Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

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!