Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 25 November 2011

Fiddle Waist

So, dear shoemakers of the world, another week goes by. Today sees the start of the twice yearly Cockpit Arts Open Studios. The public's chance to see our working studios and either buy or commission work from the over 90 designer/makers who work here. So if you are in Central London this weekend, why not pop in and see us. It is a great visit and you could buy some of those tricky Christmas presents

Opening times are

Friday 26 November 11am till 9pm
Saturday 27 November 11am till 6pm
Sunday 28 November 11am till 6pm

£5 in.

And so to shoemaking. We have seen recently the rise of the fiddle waist in high end men's shoes, and of course we are not immune to it. Our recent Mayfair Collection features them, and rather beautiful they are too

But I have been wondering about the origin and purpose of them. The internet did not throw up very much useful information (maybe the old fiddle is too arcane), so I went to visit my old friends at John Lobb to see what they had to say on the subject.
There were a few disagreements about the finer points, but this is what I learned.

The essential elements seem to be a pulled in waist and the Y shaped ridge up the middle (some thought this was not essential, but the consensus was that it was).
Most seemed to think that the origin was on women's shoes with high heels where the waist becomes very important for the integrity of the shoe.
Most also thought that it was basically a decorative addition without much structural significance, but that the Y shaped ridge adds strength to the waist, because the higher the heel and the more pulled in it is, the more strength you need to support the weight of the wearer.
Most also thought that they were not generally used in men's shoes. However, if the main use is aesthetics, then they are permitted in any shoes, men's included.
One person said they thought they were used in equestrian boots and cowboy boots, but was not entirely sure.
Any feedback about this would be greatly appreciated.
As for the name, it is because the waist looks like a violin (fiddle), but, frankly, I don't see it. Ho hum.

And here's how you do it.

Start with a welted shoe with a shank and cork filler. Welt trimmed and ready to prepare the sole. You can do this with a square waist or a bevelled waist in this case.

I like to draw the line of the Y shaped ridge.

Usually you would make the fiddle with leather for strength and durability, but as these are sample shoes and will never be worn in anger, I did it with cork.
Cut out a piece of cork to cover the whole area and glue both surfaces (contact adhesive or rubber solution).

Let it dry and glue it in place.

Skive the edges down with your knife. I forgot to say that the cork/leather should extend back behind the heel mark so that the finished ridge disappears in to the heel.

Make another piece of cork but narrower this time to start building up the ridge. Glue both surfaces and let them dry.

Glue it in place.

Again, skive the edges to build up the ridge.

Repeat the process with a third piece of cork, but narrower again.

This is my final piece, but for a bigger, bolder ridge add a fourth piece of cork.
Start to rasp the cork into shape. If you use leather, use your knife to shape the ridge.

You should be aiming for a sharp pointed ridge all the way along which splits to form the Y shape.

At the joint, there will be a big raised platform of cork. You have to blend this into the fiddle waist with your knife.

Then rasp it into shape.

And then the fun bit starts. You have to make the other one and they have to look the same! I do each process on both shoes at the same time s that I can match each stage to make a pair.

This is how I would normally prepare my sole on a normal shoe.

 But on a fiddle waist, you want the Y shape to be accentuated, so I always skive away right across the waist area like this. This thins the sole and when you glue it on, it is easier to get a nice ridge.

Once the sole is glued into place with rubber solution, you have to use your hammer to shape the waist. Gently tap the leather along the contours of the Y shaped ridge. Be gentle, tap it rather than bash it. This really helps define the shape because the leather is still mellow (a little wet) and is easy to shape with the hammer.

The results can be lovely. I like the fiddle waist a lot.

And that, as they say, is that. For this week at least. We wish you all a good week, especially our US friends who have a big holiday right now.

Until next week, happy shoemaking!