Friday, 17 October 2014


Once again, we welcome you, new readers and old, to our shoemaking blog.

This last two weeks has seen us teaching our October Intensive Shoemaking Course. Today is the penultimate day and the students are rasping their heels, so good progress has been made.

Being popular and well known shoemakers (in our own heads, at least), we occasionally get given the odd bit of shoemaking kit. And a few weeks ago, we were given a pair of long boot trees

Initially, these appeared to be much like the ones we use for our riding boots.

Except that when we opened them up, they had a curious hollowed out middle with a spring loaded section and small metal post which acts as a guide and puts some tension into the trees. We thought they were both curious and ingenious. I spoke to our last maker and he said he had seen them before but never made a pair. Apparently they make them a bit lighter too which is good.

And this leads on to trees in general. We always include a pair of bespoke trees with our bespoke shoes and boots.

These have a few functions, the main ones being reducing creasing on the vamp and wicking away moisture from the inside of the shoe.

These are our typical shoe trees

They are hinged and hollowed out underneath for lightness. These have been varnished, but normally, they are untreated so that they absorb moisture from the inside of the shoes.

You push the fore part in first and the close down the back part and this puts a stretch on the shoe which pulls the vamp back into shape and helps to make the creasing on the break better. The leather shrinks back into its original shape better.

They are made by the last maker who made the lasts for the shoes in question. When the shoes are finished, we pull the lasts; put in socks and then send both the shoes and the lasts back to the last maker who will make the trees.

Obviously the majority of people won't have bespoke trees, but bought ones serve the same purpose and are highly recommended for good quality leather shoes.

When it comes to ankle boots, the trees change slightly and come in 3 parts.

These perform the same functions as the shoe lasts but are fitted slightly differently - you place the fore part in; then the back piece is fitted; and then the middle piece goes in and is wedge shaped and stretches the boots to their original shape.

The last type of tree we make are the long boot trees, for example, for riding boots, like the ones above.

These are four piece, with a foot part and three leg parts.

The foot part has something like a dovetail joint on it and when it has been put in place, you slide the front part of the leg onto it and it locks into place. You then put the heel section in and slide the wedge shaped middle section down into the boots.

For riding boots, these trees are really essential. The boots are made from reverse calf which is the suede side of the leather which is dressed and waterproofed in the tannery to look like regular calf. The advantage of this leather is that when you are riding through vegetation and your boots get scratched by thorns, you can sleek it back to its original state with a sleeking bone. So the boots keep their appearance for much longer. Once regular leather is scratched, it stays scratched!
However this makes the reverse calf less water resistant, so it can get a bit water logged. This is where the trees become important.
The last maker must make the trees to match the leg measures of the customer and they must fit tightly into the boots so that when they are in place, the wet leather can shrink back onto the trees and keep the shape of the boots correct.
This is very important because riding boots have no fastenings, so must be tight enough to stay on, but loose enough to get your feet in. Quite tricky!

These trees are made of tulip wood which is both light and beautiful. They take about 40 hours to make and add significantly to the cost of the boots.

So, all in, trees are very important for the longevity of all footwear and we thoroughly recommend using them. And they are beautiful objects in their own right, at least to old shoemakers like us.

That's it for now, guys. Until next week, happy shoemaking!

Friday, 10 October 2014

Strength of a shoemaker

We're delighted to say that the work at No.1 Savile Row is finally finished, the store is fully open and looking resplendent. 

It is masculine, warm and very welcoming with flagstones, glass and oak displays and strong, graphite walls...the perfect complement to Gieves' autumn Highland collection.

Inspired by our new surroundings, we've developed a capsule collection of new bespoke samples starting with a simple Wholecut in Chestnut calf, an Oxford in French Navy crocodile and a Loafer in tobacco suede with lizard skin 'lantern' tassels. A spectator in slate blue canvas and chestnut calf will be added soon.

Perhaps most exciting for us has been discovering our own signature toe shape - seen above in the Oxford shoe. It is taken from an original '30s last and has a distinct 'snub' nose. Look out for more shoes with this toe shape from us in the future.

With our autumn course entering the 'welting phase' there have been mutterings of machines and more than a few questions about just how strong you need to be a shoemaker. Is it a case of physical strength or tool technique?

The shoemaker's 'butterfly'

In truth it is a mixture of both. Historically boys and young men made shoes in small workshops in almost every town, proving size isn't everything! Today's hand sewn shoemakers, men and women, come in all shapes and sizes and, an enterprising bunch, they continue to find their own way around the centuries-old techniques from....

- standing up to work at a bench
- using a strap to hold their work in their laps
- welting and stitching using cut-off gardening or cycling gloves
- sanding and finishing using machines (yes, I said it, machines)

I thought I would put my strength to test for charity and a few weeks ago I rowed London's Great River Race - 21.7 miles (about 32km) along the river Thames. It was great fun, but also proved to me that shoe making at the workbench gives the best core and upper body workout! I felt great and had zero aches and pains.

Lawrence, me, Thomas, Joel, Ian, Klaus, Nick, Rob, Victor and Svend (taking the pic).
a great mix of nationalities British, Danish, Swedish, German, half American, half Indian, half Thai & Russian
We did it in 3 hours 5 minutes, missing the fastest time for our veteran class by just 15 minutes and only hitting one boat even though we had done no training and only five of us had ever actually been in the boat together before.

Passing the Houses of Parliament - yes that's me at the front!

We're going for the fastest time next year, so I'll be training hard at my making bench. Until next week happy shoemaking!

Friday, 3 October 2014

A Celebration

Welcome back once more, dear readers, to your window onto our world. A world of craftsmanship, creativity, passion and hard work. With a simple target - handsome shoes for satisfied customers. Sounds simple anyway, and in some ways, it is. A clear goal to work to, but, in our ten years in business, we have learned that the goal is not a static point at which you arrive, but rather movable point forever in front of you which edges ahead in direct relation to what you achieve in your business. This is an ever evolving landscape and we relish the challenge.

You might wonder about the expansive opening to this week's post. Well, while conducting a regular review of the blog statistics, we noticed that the hit counter has reached half a million page views which, to our eyes, is a significant achievement.

Apart from being astounded by the success of the blog, we are also humbled and delighted. We must thank all of you who read it; learn from it; make shoes from it; comment on it; and promote it. All of you around the world, from Eritrea to Japan, Finland to Argentina. This really is a global community of people who care about handsewn shoemaking.

Happily, over the past several years, we have noticed a huge groundswell of interest in our craft and we like to think that this blog plays a small part in that movement. From those of you who aspire to become shoemakers to those who simply enjoy reading about our shoemaking techniques, we are proud to have given our knowledge freely.

Of course, we benefit from writing it - our courses have become very popular (book early to avoid disappointment!) and the interest in the craft we generate eventually filters down to customers and new orders. But our prime motivation is promoting handsewn shoemaking and sharing our skills with those who seek this knowledge.
Just last night at an event called Best of Brittania, I met two owners of new British shoe brands who recognised me and said they read the blog regularly and had learned from it. This makes us really proud.

So, in a spirit of celebration, there follows a personal selection of Carréducker's"greatest hits".

In at number ten is this classic black wholecut  shoe with red kid lining, made in 2006. Love the toe shape and the timeless elegance.

Number nine is our electric blue suede Chelsea boots made in 2010 - enough said.

Number eight is the Special, the Carréducker Extreme Brogue boot with added tweed, made in 2008 - love it!

Number seven. Our pared down tan loafer, transformed by an expert French patina artist, 2009

Riding high at six is our Mayfair Derby, chisel toe and wingcap, 2012. I love Derby shoes

Number five is mostly here because of the colours - grey suede and light blue kid, 2011

Number four is a ladies' shoe, the Dietrich. Love the retro vibe and the purple piping, 2009

Number three is a recent gem, again a Derby and a great colour combination. And they are mine to wear and to love! 2014

Number two is the original version of the previous entry - never bettered in my mind. 2009

And so to number one, an old favourite, the Saddle Boot, this one in blac and antiqued tan box calf. We have made a lot of these over the years and it was one of the first boots we made, 2004.

And that, as they say is a wrap. Once again, a special thanks to you, the readers. Here's to another half a million hits!

Until next week, happy shoemaking!

Friday, 26 September 2014

A Good Break

This week has been a busy one of fittings and adjustments for a client with enlarged big toe joints and a nerve problem in his right foot, but not his left. This means that both lasts have prominent fittings to accommodate the joints and the right shoe needs to be wider than the left at the vamp to ensure that the toes are not cramped.

Naturally the shoes still need to look like a pair, so we have used felt to pad out the left shoe, between the lining and the upper, so that they look similar. 

It has also been an exercise in fine tuning the fit, to create the room needed at the toes and at the big toe joint, without inadvertently creating bad break. Break - where leather folds and creases against itself - is a vital consideration in footwear where the vamp folds and creases as you walk.

Bad break is where there is too much leather in the vamp, creating deep creases which dig into the foot when it flexes or where the shoe is not the right length for the foot; too short and the vamp will break too far forward, too long a shoe and the vamp will break too close to the quarters and laces. Good break is tight, shallow creasing across the vamp behind the toes.

To make good break on this client's shoes, we lowered the fore part of the last diagonally from the big toe joint across to the outside feather and at the toes. We also soaked the uppers and lasted them mellow, so that they shrunk down onto the lasts. The result, tight creases and a good looking and accommodating fit.   

Obviously well fitting shoe trees are also an important part of the picture. They help to smooth out the creases in the vamp when the shoes are not being worn and prevent dirt and moisture from building up in the creases.

There is a great post on the Horween blog if you would like to find out more about leather properties and 'break'. Until next week happy shoe making!

Thursday, 18 September 2014

An Experiment

Welcome back once more, dear readers, to the wonderful world of bespoke shoes. Aren't we lucky to have found such an absorbing trade? We hope you have had a productive week and have had your hands on some oak bark pit tanned cow hide - a treat for anyone, if only they knew!

We have been working to prepare a travelling exhibition which will feature two of our shoes and some assorted tools, leathers and sundry shoemaking  paraphanalia. It is run by Fife Contemporary Art and Craft and will be touring public libraries in Scotland over the next year. Our shoes will be housed in two Craft Pods along with a description of our craft and something about Carréducker. Looking forward to seeing some pictures of the launch which happens on the 23rd of September.

Onwards and upwards. While making a pair of bottle green oiled nubuck stalking boots (as you do), I had a bit of an idea. This does happen occasionally and I wanted to try it out. BTW Horween make the oiled nubuck and it's really luscious, waxy and alive - check it out

I wanted to insert a midsole made of a thin piece of Topy (brand name) sticker sole - a synthetic sheet 2mm thick. This would create a thin black line between the natural welt and natural sole and would look quite stylish

And here's the problem. Our understanding was always that you can't hand stitch these synthetic materials by hand because when you pull the awl out of the hole, the hole closes up - unlike the leather where the awl actually leaves a hole because the leather compresses when the awl goes in.

When a customer asks for a synthetic sole (Dainite, commando, Ridgeway or such) from us (it does occasionally happen), we last and welt the shoes as normal, except that we welt round the seat as well.

See this blog post for details of how we do it.

At this point we send the shoes to a company which stitches on the desired sole with a sole stitching machine.

Now I had never tried out the theory explained above and being a doubting kind of person, I wanted to test it.

So, here's what happened

The synthetic sandwich was made

And the awl was put through.

The bristle was then inserted and as suspected, it didn't come out the other side. The theory was proved correct. To be honest, I did push the awl through so far and wiggled it that I was able to put one bristle through, but the second was impossible.

The next step is to find a way of doing it. The only thing we can think of is to make a hollow awl which actually punches a whole in the synthetic material, much like what they use for body piercing. Something which takes out a little piece of the rubber.

Sounds like a project. Any tool makers out there?

Or, dear readers, is there another way? Do you know how to do it and make an old shoemaker happy? Let us know and we will be forever grateful.

Till next week (in hope and anticipation), happy shoemaking!