Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all of our loyal followers. It's been emotional!

And we wish you a fantastic 2009. Success and happiness.

Last blog before I finish for the holidays tomorrow.

Friday, 12 December 2008

velvet Pumps 3

Goodness me, 3 shows in a week! We have been busy, selling shoes and pressing the flesh. We have noticed a hesitance for people to buy spontaneously, but it was not too bad overall. I think our clients are the most cushioned group in terms of belt tightening (lovely bespoke belt only!).

Back to those velvet pumps. Well, they are finished, but they punished me. And how! On the first one, I did the pump stitched sole, but it was not flush enough with the upper so I had to completely redo it (hours wasted). The second one was fine because I corrected my mistake. And what was that? I made the holes in the sole too far from the edge. I was taught 1/4 inch but have reduced it to 3/16. This minor adjustment is just enough to pull the sole nearer the upper and they look rather lovely.

Also, when the client wears them, his weight will close the gap even more. I hope he likes them.

I finished them with a natural sole and a brown edge. I think that gives them an aristocratic look. What do you think?

And for the rest of the week? I have to finish a a pile of bespoke shoes before Christmas, so I have to motor. This opens a dilemma. On the one hand, working fast; concentrating hard; and not having breaks, tends to produce really good, high quality work. On the other, it can lead to rare but often fatal mistakes. The kind of lapses where you completely omit a simple but vital process. Or you slice the upper open with your knife. That is a painful one.

It happened once to a pair of bespoke wholecuts I was making. I had almost finished them and inexplicably did a stupid and daft thing with my knife and ended up ruining them.
In the end, we cut the shoe in half and now use it as a demonstration piece, to show the construction of a handsewn bespoke shoe. So it was not as bad as it could have been. It has proved very useful, in fact.

Enough. I have been doing this while eating my lunch and must get back to some serious stitching. Back soon...

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Velvet Pumps 2

New week, same shoes. Those velvet pumps are getting there. I have now braced the upper to the insole and filled the gaps and am ready to attach the sole using the arcane and little known pump stitch. Almost impossible to explain, so I won't try. I will illustrate with pictures. The insole does not need any preparation, just trimmed to the feather edge, and the thread is just braced on with an awl hole straight into the insole. More later...

Friday, 28 November 2008

Velvet Pumps 1

Friday evening, 8.30.

It's the end of a long day engaging with all the visitors to the Cockpit Open Studios. This is where the building where we have our studio is opened up to the public. We do this twice a year and it's a chance to let people see what we do and hopefully buy our wares.

Cockpit is a fascinating visit. Run as a charity, it rents studios to designer/makers, and so is full of jewellers, ceramicists, rug makers, printers, weavers, etc. There are over 90 businesses here. It is a great place to work as it is full of creative energy.

I usually do some making during the day because people really like to see the artisans at work. So today I was fitting up a last after a fitting and got those velvet pumps to a stage where I can attach the sole using the pump stitch. This construction is not as robust as a welted shoe but a skilled artisan can make them strong enough to wear at home and even to dance in. Not recommended for a walk on the farm.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Black Wholecuts

Just finished those black wholecuts I posted about last time and they are gorgeous. I really love them. I was a bit uncertain about the toe shape but it really works with this style. It is really exciting finishing shoes and seeing the final look. I am never sure how they will end up, so this is probably the best moment as a shoemaker.

I did a spade welt to accentuate the elongated last and the silhouette is great. I would wear them myelf. If only I could afford my own shoes. Hey ho.

Just about to start some velvet pumps (that's slippers to you and me).
Pumps can be made from patent leather too and are worn at very formal dress functions. But most of the time they are indoor slippers, usually with a monogram. Nice!

It is a completely different construction. Will elaborate later.

PS sorry for terrible pics, but you get the idea

Friday, 21 November 2008

Black Wholecuts

Friday! Already.

We are excited. Lots happened this week. All very embryonic, but you will be the first to know as soon as we have concrete news.

My favourite bespoke shoe, the wholecut. Just about to make one and it's always a pleasure. One piece of leather; one seam. How is it possible? It's the closest the shoemaker gets to alchemy. I think it is the simplest yet most elegant shoe, the quintessence of Englishness.

This model is black with a red lining and made on a very pointed last. It's going to be beautiful handmade bespoke shoe and is destined to be one of our new bespoke samples, so you may see it in our publicity material.

The insole is prepared and it's ready for lasting. The stitches are bigger than normal because it is not going to be worn and does not have to have the usual strength. On a normal shoe, it is 4 stitches to the inch. Or just under. Any smaller and you weaken the insole, which is the core strength of the shoe. If that fails, the shoe will fall apart.

More later.

If you have any shoemaking questions, then please just ask!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Stiffeners and Toe Puffs

Oops. Sorry everyone, been bogged down by the minutiae of life.

The intricacies of lasting.

The first thing to do is prepare your stiffeners (no sniggering at the back there) and toe-puffs (oh, grow up!). We start with a piece of oak bark tanned belly and cut them out, followed by careful skiving with my extremely sharp knife. The edges must be skived to nothing and the centres must be strong so that the heel area and toe areas do not collapse. In factory shoes these components are plastic and ready made.

There is a third extra piece of strengthening left to prepare. The side-lining, a piece of thin calf or glace kid which gives support to the line from the counter to the toe puff. It must be skived to nothing on the top edge so that it is not visible through the upper on the finished shoe.
There is a debate as to whether to put them in or not. I used to omit them, as I thought they were superfluous, but I now tend to put them in, especially with a foot with a wide joint. In these cases, the shoe can bulge where the toes are and look unsightly.
I started to learn to make shoes in Spain and there side-linings are not used because of the hot climate. The fewer layers of leather the better. But here in England, this is not an issue.
Every shoemaker I've met has an opinion on this and who knows what the definitive answer is?

Thanks, and happy shoemaking.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Christmas Show

Goodness me, the vagueries of IT. After starting our blog in mid October and then not being able to find it on any search engines, we kind of gave it up as a bad lot, but lo and behold! This morning I receive a Google alert about it and it seems to be live . So we are back on the case. Great!

Yesterday was a good day. We secured a venue and time for a Christmas selling event at a wonderful venue called Paradise By Way of Kensal Green, a gastopub in Kensal Green (funny that). It's beautifully decorated and very starry. We are talking Kate Moss and Lily Allen; a smattering of media editors; music industry shakers; fashionisti; a DJ; great food; and a buzzing bar. Fierce! We are doing it with Lady Double You, aka the lovely Michaela, ladies shoe designer and manufacturer. So we will be offering fab shoes for him and her in the Reading Room. Can't wait

If you are intersted, it is on December 4th at said pub. Come along and enjoy a great evening out.

Also delivered a pair of slippers to a client with demanding feet and he seemed pleased- phew! There is always a frisson of tension when delivering a pair of bespoke shoes, after all, they have to fit and both the client and ourselves have invested heavily in them.

And we got a new client, so more days like that please.

So now the weekend to relax and enjoy.

More next week

Thursday, 23 October 2008

What's good for the Goose....

Had a great time last night at Chateau Grey Goose, concealed in a seductively styled, edgy venue. The young, hip and fashionable admired a selection of beautiful cocktail bars which were then auctioned off, raising a generous amount of money for a very important cause.

One or two who may be rueing the generous proportions of the cocktails this morning, but I'm relived not to be one of them. (Vodka and I have a past!)

As an admirer of all things male (hard not to be as a men's shoemaker), it was an honour to be in the presence of one of my personal sartorial heroes - Mr Ozwald Boateng - the epitome of contemporary tailoring in a perfectly cut, long line jacket. Never one for being star-struck, I'm afraid to confess I transformed into a mumbling fool on meeting him.

GG thanks for a great night!

Friday, 17 October 2008

Hello World

Hello world, what a sense of wonder I have doing this blog. Will anybody read it? Time will tell.

Yesterday I finished a pair of curious bespoke shoes. Firstly they have no laces and are not loafers. Slip-ons always require some form of fastening, both to hold the foot and to expand in hot conditions. This is usually done with elastic. With this shoe it is achieved using 2 gussets, covered with slashes of the upper leather to hide the elastic. Hence the name, slash- covered gussets. No sniggering at the back there!

The other thing about the shoe is the dress welt. What distinguishes the dress welt from a usual welt is the number of stitches per inch (yes, we still use inches, tradition you know). Normally we would do 9 or 10 stitches to the inch, but on a dress welt, you must do from 15 to 20. A lot more work. I did 15. Above this the problem is a weakening of the leather in the welt and sole. If 20 is required, an alternative (cheat in other words) should be used. This involves marking the stitches and then only stitching in every 3rd mark. After finishing stitching, you go over again with the fudge wheel, which makes an impression on the thread, thus making the appearance of the 20 stitches required.
The result is a finer, more elegant looking bespoke shoe, ideal for formal occasions, hence the name, dress welt.

Forgive the quality of the pictures. The shoes are covered to protect the leather and so they look a bit cloudy. Sorry

Enough for now, please feel free to comment or ask questions about handmade shoes, thanks for reading

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

We're a pair of hard working bespoke shoemakers, passionate about keeping the British handsewn shoemaking trade alive! We love beautiful men's shoes. We don't always agree what a beautiful pair of shoes looks like - but we do agree on the important things; style, craftsmanship, creativity and on giving our shoes a distinctive British character. We're keen to share our shoe expertise with lovers of the craft and shoe aficionados around the world. Want our opinion...just 'ask the master'.