Tuesday, 5 May 2015

New York Pattern Making for Bespoke shoes - Day 1

Our 2015 trans-Atlantic courses kicked off this week with four students from Brazil, Chicago and San Francisco eager to get their heads around the conundrums of bespoke pattern making. 

Today, under Jesse's watchful eye and precise instruction, the group did tape forme patterns and a set of drapes (to test their abilities). Then they started working on their first Derby pattern - alongside much talk of the difference between Derby and Oxford shoes - and tomorrow will be Derby patterns all day long.

Shoemaking enthusiasts that they are (or just gluttons for punishment) they are all staying on for another fortnight when James and I will take them through every one of the 200+ steps in hand sewn shoemaking. 

Until tomorrow's Derby update, happy shoemaking!

Friday, 1 May 2015

London Craft Week, Open Studios and Make/Create

Now, as well as being the start of our New York courses, next week is also a special week in London with the inaugural London Craft Week! And excitement is building across the pond with a great piece in The New York Times!

We're doing our bit too. We've been photographed and filmed by social media whizz Harry who is sharing news of the week's activities online...#LCW15

...and we will be busy online too. If you can't visit in person then please stay in touch online to see what the London's wonderful world of craftsmen are up to. We'll be tweeting, twurping, blogging and posting at carreducker on Instagram and Facebook and bespokeshoe on Twitter, so please join, follow and enjoy the shoe shenannigans!

Here's a quick reminder of the main events:

6th - 10th May we are collaborating with Rosie Munro-Kerr in Make/Create at The Crypt, St Pancras Church

8th - 11th May is Cockpit Open Studios, Holborn

7th May is London Craft Week, Cordwaining Live...when we will be shoemaking in Gieves and Hawkes' store window at 1 Savile Row/Vigo Street at 10.30am, 12.30pm and 3.30pm. 

If you can, do come along to watch, film, say hello and cheer us on!

Until next week, happy shoemaking! 

Friday, 24 April 2015

Our manor - in and around London's WC1N


Something we don't talk about enough is how fabulous the area that we work in is. WC1N is Bloomsbury, the historic home of the Bloomsbury set - an influential group of early 20th century writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists.

The area remains a hub of creativity, with street upon street of elegant Georgian town houses and Cockpit Arts, is at its heart.

So, when you come to join us for a course in London there is a host of restaurants and cafes, wonderful architecture, entertainment, open spaces and shopping to enjoy right on your doorstep.
Lamb's Conduit Street

For green spaces there is Russell Square, Lincoln's Inn Fields, Brunswick Square Gardens and Bloomsbury Square;
Lincoln's Inn Fields
Lincoln's Inn Fields
Brunswick Square Gardens
Russell Square
For shopping you are spoilt for choice from the street stalls and independent shops of Leather Lane  and the glitzy jewellery district of Hatton Garden to the wonderful books of Magma and the boutiques of Lamb's Conduit Street.

Thornback and Peel for gifts and soft furnishings
Maggie Owen and The Dark Room for jewellery
Pentreath and Hall for homeware and gifts
 Favourite bars and cafes include The Lady Ottoline, Cigala, La Gourmandina, The Duke and Ciao Bella.
Lady Ottoline
Persephone Books, La Gourmandina and The Perseverance

And stand-out architecture includes The Renoir Cinema, The Brunswick Centre, Kings Cross, the  Old Prudential Building and the terraced streets of Bloomsbury

Georgian townhouses


The Brunswick Centre

Russell Square Hotel


Lincoln's Inn

As a location we couldn't be easier to get to. Cockpit Arts is equidistant between Russell Square, Holborn and Chancery Lane underground stations and a short walk from the newly-transformed Kings Cross. 

Waterloo station and the West End are a short bus ride away. Take a look at our local map to see just how easy it is. We hope that we've tempted you to a visit.

Until next week happy shoemaking!

Friday, 17 April 2015

Events and exhibitions - from New York courses to the inaugural London Craft Week

Welcome back shoe folks. What a busy week it has been...as we gear up for a frantic, by shoemaking terms, May! Here's what's going on.

On Monday 4th May our Pattern Making for Bespoke Shoes course begins in New York under the eagle eye of bespoke shoemaker Jesse Moore of Brooklyn Bespoke.

On Tuesday 5th May we are setting up our first ever art installation. We are showing as part of Make:Create an exhibition realised by QEST and Griffin Gallery inspired by the inaugural London Craft Week. Working together with mixed media fine artist Rosemary Munro Kerr  we are creating a multi-sensory experience in The Crypt Gallery, St Pancras Church, Euston.

The Crypt Gallery, St Pancras, London.

On Wednesday 6th May we will be attending not one, but two opening nights for London Craft Week and Make:Create - can't wait to enjoy the parties!

On Thursday 7th May we are showcasing hand lasting, hand welting, thread making and heel building in 'The Window on Vigo Street'  at Gieves & Hawkes, 1 Savile Row. All being well we'll be live streaming some of the making on Twitter so please keep an eye out for us.

On Friday 8th May the weekend of Summer Open Studios begins and we're very much looking forward to welcoming friends, old and new, to W9 our new studio at Cockpit Arts.

Then we're off to New York for our intensive shoemaking course taking students through the 200+ steps of English hand welted shoemaking. It's great timing, as Brooklyn Bespoke's, Jesse and Marika, have just been filmed for A Craftsman's Legacy .

Courtesy Jim Wagner
(We're feeling rather delighted for them, as the programme's researcher contacted us for recommendations and we of course we suggested them, D.W. Frommer and Lisa Sorrell! If only the BBC or Channel 4 would make a series like that here!)

The week ended on a lovely note with a delicious box of goodies from Sonrisa, the young shoemaker who visited us from Old Salem, North Carolina. What a treat, thank you, and we can't wait to hear how the new shoes come out.

Until next week, happy shoemaking!

Friday, 10 April 2015

Doing It Right

Greetings once more, dear readers

W9 (our new home) is just about done. We are finding homes for the last few bits and bobs. It's looking good! And we have our first Evening Class here on Monday, so will be able to road test our studio design.

We are currently doing a 1:1 training with a jeweller called Chin Teo, who is with us for 12 days to make a pair of hand welted shoes. He is doing it over a period of 6 weeks, 2 days a week to suit his schedule. But this week he has been off because he has had an exhibition at Craft Central, just down the road from here.

Last night we went to the private view and we came away really inspired.

We are surrounded by jewellers here at Cockpit Arts, so we see a lot of jewellery. But Chin's work is cool, fresh and aesthetically right up our street. Oxidised metals; innovative materials; great surface design and plenty of body parts, specially skulls. Loved it and thoroughly recommend a visit.

Recently, we had a comment from our friend and colleague DW Frommer II which revisits a topic much discussed in previous posts. Here it is:

Was going through some old entries and ran across this, referencing metal shanks:

"Being modern shoemakers, we are always keen to examine our practice and explore new ways of working. My feeling is that most of what we are taught as apprentices is the accumulation of generations of shoemaking knowledge and that most things have been tried. This means that what we are taught by our masters is probably the best way of doing something and we change it at our peril with what seems (at the time) a great new way to do something but which, over time, you come to realise that maybe they were right all along."

Agree 100%. 

I thought I would add a few stray observations...

Trouble is when we get fixated on "modern" and "efficient," it is all too easy to lose our way.

I tell my students "Sure, you can use an Exacto knife (drill press, staple gun, etc.), but what you lose in the process is so much more than you gain. For instance, just learning to sharpen a knife properly creates skills and control that you can't get by using disposable blades. Skills that affect and enhance other techniques. Such as clicking, inseaming, channeling...the list is endless."

And, in my opinion, that's true across the board. Mastering traditional techniques makes us better makers all around...each skill amplifying other skills...and results in something that is unique and exceptional. Looking for quick or easy alternatives most often leaves us with the commonplace, despite our best efforts.

No one is going to applaud, or by extension, be attracted to work that doesn't differ substantially from what is readily available on the market...at a fifth of the cost. There are almost an unlimited number of shoes or boots being made today with paperboard or synthetic insoles; virtually all RTW is GY welted; few or none that don't use celastic (or something similar) for the toe and heel stiffeners. All this is commonplace.

How many times and how many "makers" and how many variables...that, at bottom, amount to nothing...do you have to see before all the RTW and factory shoes begin to "run together?"

What recommends a well-made and/or bespoke shoe...what makes it attractive in the eye of the customer and gives it a cachet that distinguishes it in an International marketplace...is the quality of the materials used and the skill of the maker in applying techniques that can't be duplicated by machines.

As bespoke makers the worst thing we can do is to adopt or emulate factory work. Simply...yes, simply...because it is so commonplace and so easily done(relatively). We cannot compete on that level--it's a fool's game. Nor should we even try...in my opinion.

What we learned from our masters is far too valuable and unique.

So there you have it. Agree or disagree, it is certainly one way in which our work as hand makers stands out. When you pick up one of our shoes, it is imbued with the hours of skill and dedication which we put into it. It has an essence which a machine made shoe simply does not have.

I have described these as tiny imperfections in the past and been criticised for it. Maybe the marks of the craftsman is a better term. Our shoes are not uniformly perfect, but they have life; they stand out; they are different. And even within our small world of bespoke shoes, some makers stand out more than others, an example being the legendary Jim McCormack, who is the finest maker I have ever seen. But even his shoes, which reach as near to perfection as is possible in our trade, share this special hand crafted quality which factory made shoes do not.

And going back to the quote above, there is another aspect to this drive to find "easier" ways of doing things. When you are learning to make shoes, it is difficult and challenging and sometimes it is easier to find a way to do something which might not be how you are being taught. And it might work. And it might achieve the same result. But what you are doing is what I call fire fighting, and the result will take you much longer. So if you want to make shoes and earn a living, you need to perfect not only the best, but also the quickest way to do it. This means putting the hours in; repeating the task again and again; and finally getting it right.

And so we get back to the initial comment which was that our forebears arrived at the best way of doing things by the accumulated knowledge of generations of shoemakers before us. And it is actually quite comforting to feel them looking approvingly over our shoulders as we work - as long as you do it right, of course!

Until next week, happy shoemaking!