Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 30 July 2010

Week one of the course

Hi there, just a quick update from The Other One on the course before the weekend.

It's been an emotional week for our new students. They are a great bunch and are really giving the course their all but we don't call it an intensive course for nothing! There have been deeply felt highs and lows, aching hands, shoulders and egos to be soothed and some tough love to try to keep them on track with their making.

Learning something new as an adult is hard at the best of times, so hats off to them for showing such great determination and strength of personality this week. This is a highly skilled craft to learn.

The first day was spent getting to know their knives, sharpening them up and then skiving the toe puff and stiffeners. They also blocked over their insoles ready for the next day. It's fair to say that skiving is not a popular task (even we are not big fans) and there were many questions about machines to do the same task. They do exist, but we're keen for our students to become adept at using a knife - skiving machines are expensive and we try to run the course so as few tools as possible are needed.

The next day the holdfasts for welting and the insoles were prepared, ready for lasting and the welting threads were made - we roll our own threads using hemp tipped with bristles. We've come to see how personality plays a part in shoemaking - as students have become frustrated with their lasting, welting or stitching the task has become harder and harder. Especially the threads, which warm up in hot hands and become more and more sticky and difficult to work with. The warm thundery weather hasn't helped and I think we might invest in a mini fridge for the next summer course to keep the threads cool!

So, the last two days they have really come to appreciate just
- why the bristles have to be attached just so
- why the holes in the holdfast should be made with one clean movement
- why the toe puffs need to skived thinly
- and why the excess material after lasting needs to be trimmed away

I've never put on so many bristles in one afternoon!

Anyway, they all headed home this evening to continue their hard work ready for James to tomorrow.

Good luck everyone, enjoy it and see you next Saturday for the last day!

Making Packs And Covers

Well, here we are in the middle of our carreducker shoemaking course. The Other One is teaching this week, so I have not had that pleasure yet, but I am taking over tomorrow. Really looking forward to it.
We have eight students this time, from Australia, Canada, Holland, Germany, London, Singapore and Malaysia. They seem very nice and are getting on well. I will let you know more next week.

So, moving on to this week's subject. Following on from last week, I am going to give you details of our Making Packs. These are for those of you who want to make at home, but find it difficult to get all the tools, leather, uppers etc. Also for students who have done one of our courses and who want to carry on making.
The advantages of buying the packs like this are many. If you bought all the leather yourself, you would have to buy whole hides which are large and expensive. Some of them are enough to make 10 or more pairs of shoes.
You would have to have a last in the size you want to use.
You would have to make patterns.
And you would have to buy a whole upper skin, lining skin and close the uppers.

Making Pack 1
This is the complete pack which will allow you to make a pair of handsewn shoes as long as you have the tools to do it. All the rough stuff is English oak bark tanned cow hide, very good quality.

It includes:

A pair of standard lasts in a size of your choice.
A pair of calf uppers in a colour of your choice to fit the above last.
Cork Filler
Split lifts
Heel Lifts
Heel Top-Pieces

Cost £400

Making Pack 2

This pack is for those who have bought Pack 1 and want to make another pair.
This pack has the same content as Pack 1 minus the lasts.

Cost £320

Tool Kit
This is a basic tool kit with the specialist tools and waxes you will need to make a pair of handsewn shoes. There are other tools you will need but these are generally available from hardware stores.
It contains the following tools:

Lasting pliers
A flat knife
Welting awl blade and handle
Stitching awl blade and handle
Shoemakers tape measure
Silver pen
Sleeking bone
French shape hammer
1 edge iron
1 heel iron
Finishing wax
Hemp thread
Thread wax

Cost £300

NB if you live in the UK or the EU, we have to charge VAT on these prices.

This is quite an exciting development and should make your lives much easier. You will be able to concentrate on shoemaking rather than sourcing all the materials, which can be very time consuming and expensive.

Moving on, I had a request to explain how to keep the shoes clean and protected while you are making them. I could say be careful and don't get any glue on them. This is something you should try to do, however accidents happen and some leathers are more delicate and need protecting.
Traditionally we used cotton covers which were lasted over the uppers before welting. The problem with this is that cotton is absorbent and not particularly good as a protective layer.
Nowadays, we use plastic covers. You can buy specially made shoe covers which are used in the industry. These are very good and easy to use. You simply heat them with a hair dryer and stretch them on. They then shrink onto the shoe as they cool.
However, there is a simpler, more accessible solution. You can use food/freezer bags. And here's how you do it.

You start with a pair of shoes which you have lasted and are ready to welt.

Take your food bag.

These bags have a seam where they have been heat sealed together. This seam splits very easily. So split it so that it is open on one side.

Put your shoe in the corner of the bag and turn it over.

You need to pull the bag tight.

You are then going to cut the bag with your knife giving yourself a margin of 2cm at least. Avoid hitting the nails when you cut the plastic. Cut around the toe to the joint. Then do the same around the heel.

This is how it will look when you have trimmed it.

Now you need to to put contact adhesive around the nails and the edge of the shoe. Try not to get it too near the edge because when you squash the bag down you don't want the glue to go on the upper. Be quick so the glue does not dry.

Quickly squash down the bag all at once. Hold ot all down for a minute or so and the bag will stick.

The area of the waist is a bit problematic. Use some sticky tape to pull it tight.

Then put a strip of tape around the feather edge. This gives a little extra protection and holds the cover in place.

You now have your covers on and are ready to welt as normal. Right at the end of the finishing process, when everything is completed, you gently cut the covers away with a knife, right in the welt so that you don't see the covers. It works! Your uppers will be clean and unblemished.

So there you are. Hope this helps.

Until next week, happy shoemaking.