Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 11 February 2011

How Can You Tell It's A Bespoke Shoe 2 - Imperfections

Having had a great response to the post about how to tell if it is a bespoke shoe, with particular reference to the bevelled waist, I think it would be good to take it a little further.

While a well executed bevelled waist is a marvel of skill and technique, there are other elements which mark out the bespoke shoe. The principle one being the stitching. We have developed machines which can stitch quickly, evenly, perfectly you might say. The row of stitches sits beautifully straight, each one the exact mirror of the last in terms of size and tension. Our eyes are accustomed to seeing it this way.

But when you stitch by hand, it is impossible to achieve such regularity. Even if you mark your stitches first with a fudge wheel, you still vary, ever so slightly, where the awl goes in, with the result that your row of stitches is not quite perfect. And there's the rub.

While we mortals strive for an impossible perfection (you can get very close with practice), we never fully achieve it. But equally, deep down we all know that, so when we see the near perfect (but slightly flawed) work of a master artisan, we marvel and delight in it. We appreciate the skill and training involved in nearing perfection, but we also feel akin to the humanity of its flaws.

So next time you look at a bespoke shoe, look at the ever slightly crooked stitching; the occasional tiny nick in the upper from the knife (yes, I admit it! The shame!); the off centre toe cap; the asymmetry between the two shoes; the uneven seat; the tiny divot in the heel breast; the wonky welt; the clunky transition from the sole edge to the bevelled waist.

This is turning into a litany of my failings. Should I even be admitting to all these mistakes? It has to be said though, that I have never been 100% satisfied with a pair of shoes I have made. There is always something I could improve on. And when a whole heap of things go wrong in one shoe, I feel wretched. So I suppose it shows that striving for perfection is a trait you need to be a craftsperson.

The other day at Gieves and Hawkes, the CEO left a pair of vintage Fosters shoes with Justin, the shoe shine guy. He showed them to me and we were trying to work out if they were bespoke or not. It was hard to call, but the deciding factor was the tiny indentations the awl makes on the upper when you make the stitches. It is a series of tiny vertical dents in the leather, all in a row. If this happens to you, dear reader, the trick is to rub the marks with your sleeking bone or some similar smoother. It works.

I am currently making a pair of royal blue suede Chelsea/Beatle boots. I have the sole stitched on so I should be able to post them up next week. They are amazing. I want a pair. Pity I can't afford my own shoes!

Enough already. Until next week, happy shoemaking!


R Beaver said...

I've just meandered across your work and your blog. I’m an aspiring leather artisan and this post has been (in a roundabout way) really motivating and inspiring.

I think small faults are inevitable in decent work, but for honourable reasons. A machine stitches indiscriminately whilst i'm aware even when i'm trying not to over think things that i'm reacting and adapting to the leather and how i'm feeling in the attempt to stitch to the best of my ability. Maybe what denotes a master craftsman is that all those reactions and adaptation satisfy exactly what's needed.

i read a quote fairly recently about carpenters that raises a smile and maybe could be rolled out to relate to most crafts. "You can always tell apart of the work of a master carpenter and a amateur, an amateur is resigned to accepting his mistakes whilst a master carpenter knows how to hide his."

anyway, thanks for writing the post, i'm going to find me a glass of water and meander through your blog's back-catalogue. ciao

Anonymous said...

Agreed. Striving for perfection and/or the impossible makes something beautiful, but perfection itself without the toil can be a bit boring and/or soulless.