Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Thursday, 27 January 2011

How Can You Tell It's A Bespoke Shoe?

Another week, another career, fellow shoemakers

In addition to my credentials as a master shoemaker, I have embarked on a second career in modelling. Any of you who may walk down Vigo St, will see a (very) large photo of yours truly in the window of Gieves and Hawkes. Fame at last you might say.

Unfortunately, I do not foresee as much success in this new occupation. The Other One's reaction was "When is it due?". Harsh in my opinion, but I can see her point. I blame it on an unfortunate apron malfunction. And there is nothing I can do about my face, so I think I will stick to making finely crafted custom made shoes.

People ask me what makes a bespoke shoe stand out from a factory shoe. How can you tell if someone is wearing bespoke shoes? Well, there are some give away signs. The principle one in my mind, is the mythical bevelled waist - that part of the sole leading up to the heel where the shoe is pulled in and given an elegant curve.

The bevelled waist is folded up against the upper using a combination of skilled skiving with a knife; preparation work; and a special iron. The result is unmistakable and cannot be reproduced well by a machine.

The effect is to narrow the waist and hide the welting stitches, giving a pleasing flow to the shoe.

Signs to look out for are the transition between the sole edge and the bevelled waist edge. This should be seamless and smooth. It is highly skilled and takes a long time to master. The other key element is the tightness of the bevelled edge to the upper. There should be no gap and you should not be able to see the ugly structural stuff underneath which is holding the shoe together.

So if you want to tell if is bespoke or not, then look at the waist. But you know, if you are wearing the bespoke shoes yourself, then you don't care so much about the waist, bevelled or not. Why? Because you care more about how they feel on your foot; how they fit you perfectly; how they caress instead of rub your feet; how when you are walking all day from one place to the next you do not even notice you have them on. That to me is the joy of a bespoke shoe.

And you know what else? Once you try them, it's hard to go back. Like so many of the finer things of life, I suppose.

Now then, back to shoemaking. My little pearl this week is a tiny and inconsequential thing called a side lining (are you detecting my ambivalence?). This is an extra piece of leather which is inserted between the lining and the upper, from the end of the stiffener to the toe puff.

Why use them? Well, they add substance to this area of the shoe which can, over time, sag out with the pressure of the toes. When I was an apprentice with Lobb, they insisted on putting them in every shoe. I do not adhere to this practice.

If the upper and lining are substantial, then I don't. If there is a wing cap, likewise. If the foot is slender, also. If the shoe needs to be lightweight or for a hot climate. And if I can't be bothered to make them (that is a joke).

I have a little cardboard pattern and cut out 4 side linings, reversing 2 of them for inside and outside.

You then have to skive to nothing along the edge that will be on top so that you cannot see an ugly ridge.

When ready, you dab a bit of paste on both sides and place them between the stiffener and the upper, making sure they are long enough to go over the toe puff.

Then last your shoe as normal.

At the stage where you shape your toe puff, you must glue down and shape your side linings so that they are invisible under the upper. Et voila.

Hope that helps all you budding shoemakers. Let me know if you want any specific areas covered.

Until next week, happy shoemaking!

Monday, 24 January 2011

January course done and dusted!

Time for a post from The Other One as we settle back into our new, two-studio routine.

The last week of our first January shoemaking course fled by in a blur. It all went to plan until the last few hours which culminated in an impromptu polishing class from former military man David as I battled to get his shoe from his last.

Lesson learned ladies and gentlemen - 20mm not 26mm nails in your sole and split lift; not too many nails; and don't punch them too far through please! My back and arms have yet to recover but at least his last finally came out. (Sadly not so true for Rosie whose lasts and shoes refused to part from each other. JD will be applying his muscles to them this
week so fingers crossed).

But what a great group they've been. They gelled so well that I felt like the new girl at school on Monday when I took over the shoemaking reigns.

JD assured me that the first week was a breeze and our four shoemakers in waiting have proved very capable with good hand eye co-ordination, some of the fastest stitching we've seen from a newcomer and with excellent results.

But week two is often more challenging as muscles and brains start to ache and levels of concentration fail. First sole stitching, then nail punching and finally heel building stymied each and every one at one time or another during the week.

But all four students kept apace with one another and although the girls lead
the way for much of last week the boys caught up towards the end. With heels built we finally got to focus on the finishing on Friday and Saturday.

Thanks to a final last push and really hard work the overall finish on the shoes is possibly the best yet, with good, sharp sole edges and smooth, gleaming heels - testament to some serious effort with rasps, glass and sandpaper.

The bonhomie was almost our downfall as I urged, cajoled and coaxed them to concentrate so that they would all finish on time...but we pushed on and managed time for bubbly and a sweet treat as certificates were handed out at the end. Well done guys and we look forward to seeing your second pairs!

Going back to our new life in two locales we have both found it strange not working next to each other every day. (Well I say strange but it has its benefits and I am sure JD finds it peaceful in the studio on his own). But I can't help texting and phoning to share news, gossip or otherwise. It helps to keep communication channels open and ensures we know what the other is up to! Mondays are studio days for the two of us and are an all-important day for catching up face-to-face, admin., decision-making and designing.

The rest of the week the studio seems luxuriously spacious with just one body in it and is a total contrast to being under the spotlight at Gieves.

It's rather a nice way to split our time. Half the week we get to be 'living craft' and have to think a little harder about how we look - we have chosen a 'uniform' of smart shirt and jeans for shoemaking that is practical, but smartish and the rest of the week we can be more casual.

But Gieves' surroundings is already influencing us. I am smitten by the beautiful tailoring the team at Gieves sport - particularly the sports coats and three-piece suits - and I hope to start off by investing in some tailored wasitcoats as part of my 'uniform', in due course. JD too I know likes the cut of Gieves' jib and is already sporting a very smart Crombie!

So until Friday and some more top shoemaking tips from Mr D, have a good week.