Independent Shoemakers Conference 2019

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The Royal Pump room

Welcome back good shoe makers and shoe making enthusiasts. It's a long post this week as we cover the wonderful Independent Shoemakers Conference from last week!

The conference takes place annually and is organised by a different shoemaker every year.  This year we were up in beautiful Harrogate, in Yorkshire under the great care of Tony and Jane Slinger. Tony is one of the 'fastest makers 'in the west' - if you've ever seen the film of him welting you'll know what I mean - and a specialist orthopaedic bespoke shoemaker ...and if you haven't, watch it!

Bill Bird, orthopaedic shoemaker and bio mechanics specialist, and co-founder of the conference opened up with details of the student competition that is held at the conference every year. It was set up in memory of David Xavier and 's a great opportunity for aspiring shoemakers to show their ideas, designs and making; entries are voted on by the conference delegates and there's a cash prize for the winner!

The Conference kicked off with undisputed shoemaking maestro, Jim McCormack; both one of the best shoemakers and nicest guys in the business. (He'll blush at that!)

Front to back: Adele from R.E. Trickers, Sebastian Tarek, James Ducker, pattern cutter and lecturer Fiona Campbell and Brooklyn's Marika Verploegh Chasse

Carreducker student Sabina and cowboy boot maker Lisa Sorrell watching closely

A full hour of eager delegates

Jim explaining how he preps the insole

Finest sole stitching
Describing keeping the thicknesses light and flexible
Making the holes in the sole before it goes on

Dampening the sole

This is how thin the pump sole is

Pump still life

Stitching the sole on using a running stitch that pulls the sole in tight

The slim edge irons Jim uses for pumps

Top tip from Jim - match the thickness of your thread to your awl i.e. don't try to squeeze a thick thread through a hole made by a smaller awl, just make the thread one core lighter to fit. 

Then it was on to one of my favourite parts of shoemaking, finishing with Mariano, a bespoke shoemaker based at Cockpit in Deptford.

Marioano sharing his finishing techniques
Mariano uses French rasps, which are a great investment if you are going to take up shoemaking for good; otherwise the Japanese rasps are great and once they wear out a little can be used for other jobs such as smoothing the cork infill or shaping last fittings

He is also a fan of the scraper instead of glass for smoothing edges and the sole. I've never tried them and there are pros and cons to both them and broken glass. Personally I love breaking glass and have it down to a fine art, but always keen to try new things, we've ordered a scraper to try it out. I only hope I can remember how to shape and sharpen it :)

One further great tip Mariano had, was to make a shoe protector to use whilst finishing. He suggested using a strip of soft kid or lining leather with a piece of elastic joining the two ends that could be stretched around the shoe just above the welt. It helps to protect the upper from ink, wax and tool marks when finishing. Might be worth trying for sole stitching too, I wonder?

Next up, from over the pond, one of America's best cowboy bootmakers, the dynamic Lisa Sorrell on "How to be a great teacher". I won't lie, I started her talk thinking, but I love teaching students and passing on our knowledge and I've been teaching for over 20 years...what can I learn? 

For students they need to know the rules before they break them; be true to tradition but change is OK; and most important, making mistakes doesn't make you a bad shoemakers. We all make mistakes, but it's how you solve them that is important, so share your mistakes with your students.
Well, let me tell you I came out of it humbled and reminded we always have something to learn from one another, whether teachers or shoemakers. In this case, a reminder to share the knowledge when the student is ready and not to let the day to day of running a business dampen the passion, joy and enthusiasm for your craft; after all, your students are at a different place in their journey.  

There are only two lastmaking companies in the UK as far as we know, Spring Line and Lastmakers' House. It was great to have Steve Lowe talking us through his approach to measuring, last and tree making and to see the shapely results. 

Steve won extra Kudos for bringing a whole beam of wood all the way from Eastbourne!

Then Daniel Wegan from Gaziano & Girling gave us a talk on 'Range'. Now if you're not familiar with the term then nor were we, but apparently it comes from a turn of the 20th century book.


Essentially we decided it was about aesthetics; a combination of clean style lines, not overly decorative, a good flow of line from the heel through to the toe in making, a clean and straight welt and well balanced and proportioned heels.

It's easy to see the good flow on these shoes by Daniel (below) from last year's shoemaking competition, they are beautiful. But it would have been nice to have seen the same skills and range demonstrated on a number of  different toe shapes and styles to truly illustrate the concept; and to discuss how to avoid bad range, for instance by under or over welting or not having a well prepared insole. 

Daniel made the point that by getting each stage of making right, it helps the next and it is a good one. It's something I'm mindful of with every pair of shoes I make, but after 20 years making, I'm also confident in the knowledge that if something does mess up, I've the skills to put it right. So for students the more we can share with them about why it's important to do something right and accurately the better; so they know how an what to aspire to when they're making and to achieve it with practise.  

It was lovely to see Neus, also from Gaziano, back to share her patina skills once more this time on exotic skins. As you can see below she drew a crowd as always. 

And then Phil Taylor talked to us about managing customers expectations and how important it is to the outcome of a commission; so true! Phil is extremely knowledgeable and it was good to hear about the fantastic team he is growing at The Cordwainer, bringing on new apprentices in his orthopaedic workshop and building links with the NHS to deliver better care to orthopaedic customers.

The conference ended on a high with Jayne West from the British Footwear Association outlining the great job that she and the BFA are doing, driving training in the industry forward and linking up the manufacturers, training providers and apprentices. It's no mean feat, but Jayne is a fantastic champion and her enthusiasm and energy is infectious.

We look forward to hearing great things as the BFA continues to build bridges and relationships; it's so important that training is relevant to the industry, with clear career paths, so it is an attractive option for students; the next generation in whatever aspect of the industry they choose to train.

And that was that...a fantastic line up and always something to bring away. It just leaves us to say a huge congratulations to the students who entered their work for the Xavier award and to George Paish from Bill Bird, who was this year's recipient. We'll be getting details of how to enter for next year if any of our students would like to submit their work!

That's it for this week. What a marathon post. Until next week, happy shoemaking!