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

D W Frommer II, Bootmaker

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!

Friday, 26 June 2015

A Shoemaker's Worst Nightmare

This a sad post from a desolate shoemaker. I had to do a terrible thing which still makes me upset.

I had to take a pair of shoes apart which I had only finished three weeks before. Perfectly good bespoke shoes with a significant flaw - they didn't fit

We have a customer who had a pair of shoes from us in 2010 and he came back with his Carreducker shoes on and said he wanted two more pairs. So we checked his current pair and he said they were fine and were comfortable. Perfect we thought, we like customers like that

So we decided on a style and leathers; made some uppers; and made one of the pairs of shoes. But when he came into the shop to collect them, they slipped off his feet very badly. I could get a finger into the back of his heel. Very strange and very upsetting.

So I adjusted the last and it was such a lot to shrink on that we decided just to make them again. We could have tried all sorts of tricks like putting in extra stiffener; padding the tongues; shrinking the heels, but it was just too much space to reduce

Hence having to take them apart - we wanted to re-use the upper.

This blog is usually about making shoes, but this week it's about destroying them. And believe me, it takes a lot less time!

First you cut the welt stitches at the toe

And continue back along the sole.

Cut through the waist stitches too.

And then yank off the heel - this takes some doing as the heel is very strongly attached to the shoe.

Take off the welt.

Take out the stiffeners and puffs and your done. 20 hours work undone in 5. This is where I might be tempted to use an emoticon but I will resist manfully.

So the lesson is, dear readers, people have weird feet and they are not to be trusted!

On a brighter note, we had some photos this week from a Belgian theatre producer who bought some of our slippers to use in an outdoor stage show. And here they are - it looks like a romp!
They are the brown slippers seen in the foreground in the first image.

Until next week, happy shoemaking

Friday, 19 June 2015

De Montfort University Footwear Degree Show

Last Friday I was lucky enough to attend the De Montfort University Footwear Degree Show where the third year students on the footwear course finish the course and present a final project in a group show.

I was invited by Kevin Guidford who runs the department and by one of the students, Danielle Cosgrove - thank you to you both

The footwear department at De Montfort has a really great programme where the students actually get their hands dirty and make shoes. It is very practical and less design led than many of the other courses here in the UK. Their making room is very impressive and is alive with creative energy. And they have an 85% employment rate which is excellent.

So on a wet and humid Friday evening I arrived in Leicester (pronounced less-ta) and made my way to the exhibition space.

There were around 30 students showing and it was a very varied offering, including ladies', men's and children's shoes. All themed in some way, the standard of work, both conceptually and physically, was very high.

Various prizes were given to star students and they presented by the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers, the shoemakers guild in London.

What impressed was the resources available to students from 3D printed sole and heel units to hand carved wooden ones. Particularly this lacquered sole by Danielle Cosgrove

And I loved this presentation, specially the title of the book, looks like a real bodice ripper!

While chatting to Kevin and Phil, another of the tutors, they confirmed that they had had the official approval for their new Masters in Bespoke Footwear and that the course will start in October. This is very exciting and we are in discussions to collaborate on the course in some way. It will be limited to 10 students and each one will be able to tailor the course content to satisfy the direction they want to go in - so it could be biomechanics, orthopedic or handsewn bespoke.

So watch this space for developments.

Until next week, happy shoemaking!

Friday, 12 June 2015

Norwegian welt 1

This week sees the shoemaking bench getting busy. We've been waiting for a few customers to come in for fittings and, like London buses, they've all come at once. It's exciting to finally get their shoes under way especially where we've been asked for a different sole finish or construction. 

We've been busy making a Norwegian welt on this pair of walking boots. I marked the feather edge and then my desired stitch line in silver pen.

It's been a while since we have done a Norwegian welt and so it's been fun to follow the different steps in the process. As I've been stitching, I've been thinking of ways to modify and improve the process.

Trimming and glueing the lining before stitching the upper is definitely something I am going to try next time, as well as trimming back the upper closer to the desired finished welt width.

Stitching the welt went well, but I am going to try marking the holes with a stitch pricker next time to see if that can help me on to perfection!

The customer wanted a lighter weight sole with a rubber sticker-sole so we did not use a mid-sole this time. That is a first for me, but it seems to have worked fine.

We were also aiming for an even gap between the welt stitch and the sole stitch....the results are not bad. We glued the sole first, then glued and stretched the welt (upper) onto the sole separately, using the sleeking bone to define a 90 degree angle, before trimming the edge to the desired width. 

More photos to follow as we finish the boots off next week.
Until then, happy shoemaking!

Friday, 5 June 2015

A Troublesome Last

Hello everyone! The sun is shining which is a good thing, of course. But not everything is sunny in the Carreducker workshop.

We have a tricky last to deal with, and this is the first time this particular problem has happened to us. It required a serious amount of problem solving which was the fun bit. And a fair amount of stress which wasn't

So this is the problem

This last has a very wide joint and an extremely odd heel which is very wide at the bottom and very narrow at the top - much like a normal last but with very much more exaggerated curves

So, we last over the upper for a fitting and brace it onto an insole. At this point we try to take the last out and, despite our best efforts and all my strength, the last only moves about 5mm out of the shoe. It is stuck fast and it's not going anywhere.
So our problems are one, getting the lasts out now and two, getting them out when the shoes are finished.
Even if we could have gotten them out, our fear was that the last would alter the shape of the top line round the heel by stretching it out of shape and thus causing heel slip.

This customer has intriguing heels with a painful area around the base of the heel. We had to make a hole in the stiffener and pad it with foam to make them comfortable.

Here is what we did to get the lasts out. We took the fitter apart and drew two lines on the lasts in a wedge shape - see below. Notice we didn't do the cone.

Then we cut the sections out - see below. We used a hack saw because it has a narrow blade and removes as little wood as possible. This will become important later.

Next we had to screw the heel and the wedge piece together. This required a trusty set of wood bits to drill the guide holes.
We had to countersink the first screw quite a lot at an angle so that when it was tightened, it didn't cause the two pieces of the last to shear apart.
Through trial and error we worked out that it is important to do the cutting first and the drilling second - long explanation about drill holes lining up and wood missing from cutting it, lots of head scratching and stress!

Next came the cone which we screwed back into its original position - see below

But you can see the problem - there is a 2mm gap between the heel parts and the fore part of the last. This is the 2mm of wood we removed when sawing the last into 3 pieces.
Obviously this is not good as it would mark the lining of the shoes.

So next, we glued a piece of cardboard just the right thickness to the lasts. This filled the gap and we sanded the cardboard to get a smooth join
At this stage, the only issue was the fore part of the last had no fixing to the back part or the cone so it was loose and fell out.
We thought about attaching this with screws, but in the end, we thought that once the insole was on and the upper was lasted on, this would hold it all together with enough strength.
Fortunately, this proved to be the case.
One thing we did do though was to drill another guide hole into the fore part into which we could screw a hook so that we could pull the fore part out at the end of the process.

We prepared the fittng as before, but this time, when it came to remove the last, we followed this method.

We removed the cone as normal

Then we unscrewed the middle wedge piece from the heel piece. Because it is wedge shaped, it slides out very easily.

Then we slid the heel piece forward and out with no difficulty at all.

The last thing was to remove the fore part which we did by screwing in a hook and pulling. Thankfully it came out with no problem at all.

The shoes are now ready for the fitting and and we can confidently move to making the final shoes knowing that we can remove the lasts without stretching the shoes out of shape. Job done!

This is one of the aspects of shoemaking we really enjoy - problem solving. Plus the fact that this wonderful craft can still throw up problems which are new and challenging. I'm making it all sound like a breeze. Believe me it wasn't and it took quite a while and 3 brains to work it out. There was a bit stress involved!
But we got there and the solution, although not the most elegant perhaps, worked a treat

That's all folks. Until next week, happy shoemaking