Fiddle Waist

So, dear shoemakers of the world, another week goes by. Today sees the start of the twice yearly Cockpit Arts Open Studios. The public's chance to see our working studios and either buy or commission work from the over 90 designer/makers who work here. So if you are in Central London this weekend, why not pop in and see us. It is a great visit and you could buy some of those tricky Christmas presents

Opening times are

Friday 26 November 11am till 9pm
Saturday 27 November 11am till 6pm
Sunday 28 November 11am till 6pm

£5 in.

And so to shoemaking. We have seen recently the rise of the fiddle waist in high end men's shoes, and of course we are not immune to it. Our recent Mayfair Collection features them, and rather beautiful they are too

But I have been wondering about the origin and purpose of them. The internet did not throw up very much useful information (maybe the old fiddle is too arcane), so I went to visit my old friends at John Lobb to see what they had to say on the subject.
There were a few disagreements about the finer points, but this is what I learned.

The essential elements seem to be a pulled in waist and the Y shaped ridge up the middle (some thought this was not essential, but the consensus was that it was).
Most seemed to think that the origin was on women's shoes with high heels where the waist becomes very important for the integrity of the shoe.
Most also thought that it was basically a decorative addition without much structural significance, but that the Y shaped ridge adds strength to the waist, because the higher the heel and the more pulled in it is, the more strength you need to support the weight of the wearer.
Most also thought that they were not generally used in men's shoes. However, if the main use is aesthetics, then they are permitted in any shoes, men's included.
One person said they thought they were used in equestrian boots and cowboy boots, but was not entirely sure.
Any feedback about this would be greatly appreciated.
As for the name, it is because the waist looks like a violin (fiddle), but, frankly, I don't see it. Ho hum.

And here's how you do it.

Start with a welted shoe with a shank and cork filler. Welt trimmed and ready to prepare the sole. You can do this with a square waist or a bevelled waist in this case.

I like to draw the line of the Y shaped ridge.

Usually you would make the fiddle with leather for strength and durability, but as these are sample shoes and will never be worn in anger, I did it with cork.
Cut out a piece of cork to cover the whole area and glue both surfaces (contact adhesive or rubber solution).

Let it dry and glue it in place.

Skive the edges down with your knife. I forgot to say that the cork/leather should extend back behind the heel mark so that the finished ridge disappears in to the heel.

Make another piece of cork but narrower this time to start building up the ridge. Glue both surfaces and let them dry.

Glue it in place.

Again, skive the edges to build up the ridge.

Repeat the process with a third piece of cork, but narrower again.

This is my final piece, but for a bigger, bolder ridge add a fourth piece of cork.
Start to rasp the cork into shape. If you use leather, use your knife to shape the ridge.

You should be aiming for a sharp pointed ridge all the way along which splits to form the Y shape.

At the joint, there will be a big raised platform of cork. You have to blend this into the fiddle waist with your knife.

Then rasp it into shape.

And then the fun bit starts. You have to make the other one and they have to look the same! I do each process on both shoes at the same time s that I can match each stage to make a pair.

This is how I would normally prepare my sole on a normal shoe.

 But on a fiddle waist, you want the Y shape to be accentuated, so I always skive away right across the waist area like this. This thins the sole and when you glue it on, it is easier to get a nice ridge.

Once the sole is glued into place with rubber solution, you have to use your hammer to shape the waist. Gently tap the leather along the contours of the Y shaped ridge. Be gentle, tap it rather than bash it. This really helps define the shape because the leather is still mellow (a little wet) and is easy to shape with the hammer.

The results can be lovely. I like the fiddle waist a lot.

And that, as they say, is that. For this week at least. We wish you all a good week, especially our US friends who have a big holiday right now.

Until next week, happy shoemaking!


Anonymous said…

Fiddleback waists have been a tradition on western (cowboy) boots time out of mind. Since the welt ends just behind the joint and the waist is pegged, it is almost a natural approach. I suspect that fiddleback waists on western boots may have come about through the widespread use of heavy nails/spikes as shank stiffeners. The fiddleback nearly forms itself.

I also do fiddleback waists on shoes much as you do, except that I use scrap insole shoulder to build the foundation.

Underlying all this, is the idea is that when constructed solidly and with no air pockets, the fiddleback...on boots or shoes...forms what is known as a "box beam." This creates a stiffening effect from the heel height to the treadline that supports the arch of the foot better than the steel shank alone. In fact, there were/are still a few makers who assert that leather alone is sufficient all by itself...even at higher (inch and one half plus) heel heights...provided the "box beam construction" is done correctly.
DWFII said…
Sorry...the comment above was mine--DWFII. I forgot to give my name so it came up "anonymous."
Marcus said…
I love it?

Question on your pictures, how come the welt is cut so close in at the waist leaving a step from the wider part around the front of the shoe? Won't this prevent you stitching the sole on?
Kev said…
Awesome post!! I really love your fiddle back - looks much more elegant than many I have seen.

What leather would you recommend for the shank and for building up this ridge? I normally use a metal shank, but prefer your method!

Keep up the great work
j.groot said…
I do find that the Y-shape resembles the lines from the F-holes and up through the fingerboard (on a violin) quite nicely. It's lovely.

@DWFII: I am sorry to hi-jack this commentary, but I have been wondering about the merits of pegging shoes rather than welting. Some shoemakers I know of use this method, because it is faster than welting by hand, but my impression is that you get a more rigid and less comfortable shoe. Is this correct?
jimmyshoe said…
DW, thanks for the info. It all makes sense. When you build a fiddle waist, do you use leather all the way up or leather shank then cork? I like the idea of using cork on purely decorative fiddles for lightness but if you used them in anger, I imagine the cork would degrade quicker than leather.
The strengthening effect makes perfect sense and I can imagine a few layers of leather being stiff enough to replace a metal shank. I only use metal shanks on heels above an inch and a 1/2 anyway.
Would the fiddle waist help when you fall off your horse by preventing the heel/boot catching on the stirrup? It is something a reader has suggested.
I would love to see a pegged waist being made. I can see a trip to Oregon coming on lol.
Happy shoemaking, James
jimmyshoe said…
Marcus, it's because I am going to do a bevelled waist on this shoe. This is where the sole stitching continues to the heel points, but the sole is left full and curved up over the stitching to produce a refined elegant waist. Best, jimmyshoe
jimmyshoe said…
Kev, thanks for positive comment. We use a lightly rolled shoulder for our shanks and fiddle waists. This means the tannery do not finish the shoulder as dense as they would for insoles. The rolling is the last process to condense the leather.
Happy shoemaking, jimmyshoe
jimmyshoe said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
jimmyshoe said…
j.groot, I have also been told that it is the back of the violin that it resembles.
As for pegging vs welting, I only know one method, so cannot comment fully, but my feeling is that welting would be stonger, in as much as pegging has no real fixing. Can a peg come out over time, like a nail can? And more flexible, although rigidity in the waist is a positive thing.
Inconclusive as ever.
Happy shoemaking, jimmyshoe
DWFII said…

Personally, I cannot stand cork...anywhere in the shoe. I know I am in the minority in that POV but every shoe/boot I have ever deconstructed that had cork, the cork was "fugitive"--it had moved, flattened in areas where plump was wanted or disintegrated and turned to dust. man's bias.

So, I do use the leather all the way through. That said, I also use a metal shank regardless of the heel height of the shoe or boot. The build-up for the fiddleback covers the metal shank.

On a pair of boots the high fiddleback waist is, as I suggested, an almost automatic consequence of using a heavy metal shank and pegging the waist area. It is not necessary to skive or thin the waist when there is no welt and the waist is to be pegged.

There was a relatively famous bootmaker in the early 20th century who did experiments with both full welted and pegged construction--primarily to determine longevity of each technique. The full welted (to the breast of the heel) boots did not hold up in the stirrup as well as pegged waist boots...partially, I suspect because the welted construction leaves some room for air pockets around the edges of the inseam, whereas the pegged waist and the box-beam construction is solid, layer upon layer.

And yes, depending on the type of stirrup the fiddleback shank can prevent the foot from getting hung up in the stirrup in the event of "train wreck."
DWFII said…

I have pegged boots for over forty years. Most are pegged just in the waist but many, especially those that are replicas of 19th century boots, are full pegged. Many Eastern European shoemakers still full peg shoes (this may be where the full (and waist) pegging on boots originated--with immigrants to the US.)

In my opinion pegging is, with limitation, a fine technique resulting in a solid foundation for the shoe or boot.

But in areas where the sole must flex, pegging introduces a certain rigidity.

What's more, it reduces the life of the shoe or boot. A welt can be replaced almost indefinitely. But, with pegged construction, after a certain number of resoles, both the insole and the upper will be so perforated with holes from the pegging awl that the shoe will be effectively lost.

That said, the waist of a shoe or boot is pretty rigid and pegging is fine in such areas as long as one understands the life expectancy issue.

[On the other side of the coin, I have boots out there that are 30 years old and still being worn on a regular basis.]

I have seen some both vintage and contemporary shoes made by very high end makers, in Europe and in the US, that incorporate pegging in the waist.

I hope that helps and beg Jame's forgiveness for this diversion.
j.groot said…
DWF & James,

Thank you for your comments, which are most enlightening, and I do apologize for the digression.
jimmyshoe said…
No apologies necessary, I am fascinated and pleased to hear your thoughts. And to learn new things. I love people sharing their knowledge and this is an essential part of the blog. More of this please.
Happy shoemaking, jimmyshoe
Matt Deckard said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt Deckard said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt Deckard said…
I'm really going to have to get my feet measured for a good pair of ankle boots one of these days.
jimmyshoe said…
Yes you should Matt. Come and see us and we will happily oblige. Best, jimmyshoe