Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 20 December 2013

2013 ends in a riot of colour!

This is the last blog of the year for us as we down tools and close up the workshops for a massive two-week break. But don't worry, there will be a host of new shoes, new projects and new challenges to write about in 2014.

There will be no easing into the new year, as we start our intensive course on January 6th. So, Deep Heat at the ready, (there are other brands available, just not so aptly named!) as muscles and tendons are jolted back into life!

The mood in the cutting room at Gieves has been one of jollity (and tired heads) as the decorations go up and the party season gets under way. It's lovely to see our friends and colleagues let their hair down, out-of-hours so forgive the indulgence of the sequence below from Gieves' staff Christmas party, in the beautiful Virginia Woolf room at The Russell Hotel...

Ms. Christine Macardy Gieves' bespoke's client liaison 
Mr. Matthew Crocker demonstrates the military precision of a ribs n' tux  combo
Getting the party started
Matt & Hugo throwing some shapes.
Why more men should dress up.
Guess what's on the left? The bar!
Old golden eyes  - head of Personal Tailoring, Mr. Shelton Miranda
The very lovely Ms. Agnes Smeder & Mr. Crocker (still on the dance floor) 

Effortless style!
And so we bow out of 2013 with a few colourful highlights from this year's bespoke commissions.

Carreducker shoes for a series of advertisements for Tim Page Carpets in Chelsea Harbour for super glossy home interiors magazine, World of Interiors. 5/10/2012
Our series for Tim Page Carpets ad. campaign
Carreducker shoes for a series of advertisements for Tim Page Carpets in Chelsea Harbour for super glossy home interiors magazine, World of Interiors. 5/10/2012
Our series for Tim Page Carpets ad. campaign
Stingray detail
BN Derby boots in box calf, stingray & Icelandic salmon with a sunflower yellow lining
JT Derbies in Bordeaux calf with an emerald green lining.
TK Derbies in caramel waxed calf with lime green detail
NS Derby boots in acorn and chambray calf with a sky blue lining

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and happy holidays and until 2014, happy shoemaking!

Thursday, 12 December 2013

A Trip To Northampton

Welcome, once more, dear readers, to the varied and wonderful life of the shoemaker.

Last week saw both of us on a rare works outing to the home of English shoemaking, Northampton.

Our first visit was to a factory in Wollaston, just outside Northampton itself. Housed in a purpose built factory dating back to the turn of the 20th Century, NPS Solovair, manufacture Goodyear welted shoes and boots for brands principally in the UK. It was a really interesting visit, particularly seeing the machines which do in a matter of seconds what we do in a lot longer.

The Closing Room

We saw some very modern machines alongside some wonderful old cast iron beauties - they used to build them to last (excuse the pun).

Look at the dates on this one. From Boston, no less.

The Old Triple Stitcher

This machine glued the gem onto the insole. Don't forget, the basis of a Goodyear welted shoe is glue - if it fails, the shoe falls apart. Not like a leather feather/holdfast. Just sayin...

This one is for foil or blind embossing, for socks or soles. Very envious. We want one!

Perhaps my favourite, this finishes the edges and the heels. It had attachments for all the irons that we use to set the edges - edge irons, waist irons and seat wheels, with heated wax in that little reservoir bottom right. A thing of beauty.

Our next visit was to A&A Crack & Sons where, of course, we came away with much more that we needed. Particularly in love with a dark bottle green oiled nubuck - now we just need a customer who shares our view. And who wants some field boots. Or we could just make some anyway.

Mr Tony Crack Himself

The afternoon saw us at Northampton University where we met Rachel Garwood from the Institute of Creative Leather Technologies. This was fascinating and a real eye-opener. They offer courses from 1 week to a 3 year degree course on all aspects of leather, from raw material to finished product - with emphasis on the fashion industry and the technical aspects of leather. There is also a Masters course.
We plan to do the week long course, where we will also give a guest lecture on handsewn shoes.
Rachel has agreed to come to our next Intensive Course in January to give a short talk on leather which will be a great addition to the course.
Perhaps most interesting was the tannery which they have on campus where students learn all aspects of the tanning process plus all aspects of testing. This would be a great addition to anyone wishing to start a career in any aspect of the leather industry, from shoes to bags, clothing to automotive.
Plus, graduates from their degree courses have 100% employment, the top ones getting up to six different job offers - food for thought!

The Tannery Building

Hydraulic Embossing Machine

We particularly loved this glazing machine. The arm moves back and forth and a glass cylinder glazes the leather to produce a shine. Apparently it's really scary to operate. I want a go!

Glazing Machine

The labs is where leather can be tested for chemical content, safety etc. Every tannery should be able to produce such data on all the leather they produce. We liked the pretty colours, obviously.

This softens the leather after drying

No idea what this does, but it's a thing of beauty.

Our last visit of the day was to the Northampton Shoe Museum where our good friends at Springline, last makers, had mounted an exhibition showcasing 30 years of work, with lasts both for the industry and for bespoke.

This was a good old knees up and we met old friends and new from the shoe industry there. They had even brewed a special shoemakers beer with special glasses. It was a great way to end the day.

The exhibition runs until the 29th of December and is well worth a visit.

And that's about it for this week.

Until next Friday, happy shoemaking!

Friday, 6 December 2013

Open Studios, Lasts and Luck

Cockpit Arts opened to the public last weekend for its bi-annual Open Studios. It's a great time of year and everyone loves dressing their space for Christmas shoppers. There's a real party spirit on Friday evening, when we're open until 9pm for late night shopping and the studios looked decidedly festive. 

Much Christmas shopping was done by visitors keen to gift something, truly unique, made by one of the 90 or so designer-makers based here and if you've never been before, we heartily recommend it. 

Alongside our Winkers shoes, we were selling a selection of the beautiful antique lasts that James and I have collected over the years from Spain, the USA and England. 

Lady Florence Craye wore red riding boots...
dainty, bright and gay! Spanish last size 34
G. D'Arcy Stilton Cheesewright was a flamboyant fan of chisel toes
British American last 1972

Brown brogue boots saved Bertie from many
a muddy scrape! Beech wood last size 39

Senor H. was a masterful matador in black patent pumps...
(until the bull got the better of him!)
Spanish last 1953 
The oldest date back to the early 1900s and each has a story to tell, so we created a whimsical character for each one, based almost entirely on P.G. Woodhouse

Like lasts, old shoes too bring with them love and a recent story in Newport, Rhode Island USA shows:  

A pair of 19th century brown leather slippers was found under the floorboards of the "Colony House" as the building underwent extensive renovation. It was not a complete surprise to historians as Ruth Taylor, executive director of the Newport Historical Society, explained; 

"They date to about 1830 and were probably left there as the building was under construction...folks hide shoes to bring good luck...a really common place is tucked up against the chimney stack." The Newport Historical Society plans to clean them up and put them on display in their museum. They've replaced the shoes with a similar pair so as not to break the chain of good luck." 

It's nice to know that our antique lasts will continue to bring good luck as gifts this Christmas. 

Until next week, when we will be revealing the most amazing pair of shoes we have created to date...happy shoemaking!

Friday, 29 November 2013

Repairing Old Shoes 3 - Toe Plates

Hello once more, dear readers. Another week goes by in the lives of two humble shoemakers. As Christmas approaches, we are trying to get as many pairs of shoes ready as possible, so that our customers can look resplendent over the holiday period.

If you are in London this weekend, we have our Open Studios at Cockpit Arts. We have some complimentary tickets so if you come, call us when you arrive and we will come and let you in - 02078130093

This week, we had an amazing series of emails from a blog reader in the Philippines. Some good news from there too which is great. Here is what he said.

  I went to Europe for the first time over the summer and for the first time, I was introduced to a wide range of quality dress shoes not found in the Philippines. Since cost of these shoes were significant I did considerable research in what to buy, how to take care of them, and ultimately how it was made. I stumbled upon your blog and fell in love with craftsmanship and art, involved in something so useful as a shoe. 

   So much so that I started looking for places where I could learn the craft. I found a small factory in Marikina that I paid to let me work in their factory and ask help from their workers. I would show them certain blog posts and asked if they could teach me how to hand last, sew a welt, etc.. There I met wonderful people who before were shoemakers but had given up the trade. I quickly found out that most of Marikina, which had small workshops in every street corner, had almost given up making handmade shoes and were now importing their shoes. 

   Here I met Ading and Elsa, two shoemakers who used to make handmade shoes back in the 80's and we started Sapatero together. We wanted to see what would happen when you combine Filipino craftmanship coupled with world class materials. Your blog was a wonderful inspiration and a great starting point for us here in Sapatero. Thank you for your work.

And here are some pictures of them in their workshop

And their work.

One question was where to get high quality calf skin in South East Asia. Can anyone help?

We wish Raymond and his fellow workers the very best of luck and feel proud that we had a small part to play in inspiring a new shoemaking business.

And on to toe plates. Here is how we do it.

First off, mark the position of your plates on both shoes. If they are metal ones, you have to do them to fit. Otherwise, you can make them any size you want.

Then cut along the line to the depth of your plate. But not through the stitches!

Cut away like this at an angle to reveal the cut better.

Cut away a space for the plate. If you are very organised, you can rebate this space before you stitch the sole on. I am not very organised.

Apply contact adhesive to both surfaces.

Glue on the plates and trim carefully. We like to put in tacks because they stay on longer and we like the retro look. Et voila! Toe plates.

Just a word of advice now to those of you who stick your grubby little fingers into the back of your shoes when you put them on. And also to those of you who kick them off again with the other foot. And especially to those who do both.


This is what happens. It makes the stiffener soft and the heel saggy. And it collapses the stiffener, both at the top and at the bottom. Big no nice!

And so we come to the end of another riveting post. We hope you enjoyed it and/or found it useful. We always welcome your comments and feedback. In fact, it's what makes doing this blog worthwhile.

Until next week, happy shoemaking!