Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 18 December 2009

Super Natural

You plug away, week after week, trying your hardest, and then it happens. Serendipity, coincidence, happenstance. You see something, hear something and the ideas arrive, germinate and grow.

I think we have a possible signature finish. Most makers leave their mark. Mostly it is a pattern on the heel top piece with the nails. I have a couple of favourites. And I have seen some beautiful examples. But I want something more recognisable.

The finish to the shoe is very important. It's what customers judge a shoe by. You might construct a shoe perfectly, strong and durable, but if it is not finished well, the customer will be disappointed.

A bespoke shoe is never perfect. I have never made a shoe I am totally happy with. It is one of the things that marks a bespoke shoe out, the imperfections and flaws. It's part of the beauty of it, the mark of the artisan. Factory shoes, on the other hand, are perfect, flawless. This might appeal, or not, but it is a fact.

So how can we distinguish our shoes from the rest? Perhaps it is the finish on the sole and edges. Normally we finish high gloss black on a black shoe and brown on a brown shoe. Occasionally we might do a natural finish on a pale shoe. But this is just habit. Why not do a natural finish on every shoe? On brown shoes for sure, but why not on black? I am going to try it. It may look awful, but you have to try.
I love a natural finish, seeing the grain of the leather.

Here is the patented jimmyshoe method of achieving a perfect natural finish. And check out the canvas shoe. I like it. It fits in well with our recent use of tweed and leather. We are going to explore this one.

Ok, you have built your heels; shaped them with a knife; rasped assiduously; and glassed them smooth. You are ready to sand them. The first grade is an 80 grit aluminium oxide paper. Cut a piece and wrap it round a sanding block. Now sand that heel! There is no trick to sanding, just hard and fast. Keep going and then do it some more. The more you do it, the better the finish. You should work up a sweat. Get rid of all those lumps and bumps.

Remember to sand the heel breast too, right up to the sole, making sure you don't damage it. When you have done both, do it again with a 120 grit paper.

At this point I sand the edges too, but more of that another time.
Wet the heels and heel breast with a toothbrush.

Next is the special part. You need to buy a sanding block. One of those foam ones with 2 grades of fine grit abrasive on that you use in decorating. Using the finer grit, sand again, but this time only in one direction; fast hard strokes. Before, you could sand both ways, forward and back. This time, just forward. You will see how the surface turns darker and glassy smooth. Don't forget the breast, same procedure.

The last stage is to polish. You can use neutral or a darker colour, depending on the upper and the tone you wish to achieve. Note that the polish will darken the leather. Put a layer on, buff it off and do it again. Make sure you get into the seat. It should now gleam, but remain natural and beautiful. I like it. No, I love it!

By the way, what do you think about these canvas shoes? I was unconvinced but have been swayed. I think I would have preferred more leather on the upper with the canvas, but it works as a summer shoe.

There will be no post next week as it is Christmas. So have a great one and all the best for 2010.