Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Monday, 8 August 2011

Day 1 - shoemaking course

So it's the end of day one of the course and our seven students have made great progress. Knives have been sharpened, toe puffs and stiffeners have been skived and insoles have been blocked ready for tomorrow.

The first morning is always something of a challenge - spending hours to get your knife sharp may seem excessive but as any shoemakers knows - and as our students found out this afternoon - if your knife isn't as sharp as it could be, every other step is a struggle. There has been some mutinous talk of skiving machines, grinding wheels and even elfin staff but so far the students have all stayed on course. The reason we don't use machines is that they are very expensive and so we try to teach how to make beautiful shoes with as few tools as possible. We think that a skilfully handled tool is just as fast and accurate as a machine and sometimes is better!

That said, we do actually start the knives off by putting them on a grinding wheel, but then they are finessed on a strop with sharpening paper on one side and jewellers rouge on the other. Our students worked really hard this morning learning just how much was the right amount of pressure to put on the knife blade to get rid of any burrs and to create a smooth bevel, parallel with the blade edge.

Sharpening the knife helps the students to become familiar with the knife, how to hold it safely and effectively and how to use it confidently. Today's only hiccup was that we have two left handed students so the bevelled edge has to be made on the other side and somehow one poor left-handed student ended up with a right handed knife. Thankfully nothing a swift five minutes on the strop couldn't sort out.

We soaked all of the leather we were working with today, but the hot weather (and the fan) really played havoc with it. Even though we bagged it as soon as it was soaked and tried to work on it fast, we still needed to keep applying more water so it could be worked easily. Unfortunately August is set to stay sunny - the forecast for the week is even more heat - so I think we will be bringing in another fan to keep leather, glue and students cool. ..especially when the welting starts. It could get very hot otherwise!

What I love most about our courses is just how diverse the students are - backgrounds, countries and capabilities - and how, given something totally new to learn (in many cases), they seize the challenge and get on with it, helping each other and encouraging each other along the way. One student on this course is profoundly deaf and his mother is helping him to do the course by signing and taking notes through what is a challenge in so many ways. But he is very determined, keen to learn and is really enjoying the experience...a great example of going after what you want. We really hope that he does well, as shoemaking would be such a good job for him...

Anyway, tomorrow we will be preparing the insole, creating the hold fast and look out for the next installment.

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