Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 9 December 2011

Drastic Measures

Greetings to all of you. I hope you are having a good day, about to be made better by our tasty blog.

First off, if you are in the West End today, (Friday 9 December), I will be making shoes in the window of Gieves and Hawkes, all day with the odd break, of course. It looks really great (we are told), especially when it is dark.

Next up, a new shoe. The final piece in the carréducker Mayfair Collection. Sober, classic and very stylish. Love the chisel toe and elegant lines (like a 60s sports car).
We put some brogue punching on one of the caps, just to let customers see what possibilities are available.

New Stay Stitch

Houston, we have a problem.

We make every effort possible to make sure our shoes fit well. We always do fittings and make sure the customer signs off the final fit. At this point we make the shoes. 99 times out 100, this works perfectly and the shoes fit very well.

Occasionally, they don't. And this week, we had a pair which didn't fit. We delivered the shoes and the customer said the heel lifted at the back which is very bad. It means your toes clench to compensate for the heel slip and this can lead to problems over time.
I can only think that when we pulled the backs down when lasting, we went slightly below the desired line. It may only have been a tiny amount, but that can make all the difference

When you have finished a pair of shoes, there are always small tweaks you can make, but it is never easy and never pleasant. Much better to get it right first time!

With this particular problem, we had a few choices. We could unpick the top seam, reduce it (or put in some padding), and re-stitch it. A bit tricky with this shoe because of the counter and all the layers leather we had to deal with.

So, the option we went for is to soak the heel in water, reduce the last or trees and shrink the heel down with a giant elastic band. It is a horrible thing to do, soak your beautiful bespoke shoes in water. Especially in this case because the lining is natural veg tanned calf and will stain. So we had to make sure the whole of the lining was wet.
We soaked the heels for a good 20 minutes to make sure the stiffeners were good and wet. This allows for the desired shrinkage to happen.

Soaking the heels

Usually you would have use your lasts to do this. Luckily we had bespoke trees which made life a lot easier because it is a bit tricky getting the lasts back in once you have finished a pair of shoes.

We marked what we wanted to remove on the trees.

We then rasped off the excess wood and put the trees or lasts back into the shoes. Use lots of French chalk or talcum powder to help get them in.

The last stage is to put on your big elastic bands. In this case, we used two pieces of tyre inner tube cut to size. We stretched them on and then wedged heel lifts in there to make it tight.

Heel lift inserted to add tension to the inner tube

We made sure the rubber was over the offending area.

And this is how it looks at the end. The shoes are drying on our shelves now and we let them rest for a week. To make sure everything is totally dry and to make sure the leather has adopted the new shape in the remarkable way that leather does.

But, dear reader, do not think that this is a good solution to a problem. It was a poor fix at the last chance saloon. We hate doing stuff like this, but, at times, needs must and you have to take drastic measures. Rather do this than take the shoes apart and remake them.

Fingers crossed that the fix has worked. Wish us luck!

Until next week, happy shoemaking.


Ben said...

Is the customer happy that you did it this way? You note that it is a poor fix.

Yvonne said...

OK, I have read every single blog post you have written. Looking forward to trying to make my first pair! I would love to know more about making high-heeled shoes for women, and being sure they are stable...if you guys ever make them? You did have a post where you mentioned the shanks change from leather to wood to steel as the support requirements increase. I made y one and only pair of heels about 10 years ago when I took a quick Summer shoe making class offered by Parsons School of Design, but I could never wear them because they were sandals and the waist twisted enough to throw me off balance, and I gave up on trying to make shoes again...until I came across your blog and now I feel newly inspired! Thanks again!

jimmyshoe said...

Hi Ben, when I say a "poor fix" what I mean is that it is better to get the fit right before you finish the shoes. The "fix" we did is perfectly legitimate and works well. It also does no harm to the shoes
We will tell the customer if he asks how we did it. Or he may read the bolg, who knows?
Best, jimmyshoe

jimmyshoe said...

Hi Yvonne, making high heels is a skill and quite advanced shoemaking. It does require a steel shank and the waist must be stiff.
We do make ladies' shoes but not very often, and more often than not with a stacked leather heel rather than a covered wooden heel.
Best, jimmyshoe

Jean Teplitsky said...

Hi again! thanks for your advice in the storm welt I think it cam out pretty well for my first attempt! I have some rubber soles arriving soon, was wondering if you still cut a channel when stitching on a rubber sole like this on? can't see too well in the pics.

Best regards


jimmyshoe said...

Jean it is almost impossible to hand stitch rubber soles because the holes close up when you take the awl out. Best to use a machine, James