Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 8 October 2010


Ho hum, Friday again. Where does the week go? It's been relatively quiet compared to recent ones, but that is no bad thing. It has meant a lot of time dedicated to making our lovely bespoke shoes.

We delivered a pair of wedding shoes (the day before the big day, which created a bit of stress unfortunately) and finished a pair for a client with very sore feet. They have been sent off to the last maker for trees and we are hoping that they will be a big comfort as he suffers enormously with sore toe joints. He has had operations and wears orthotics which are catered for in the bespoke last. This kind of work is a fairly common part of what we do. While it is not orthopaedic work, we do make shoes for people with minor foot ailments - painful joints, bunions, sore soles, one leg longer than the other, unusual shaped feet etc. These jobs are a mixture of trepidation and pleasure, but a very important service.

Our brave LCF student Michelle has requested an essay on how to make shanks.
Shanks can be made of leather, metal or wood. They are important to give support to the waist area between the heel and the joint. With no shank, this area would sag and make the shoes unwearable.
The higher the heel, the stronger the shank needs to be. Metal shanks are the strongest. You buy them ready made and hammer them into shape, then glue them in place, and finally stitch each end into the insole so that they don't move inside the shoe.
Wooden shanks can be used on lower heels, especially ladies. These are also bought ready made and simply glued into place.
With men's shoes of a standard heel height, we use a leather shank. Use offcut pieces of insole which have a rigidity along with being soft enough to flex and skive.

After welting, take a piece of chalk and draw around the edge where you have trimmed the upper and finish just behind the joint.

Place the shank leather on top of the chalk line and press so that you have the shape in chalk left on the leather.

Draw a pen line on the chalk to help you cut it out.

Cut out the shank and place it on the shoe to check that it fits correctly.

Turn it over and see how well it fits the other shoe. Make any adjustments and cut out the other shank. Remember to turn the first shank over to get the other shoe as they are a mirror image of each other.

You must now either glass the skin side or use the 'killer toothbrush', a vicious scoring tool. This will stop the shank squeaking.

Now you must skive the shank. At the joint line skive to nothing starting about half an inch from the joint. Then skive around the edge of the shank, about 1/4" (5mm). Do both shanks.

Using contact adhesive, glue both the shank and the insole. Let it dry and glue it in place.

Once in place, hammer the shank so that it is firmly fixed in place.

You must now skive the shank so that it is smooth and even and the same on both shoes. This stage will determine the shape of the waist. You can make it flat or curved. This is entirely up to you and is an aesthetic decision.

Finally hammer again make any adjustments to both shoes so that they are the same. And voila, outstanding shanks!

Next week I will do the filling on the forepart of the shoe.

So until then, happy shoemaking.