Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 11 March 2011

Welting The Toe

Greetings fellow shoemakers. I want to start by thanking all of you who read this blog. Whether you are one of our 89 followers, a regular reader, or just an occasional visitor.
We started it in 2008 with absolutely no idea what to expect. The first few posts were uncertain, but we gradually found our direction and it has built progressively. We are now averaging 300 hits a day which for such a specialist craft like ours is pretty amazing I reckon. There must be a lot of aspiring shoemakers out there!
So a massive thank you to all of you. It is really satisfying to know that there are so many of you who share our passion for this ancient trade.

This week I have been making a pair of lady's shoes with a stacked leather heel. It has proved very taxing and slow work because I simply do not do it very often and therefore I am finding it tough. With more regular techniques, I am so grooved that I can do it without having to think too much, I just let my fingers do the work. It is a great way to work.
It is the sole which I am finding so difficult. I will post a picture of them when they are done.
When I have to use a method that I do not use very often, it reminds me of the difficulties that most of you out there will be experiencing. It is almost like working blind because I know how it is supposed to turn out and I know how to do it, but I am never sure until the sole is finished whether it is going to work out or not. Add to that the fact that they are for a client, and you have a bit of pressure.
Teaching our course regularly has a similar effect. What I am saying is that I understand how hard it is for you guys out there who are making shoes on your own in your garages, garden sheds, spare rooms or basements.
But the rewards are great - that feeling when you iron a bevelled waist and it looks perfect; when you stitch a sole and it is totally even; when it turns out to be the right thickness all round; when you turn a shoe over and the waist/heel curves are gorgeous; when you pull the last and you have a pair of shoes that you have made yourself. all these moments are amazing. I still get it even now. A mixture of pride and wonder. Did I make those? Fantastic!

I had a request from someone who was having problems with the welt around the toe. They said it was weak and floppy. I think there may be 2 reasons for this.

The first is to remember that when you are welting you want to do 3 - 4 stitches to the inch. Along the sides of the shoe, this distance is the same on the inside and outside of the holdfast/feather. But when you get to the toe, the distance between the inside curve and the outside curve is very large, especially on a very pointed toe shape. This means that you have to space the stitches much closer together on the inside so that they fan out as they reach the outside giving you the 3 - 4 stitches to the inch (see below).
The other thing is to start angling the stitches quite far back before you reach the toe to give yourself more space to make the stitches because you soon run out of space on the inside track (see first picture).

The other consequence of welting around the toe is that the tiny spaces between the stitches on the inside track make it very easy to pull the stitch through the holdfast/feather itself when you pull the stitch tight. That horrible ripping sound and you know you have done it. This is not so bad on the sides where the body of the holdfast/feather is strong and the stitches either side compensate for the pulled stitch. But round the toe it can really weaken the welt.

The solution is to make little knots on the inside to form a solid plug which is too big to pull through the hole in the holdfast. And here is how you do it.

Make the hole as usual with your awl and pass the bristles or needles (yuck!) as normal. The black thread in the second picture is where the bristles are attached. I am going to number them, starting with the black one, 1 to 3. Depending on your stitch, sometimes 1 and 2 are reversed, but it does not matter.

Lift the bristle thread (in this case 1 but sometimes 2) up and over the other two to position 3.

Wrap it under thread 2 so it goes to position 2.

Pull it tight, but slow down as it approaches the end of the thread. You can see the beginnings of the knot.

Before you pull tight, push the thread right up tight against the holdfast. This is to stop the knot forming far from the holdfast which would stop it forming a barrier to pulling the thread through.

Pull the knot tight and you can see that it forms a ball right up close to the holdfast and pull the stitch tight as normal. The knot ball is too big to pull through the awl hole and so saves your stitch. Do this right round the toe and it will keep it strong. Cool huh?

If you try this, let me know how you get on.
I reckon that is about it for this week. Have a great week and, until next Friday, happy shoemaking!