the Gallic theme, I spent last weekend in the beautiful town of Trouville - at Chateau des Fougeres to celebrate the wedding of footwear designer (and I am proud to say, my nephew), Jawad Braye and his lovely wife Jessica. As you can see, Jawad rocks a slick wedding suit and designs super-cool shoes


On that happy note, until next week, happy shoemaking!