All About My Insoles

Greetings fellow shoemakers of the world. I hope the week has been bountiful. Unfortunately some might say (me), the Other One and I had to work this weekend as we were taking part in the twice yearly Open Studios at Cockpit Arts -  where we have our main workshop and office.

This is a chance for the public to visit, buy and commission work from over 90 designer/maker businesses based here. It was a special one this time as it is Cockpit's 25th birthday, so there were plenty of events going on. Over 3500 people visited, so it was a successful weekend. We sold Winkers and our Limited Edition goodyear welted shoes.

As you can see, we spruced the studio up somewhat, and made it look presentable. And we put out on display all of our considerable recent press.

Winkers On Parade

Limited Edition Shoes

As you can see, it was a busy weekend.

And so on to all things bespoke shoes. I recently had a conversation with a fellow shoemaker about insoles. My conclusion, after much discussion, was that you have to treat the top side which touches the foot differently from the bottom side to which the welt is attached. This has big consequences on the shape of the waist. Treat the two sides as separate entities and you will be ok.

After you have soaked and blocked the insole and it is dry, you are ready to begin. All the first stages are about the top of the insole and its relationship with the foot.

The last has a feather edge which marks the transition between the upper part of the foot and the sole of the foot. This is crucial when preparing your insole. It is sharp and defined, apart from in the inside waist.

After taking out the nails from the dry insole, I trim the edge in line with the feather edge all the way round except for the inside waist. I make sure that the angle of the knife matches the angle at which the last comes down to the feather edge. On the sides it is usually vertical. At the toe it flares out and at the heel, it pitches under. If you do this, the insole will not show through the upper after lasting.

The last part to cut is the inside waist. The insole has to support the foot inside the shoe, and this area of the foot is very mobile and changes as we walk. It is also where the arch of your foot is which curves up off the floor. You may need to incorporate arch support (insole up in waist). As a result, the last is a bit vague here. Sometimes there is a trace of the feather edge and sometimes not. So cutting the line of the inside waist requires judgement. But be generous and look at the starting points of the curve at the front and back of the waist. Draw a line on the insole and match it on the other last so that they are a pair.
When you are happy, cut the line.
At this point, we are still concerned with the insole and its relationship with the foot, giving support and fitting well.
Also, remember to cut off the little lip on the top side with your knife or a plough. Otherwise this can dig into the foot and cause pain.

From this point on, we are going to prepare the under side of the insole and this is now about the shape of the waist and the aesthetics of the shoe and has very little to do with how the foot stands on the insole.
Start by marking your heel points and waist points if you are doing a bevelled waist.

Next mark the 1st line of the holdfast/feather, apart from in the inside waist. I do 3/16" from the edge.

The toe I do more because of the toe puff and angle of the awl. I also straighten the line to give more room to work and a stronger holdfast.
These measures are personal and arrived at through trial and error. They vary from maker to maker and you have to experiment. Some people throw the line out at the joint to stop the welt disappearing, but I prefer not to do that as I like the result better. It's personal choice.

Now, the waists. You can do any curve you like here. It can be really pulled in and dramatic, or lightly curved giving a sturdy look. It can be an even curve or, as I like to do, pulled in more at the joint end than the heel end. I think this gives a pleasing bevelled waist.
You can see that it does NOT follow the line of the insole I have cut for the foot to stand on - the two are not connected.
Draw matching lines on both lasts.
For a square waist, I pull the waist in much less because it makes getting the awl in for stitching the sole much easier. And avoids getting nasty indents on the upper from the awl haft.

I like to pull the outside waist in too because it marries better with the curve on the inside waist. It also means that as the waist transitions to the heel, you get a lovely "in and out" curve which allows you to build a beautifully curved heel top profile, especially on very wide waists. You can end up with ugly triangular shaped heels (when seen from the top), where the widest point of the heel is at the heel breast (very ugly) if you don't curve in the outside waist. Especially true on square waists.

Next I use a pair of dividers set to 3/8" to draw the inside line of the holdfast/feather. I also go around the heel with this line because I stitch the upper to the insole around the heel rather than using nails or pegs - I just think it's an elegant solution. All methods work just fine.

I then cut a groove with my knife. No deeper than half the thickness of the holdfast. I wet it and run a screwdriver through it to open it up.

The inside waist again! This is where it becomes apparent that the two sides have different purposes. I skive the bottom side so that you don't get a line in the finished shoe. See though, that the top side is anaffected. The foot will still be supported by the insole and sit fully on it. However, the bottom side, where the foot doesn't touch is all curved in. This means you can do any shape of inside waist you like.

A word of warning! If you want to pull the waists in for a really dramatic look, make sure you have enough lasting allowance on the upper to achieve this. It is embarrassing to prepare your insole and then find out your upper won't fit.

Use a knife or feathering knife to cut away the leather for the holdfast.

If you have curved in the outside waist, repeat the skive.

Et voilá!

Repeat process for the inside of the holdfast. This time hold the knife at a 45 degree angle towards the outside of the shoe to give extra strength to the holdfast. Wet and open with a screwdriver.

Because of the 45 degree angle, I cut this side with my knife. Cut away!

Finally, make holes with your awl, between3 and 4 to the inch.

And that is a wrap. I hope that all makes sense.

Please feel free to comment and contribute.

Until next week, happy shoemaking


Anonymous said…
Thank You so much for sharing all this knowledge! Your writing style is easy to follow and i get the feeling that you respect and accept also other workflows that exist in shoemaking techniques. Its especially nice that you introduce Your way, but often mention in which points there are alternative options also that one might want to discover on their own. Lots of beautiful grey shades in your posts! Thanks again!
jimmyshoe said…
Thanks for the lovely comment. It makes a lot of difference to get some feedback. Please keep reading and become a follower if you aren't already. Best, jimmyshoe
Gil said…
Love your work a true master of the craft ! Thanks for sharing.
jimmyshoe said…
Thanks Gil, appreciate the comment. Best, jimmyshoe
You made it awesome with your creativity.. Appreciated!
jimmyshoe said…
Thank for the positive comment. Strange name - do you make shoes? jimmyshoe
Jonas Fleming said…
Would it work if you where to put some height increasing insoles in the shoes heres a link if you dont know what height increase shoe lifts are?
jimmyshoe said…
Yes you can use them,but you either have to make the last to accommodate them or you have to make the shoes with them in. Best, jimmyshoe
Unknown said…
I like your articles guys keep it up.
Unknown said…
I read the entire blog on insole and it was a wonderful experience to get the in depth info, insole is the main component of any shoe.
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jimmyshoe said…
Thanks Sheamus and Rio for the positive comments. Glad you both like the blog. Best, jimmyshoe
Barbara amsel said…
This is an excellent blog along with the great knowledge.bubblegum casting
jimmyshoe said…
Thanks Barbara. Best, jimmyshoe
Unknown said…
Thank you for the description - it is one of the best which I could find. Do you know how the leather for insole calls? What type of leather is suitable for insole? If you have a link to bye it will be very appreciared. Thanks!
jimmyshoe said…
Thanks for the comment Irina. We use insole shoulder which has been pit tanned in England. We sell it on our website
Best, James