Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Week 1 - Day 6

I can't believe that it has already been six days. The students have done so much but today is a day for heads down and cracking on with welting, shanks and cork so that we are all ready to stitch soles on Monday... a little later than usual but nothing to panic about.

Time flew so fast today that I didn't even have time to take any pictures (sorry!). Threads are part ready for Monday and we concentrated efforts on getting the second shoes welted and making sure that the welt stitches were as tight as could be. The combination of threads and toes proved a challenge - bringing the welt in tight to the toe so that you couldn't see the stitch and so that the welt stood at 90 degrees from the side of the shoe. But the results are good and after some hammering we have decent, strong welts to move on to the next stage.

Both Godwin and Brian have found their fortes in welting I think - Godwin's for excellent strength and Brian's for clean, neat stitches. Heartening to see!

With each new process the students have realised why certain  requirements were made on them in the previous stages. So a tightly lasted, smooth toe will make welting easier and neater; if you take too long to last your heel and your stiffener starts to dry out you will end up with a more bumpy  surface on the underside of the heel; and a loose welt? Well, let's wait to see what Monday holds?  

The students are off for a well-earned break tomorrow to rebuild their stamina (with just a little bit of homework to do).

Wish them luck for a busy day on Monday!

Friday, 13 January 2012

Spade welt/Fiddle Waist Clarifications And Day 5

Well, here we are with week one of our January 2012 shoemaking course coming to an end. I am told that they are doing very well and should be welting before too long. I am stepping in for a day today, so I will get to see them all in action.

We had a mention in a great piece in the Telegraph about the new look Gieves and Hawkes flagship store at Number 1 Savile Row.

Another in The National about women in traditionally male trades like tailoring and shoemaking.

And a post on The Tweed Pig blog dedicated to carréducker - fantastic!

Thick and fast is how I would describe it.

Now, recent posts about spade welts and fiddle waists led to some good comments and a few emailed questions, so I am going to clarify a few points.

On a spade welt, it is important to alter your holdfast/feather at the joints and toe. You need to throw the lines out somewhat so that you can subsequently do the same with the welts. It is illustrated in the photos below. You have a normal holdfast and the lines show how you should alter them.
This mirrors the shape you will achieve on the spade welt itself.

Here is a welted shoe showing the width you need at the joint to get the right effect. On this pair, I left the toe normal in the end because it was not pointed enough to make the spade toe work well.

And so to fiddle waists. I said before that I used cork in a sample shoe, but shank leather on a customer's shoes. Well, here is an example of that. Same process, but with leather. This will make the shoe heavier, but it will last indefinitely, whereas cork could crumble away with time.

Same as before, you cut out and glue in the "lifts" and shape as you go.

Make sure the joint area is skived flat with the forepart. Otherwise your shoe will not walk right.

These last shots show how the welt looks when you cut it at the joint and the toe. Try to make them a pair remember.

And here is how the finished welt looks. This is quite an exaggerated one which is very visible when you are wearing them. It will also look better when the edges are inked and finished. I like that curve though.

And this is the leather built fiddle waist with the heel built. Looks just the same as the cork one.

Well, the day got away with me and I am posting this after the course has finished for the day, so here are a few pics. We spent the day thread making and welting which is always a challenge, but everyone is doing very well. More of the same tomorrow I think.

So, until next time, dear readers, happy shoemaking!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Week 1 Day 4

A bench of shoemakers tools - essential for handsewn work but somewhat bemusing if you've never worked with them before. As I revealed in yesterday's blog the lasting pliers are becoming more familiar to our class and so today's lasting action looked less challenging and hopefully more rewarding as insoles, toe puffs, stiffeners and uppers were transformed into a shoe.

 The toe puffs proved particularly tricky and revealed just how important a millimetre's difference in the thickness of the leather. When skiving, what seems a tiny difference when the puffs were flat, when lasted suddenly became a clumpy toe, bump or ungracious curve. Hammering, gentle rasping and some smoothing put paid to any unevenness.
 The lining was lasted first, then the tricky toe puff and finally the upper, checking all of the time whether the toes match.

And meanwhile, whilst The Cafe space where we are working is a hive of industry our own Cockpit workshop looks sadly empty! Mr Ducker takes the reins tomorrow and then I will be back in the driving seat on Saturday before sending the students off with some weekened homework!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Week 1 day 3

Another day and students, you did great today!

Yes Raymond that means you too! And Godwin for getting that waist down! Great persistence! And talk about going off from a standing start when it came to lasting pliers - never touched a pair before - well let me tell you you mastered them and painful, exhausting and frustrating though it may be, tomorrow will see you being welcomed by at least one and in many cases a pair of lasted shoes. Toe puffs still to go but I hope that all of the students will be welting by the end of the day.

Lasting is always a challenge. You are essentially using your whole body - legs, chest and knees to keep everything stable whilst your hands use an unfamiliar tool, to stretch leather that doesnt want to be stretched and then to nail said leather in place. Without it slipping, ripping or moving! Easy eh? Even I came home tonight after today's trials and tribulations and dove into a hot bath with a large glass of wine! So how the students must be feeling after a day of unfamiliar physical activity and mental persuasion, cajoling and downright bullying I don't know! But I can guess.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Week 1 Day 2 London course Jan 2012

The lampshades in our workspace are suitably shoe-related!
Work is progressing apace in the studio as our dedicated students learn more and more about the intricacies of good knife work and keeping their 'steel' sharp. There were sighs of frustration as once-sharp knives were blunted and smiles of delight as sharp knives cut through the leather 'like butter'. Today's top sharpening award goes to Patrick, who for at least some of the day, had a knife that could have carved through steel!

I was reminded as always, about how easy we make it look, but after 15 years if we didn't, I would be worried. Like everyone else we have seriously off days too and I took the precaution of wearing plasters today, simply because my hands are still soft from Christmas and will be cut to ribbons without some protection. On that note, day 2 saw the curse of the 'has anyone cut themselves yet' question come into force with two cuts in quick succession. But at least the ice has been broken and it was nothing serious.

Tomorrow will see the group finishing their holdfasts, lasting their shoes and I hope welting...otherwise it will be homework for tired hands on Thursday night! But they are doing well and keep their spirits up and blood sugar levels high during the day so I am looking forward to another good day's making tomorrow.

Preparing the holdfast 1

Preparing the holdfast 2
Preparing the holdfast 3

Monday, 9 January 2012

January 2012 - day 1 week 1 shoemaking course

We don't like to ease ourselves into the New Year, oh no! It's the second week of January and our first shoemaking course of the year got under way today with a great group of students from Taiwan, Canada, the US and good old Blighty!

James and I have spent the Christmas period revising, editing and refining the course notes to be much more user friendly (we hope) and our new students are going to be the guinea pigs - telling us what we have omitted, where we need to be more clear or to give us a pat on the back as and when we deserve it! It has been quite some undertaking, but we hope will bring us a step closer to finalising the content of the DVD we keep talking about. And yes, alumni students we will be sending the new notes out to you too!

Also new is our venue. We have used an art room in the past and our own studio for smaller courses, but the freeing up of a new space on our floor at Cockpit has meant we have been able to continue business as usual. The space is a long narrow room equipped with a sink and relatively good lighting. Adding a spotlight for each student and some ambient lighting makes for an attractive and pleasant work space.

So, how did our new group get on today? Well many, many hours were spent sharpening our favourite and most trusty tool, the shoemaking knife. Through trial and error the students learned where and how much pressure to apply to the knife and once it was workable, the benefit of using the leather side of the strop intermittently to keep the knife edge keen. Insoles were soaked and blocked ready for preparing tomorrow and quite a few stiffeners have been skived, so they are well on their way.

A good start and let's hope that they/we can keep up the pace!
More from me tomorrow as we make the feather/holdfast, skive the toe puffs and, all being well begin lasting.