Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 28 August 2009

Back To Making

It's been a good week. Back to some serious making for me. As ever, my hands have softened up and my times are slow, more loose screw than lightening Bolt, unfortunately. I will improve.

I think, after all the course and trade fair stuff, I want to write about making bespoke shoes again. Doing the course always makes me think about the structure of the shoe. It is interesting to see novices looking at things I take for granted with new eyes.

One of the most important parts of the shoes is the insole. The strength of the shoe is centred here because the upper and the welt are sewn onto it, and it is this process which holds the shoe together. To do this, you first have to prepare the insole so that you can attach the welt and upper.

Having blocked the wet insole to the last, you let it dry; take the shape of the sole of the last; and trim it to the feather edge. It is important to follow the contour of the last, flaring the insole out at the toe and pitching it under at the heel.

The only ambiguous area is the inside waist. When trimming, leave this till last. To trim, hold the knife upright and cut straight across.

At this point, you need to draw a waist line with a pen. This is personal aesthetic decision. If it is too wide, the waist will be ugly and possibly uneven. If you are doing a bevelled waist, it needs to be curved in more. A square waist will be a bit wider.

Now cut the line straight down. Do not angle the knife.

You will notice a small lip around the edge. We must cut this off as it may cut into the foot and be uncomfortable. We use the plough or the knife for this.

We are now ready to mark the holdfast. This is a ridge which you stitch through to attach the upper and the welt to the insole. It is also known as the feather, but I think this is a ridiculous name and prefer holdfast. First thing to do is mark your heel point. This is between 2 3/4" and 3" marked back from the heel. The line can be straight across or slightly longer on the outside. Mark the points on the last too. Next, find the joint, which is the widest part of the foot, usually around the big and little toe knuckles. Mark a line 1/2" back from this point on the outside and 3/4" on the inside. Draw a line across the insole and mark on the last.

We now mark the holdfast. Measure 3/16" from the edge and mark the line with a pen. Do not mark the toe area or the inside waist. On the toe mark 1/4" and join up with the first lines. Then draw an appealing line on the inside waist.

We now mark a second line using dividers. Set them to 3/8" and follow the first line, marking a new one on the inside of the first. Go all the way round.

The holdfast is now ready to cut. Will do that next week.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Monday Monday

Monday morning, ugh! And so it ends, no more courses till next year. I shall miss it. I had a really good time; very nice group and enjoyable teaching. I think shoemaking attracts the best people. I would say that though, wouldn't I?

As ever we finished in the last hour of the last afternoon, but that is ok. As long as we finish. It's a shame that we have to rush so much during the course, but it is a trade off between having enough time and setting a timetable that is accessible to the general public. 3 weeks is already a lot of time for people to find, so extending that would be counter-productive. Perhaps the answer is to make the days longer - 8 hours instead of 6. But then the price would have to go up and it would be an even more tiring day. It's a tough call.

All the students left with the firm intention of carrying on with shoemaking. This is one of the aspects of the course I really like - spreading the shoemaking word far and wide. I don't want this wonderful old trade to die out. We are it's guardians, and, as such, we have the responsibility to pass it on (cue music, silly cape and underpants over my tights)

Here are some shots of the last day, the students with their finished shoes. A fine collection, I'm sure you will agree. The shoes aren't bad either.