Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 19 October 2018

A Visit to Northampton




Hello once more, dear shoe people, to the home of shoelebrity news, views and issues

First up are some pics of the shoes which our students finished last Saturday after 12 intensive days of hard work.

I hope you will agree with us that the results are pretty amazing. A massive well done to all of them




I must say, the standard of work continues to rise and we are amazed at how able, dedicated and delightful our students are. Well done to all of you!

 A couple of weeks ago, we accompanied a couple of students who were here learning Norwegian welting on a trip to Northampton to visit  A and A Crack and Son and Springline Lasts.

Crack are our principle leather merchant who have a fantastic range of leathers from top tanneries around the world like Horween, Annonay, Tempesti, Weinheimer, Zonta, and many more, in particular a great range of veg tanned leathers which we use a lot.
They ship worldwide and what is really great for us is that they sell single skins, so you can buy enough for a single pair of shoes without having loads of skins to spare.

Tony and Stephen are very friendly and welcoming and they were our first stop on our road trip.

If you visit, you need to have an idea of what you want to see because they have so many different kinds of skins there, but they are happy to show you leather of every description

Stephen spent a good hour with us and the students chose some lovely skins which were shipped to California and Sweden.

Examining Tempesti veg tanned skins

Just some of the leathers at Cracks

After a lovely pub lunch in the sunshine, we went to Springline, where Michael James, head last honcho in the Model Room showed us how to measure feet for bespoke lasts.



The Model Room where they develop new lasts for industry and make bespoke lasts



We then had a tour round the factory which was fascinating.

Rough turns waiting to be finished

Digital turning machine which "reads" the last and turns it into a file for subsequent grading

In the factory

They have a massive archive of lasts which is great to plunder for inspiration, new toe shapes and last contours.

The last archive


And that is it for this week, We hope you have a good week and will come back next week for another slice of shoemaking life. Until then, happy shoemaking!



Friday, 12 October 2018

12 Day Shoemaking Course - Week 2

Welcome back, dear readers. We know you are hungering to hear what has happened to our intrepid students on the Carreducker 12-Day Shoe Making Course. So here is a summary of what they have been up to.

We left them welting which they all tackled with enthusiasm. So next came shanks and cork which were glued in and shaped with the knife.


Shanks being shaped

And next came the cork which was rasped and shaped to a gentle dome.



The sole came next - they cut it out from the mellow leather and hammered it for longevity. Then it was glued in place prior to stitching.

They also made threads and put bristles on.

Smoothing the sole

Attaching soles and making bristles

Before stitching, they cut a channel to hide the stitches and created a groove for them to sit in.

And so to  stitching...





Closing down the channel with the sleeking bone

So, with the sole stitched on, we came to heel building with the split lift coming first. We make this from scratch and attach it with paste and nails.


Trimming the split lift/rand

On top of the split lift come 2 full lifts which are attached with paste and nails, followed by shaping with the knife.



Heel building is a challenging process and it is very important that the heels sit flat on the ground when they are finished, so a lot of time is spent skiving them flat and balancing them on the glass skiving board.



Another important part of heel building is peening which closes all the gaps between the heel lifts. We use the French hammer for this job.

The last stage of the heel building is to put on the top piece which has a quarter rubber for durability. At this stage, the shoes are structurally finished, but there is the finishing to do to make them look smart.

This starts with rasping.




And glassing.




On this course we had a student, Deb, who was making her shoes on a bespoke last with a higher heel, so her job was a bit tougher. But she did a great job.



Rasping those higher heels.



With 2 days left, they will be sanding, setting the edges and pulling the lasts. This will be followed by socking and polishing. We will show you pictures of the finished shoes next week.

Until then, happy shoemaking!

Friday, 5 October 2018

12 Day Shoe making Course October 2018 - Week 1

Once more, dear readers, we welcome you to our blog. We hope you have had a good week and that the elves, St Crispin, or whoever you turn to for shoe inspiration has been smiling on you

We had a great photo sent to us from Sighisoara in Romania of the Shoemakers Tower which was built by the guild of shoemakers to help form the city walls. It was a joy to see some of our shared heritage.



This week we started our October instalment of our classic 12 Day Shoemaking Course - twelve straight 8 hour days of intense, physical shoe making

It is a great experience and we would recommend it to anyone.

Day 1 saw our intrepid students sharpening their knives; skiving leather toe puffs and stiffeners and blocking their insoles


And here is a tutorial from the blog about skiving stiffeners


The beautiful classroom at Unit 50

Day 2 was spent preparing the insoles - trimming the edges and creating the holdfast/feather with the knife.
This is precise work and the students did really well

Here is a little trick we teach to stop them cutting the holdfast too deep - it works a treat

Holdfasts all done

Day 3 sees the shoes start to take shape with the lasting process. They insert the stiffeners and toe puffs and pull the uppers onto the lasts using lasting pliers and nails

Here is the first part of our blog posts about lasting.

Here is some paste going onto the toe puff which has already been shaped . And you can see the lasted shoe top left

Toe puffs drying

Day four and we started welting. This group has been very able and impressive, so well done guys. Welting is seen by many students as the most challenging part of the whole process, but it is also very satisfying


We use hemp which we twist into treads and then wax using our own recipe thread wax - available in our webstore - and then we attach bristles with tar. We prefer bristles as they are flexible and easy to use.
Here is a tutorial from our blog about making threads.



Today will see them finishing the welting and moving on to putting in the shanks and cork filler ready to stitch the soles on.

All the tools and materials you can see in this blog post are available from our webstore

We will report back next week with progress. Until next time, happy shoemaking!

Friday, 28 September 2018

Norwegian welt boots and Forge & Carve



Welcome back good shoe folk. Here they are, portraits of two rightly proud shoemakers with their fantastic Norwegian-welted boots. Congratulations to Mathilde and Natalya! 

We're continuing the theme of making and celebrating, but talking all things craft, not just shoes, with a preview of the new book we're proud to have been included in, Forge & Carve.



As we sadly couldn't make it to the official launch in the wilds woodlands of Worcester we had our own drinks last week at 50...a mini-launch if you like. 

A massive thank you to everyone who popped in to toast the publication, to have a leaf through and to even buy a copy and get it signed. (That was a first for both of us...a book signing...who would have thought!) 



And a massive thank you and congratulations to the team at Canopy Press for such a beautiful production and print job. We felt in safe hands from the start and the resulting book reflects that...it feels as good as it looks!



Rather than give you a blow by blow account of the book (that would defeat the object and joy of buying a copy) instead below is a glimpse of each section. We've included links where we could to the craftsmen's websites and social media. 

We hope that, like us, you too will be enthused by and drawn to this series of fascinating stories and wonderful photography that offers such an engaging and enticing behind-the-scenes look into their lives and workshops.




(And yes, this was when we decided to do the book, when Robin Wood's name was mentioned. Robin is the man most-oft fighting craft's corner in Westminster and who turns a mean handle, bowl and his hand to pretty much anything!)

So here they are...



Matt Jenkins - @cloverdaleforge





Ben Orford @benandloisorford



John Neeman - @autine_johnneeman



 E J Osborne - @hatchetandbear



Eamonn O'Sullivan 

Yoav Elkayam - @yoav.kafets

Franz Josef Keilhofer - @gingerwoodturner





Ruth Pullan - @ruthpullanleathergoods


Peter Faulkner



Mary Tove Lindas - @marytovelindas


Tony Hitchcock - @thetrugmaker


Mitch Iburg - @mitchiburgceramics

Sarah Pike - @sarahpikepottery





Simon van der Heijden - @heijdenvdsimon



But the book also has a serious job to do. 

Crafting is experiencing a renaissance as skills and knowledge are shared via social media, for the escapism that it offers in the modern day and as a much-needed outlet for creativity. It is this renaissance that brings a serious message to the fore and that is this, the value of knowledge.  In 2003 UNESCO introduced the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage not just on conserving items but on passing on knowledge and expertise. 

Over 100 countries agreed to the convention, but at the moment the UK is not one of them. 


So why not join the movement to preserve those century-old skills...and bag yourself a copy of Forge & Carve? We'll have more copies on sale soon. 

What next for us? Will it be axe making, bow making or broom making?  For now, until next week, just happy shoe making.