Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 22 January 2010

Hardcore Craft

We have been involved in the Crafted programme for a while now and we have received a lot of fantastic advice and guidance from our mentor, the delightful Mark Henderson of Gieves and Hawkes. This has been of a formal nature, in as much as we have examined the business from top to bottom - from the product offering to marketing and PR; finances to future opportunities. I think we are getting to a point where we can focus our attention more usefully. More on that when we have made a decision.
But there are other things which arise from this kind of analysis. One of which is why we do what we do and what we want to be doing as the business grows. One of the main answers to this question for me is that I love shoemaking and I love the craft of shoemaking with a pure and burning passion. And it is not as simple as just loving sitting at my table and making shoes (which I do, hugely), it is a love of the Trade, the craft, the tradition, call it what you will. I am part of a centuries old line of shoemakers, honest, hardworking tradespeople - well trained and highly skilled, and I feel proud to be a part of that. And I want the tradition to continue.
This is why we do what we do, especially the courses. If we don't pass on our skills, the craft will die out. We are guardians of the trade (hang on while I put on my tights and cape).
In a broad sense, this is why the Crafted programme is so important. Important to all the crafts which the programme supports. On a very personal level this feeling affects my daily work. When I make shoes, I could cut corners and do it quicker. I could buy some machines to make my life easier and save time, lower our costs. But I cannot do it. I was trained to do everything by hand using my hand held tools. I can make a pair of shoes with about 20 tools and a table. That is it. Nothing more.
People, especially students, ask why we don't do that, cut corners. Well, this is why. It's about tradition and purity. And from a student's point of view, the simpler the method, the more likely they are to be able to do it on their own. And this is what we have to convey to our clients. This is what you are paying for when you buy bespoke shoes. When customers see the workshop and see what we do, it makes more sense.
I am no luddite, but this is my passion. Learn to do it by hand first, then use machinery if you want to.
Anyway, enough of me chuntering on.

I am going to expand on this with an example. You have built your heel and are ready to finish it and set the edges. The easiest first stage is to turn on the turning machine and sand it to perfection. But we don't want to do that, do we? No, pick up your rasp and get going. Rasping must be done hard and you should work up a sweat. This is the point where you must get rid of all the knife marks and lumps and bumps. Rasp and then rasp again.

Start with your raw heel which you have shaped with your knife

My rasp

A raw edge, again shaped and trimmed with your knife.

A rasped edge.

Heel breast, raw and ready to rasp.

Beautifully rasped and smooth. Make sire you get rid of all the imperfections.

Finally, you have to hold the shoe straight on and check that the edge is even around the toe and back to the joint and the same on both shoes. You have to rasp the uneven bits until it is even.

A finished and even welt/edge.

Next week we will look at glassing and sanding. Happy shoemaking!