Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 17 December 2010

Lasting 3

One question I get asked a lot is this,

"Are your shoes Goodyear welted?"

Well, here's the thing. The Goodyear welt is an industrial process which was developed to replicate the hand welted shoe, which is what we do. So the answer is no, they are not Goodyear welted, they are hand welted. And there usually follows a long explanation of the differences, which I can boil down to ' our way is better, stronger and more durable'.

Esentially, the way we make shoes dates from the 16th Century. And when the Industrial Revolution came along, they invented machines which do the jobs a skilled artisan like me has taken years to perfect. So the shoes they make in Northampton for example, have a similar construction as our exquisite bespoke shoes (nominally), but there is a world of difference between the two.

Firstly the materials we use are of the utmost quality. The best box calf for the uppers and the best oak bark tanned cow hide for the soles, heels etc. This has the effect of lengthening the life of the bespoke shoes. We say 15 to 20 years if you polish regularly, but it can be longer (just look at some of the royal shoes!).

Secondly, a hand welted bespoke shoe is made with a integral feather or holdfast (cut out of the insole), rather than being made from components. This imparts enormous strength and durability.

Thirdly, bespoke shoes are hand lasted (see below) which gives a near perfect result and which also makes the two shoes a matching pair. Factory shoes lasted on a machine are simply not as reliable. Some may be perfect, but many are not. Just take a look at some of your shoes.

And if any of you can think of other reasons, then please feel free to comment.

Now, lasting. We left you last week with the toe puff lasted right on and dry. The next task is to shape it. The trick is to shape it to the lasts' toe shape. Use a rasp. Concentrate on the feather edge. Also make sure you don't rasp right through the leather. The thickest part of the toe puff should be the top of the toe box and it should thin out towards the straight edge.  The toe puff keeps the toe in shape when you take the last out, so it must be strong. This process gets easier and you have to have an idea of how thinly you skived the toe puffs before you lasted them. Also concentrate on the straight edge. This must go down to nothing so that when you last over the upper, you don't see the toe puff. Use a fine rasp to finish this edge, but be careful not to damage the lining.

When you are happy with the shape of the toe puff and you have made the other one the same (a pair of shoes remember), turn the shoe over. You will see that the toe puff is very thick and full of nails. Carefully take the nails out. You now have to skive the excess leather and make a flat feather edge.

When you have cut the excess off, use your rasp to finish the job, but make sure you rasp towards the middle of the shoe because if you rasp the other way, you will pull the lining away from the last as there are no nails holding it in place.

You are now ready to last over the upper. Put paste on the toe puff and all along the feather edge underneath.

With your lasting pliers, pull the front of the upper to the last and put in a nail. If you have a toe cap or vamp measure, make sure you have pulled it to the correct point.

Continue to put in nails. 1 on one side, then 2 on the other, then 2 and 2 on each side. Make sure there is a little pleat of leather between each nail.

Continue with the nails all the way to the waist and meet up with your nails there. When you are lasting, each time you pull and put in a nail, turn the shoe over and check your upper. It must be in the right place. If you pull too hard you will pull the upper out of alignment. If you don't pull hard enough, the upper will not sit flat on the last. This is one of the amazing things about leather, it's ability to take the shape you want it to, to transform from a flat material to a 3D shape. A bit miraculous really. Just keep checking. You need to get the vamp to sit tight to the last.

When you have your nails in place, you can trim the excess leather off, which can make the next stage a little easier.
You need to go back to the toe now and pull and put nails into the pleats between the nails. You are aiming for a completely flat feather edge. You can help with this by using the flat end of the French shape hammer and tapping gently.

Trim off the excess leather to about 6mm from the nails. And take out the nails from the lining.

Finally hammer down all the nails and you have almost finished the job.

Check the toe and if there are any small irregularities, use a hammer to tap the toe puff. Be gentle.

And that, as they say, is a wrap.

Until next week, happy shoemaking.