Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 1 March 2013

The 2013 Annual Independent Shoemakers' Conference

Welcome back once more, dear readers. We hope you are well and looking forward to some news from the world of bespoke shoes.

Saturday saw a very early start for both of us. I met Deborah at some far flung Tube station in West London and we set off along the M40 for Alcester in Warwickshire and the 15th(?) Annual Independent Shoemakers' Conference.

The information for this organisation is found at - a loose collection of shoemakers from around the UK (and a few from abroad).

The conference is organised each year by a different member and this year it was the turn of Bill Bird Shoes. They did a fantastic job, so a great big thank you to them. It was very interesting and a great opportunity to meet other shoemakers, pattern makers and closers.

It is a combination of lectures and networking, so we started the day with a demonstration of hand stitching techniques for uppers by Dominic Casey of Cleverleys - raised lakes, split stitched seams(?), plait stitch and a bit of thread making - very cool indeed.

Plait Stitch Being Done

The Plait Stitch Which Uses Two Stitching Threads And Two Thicker Plaiting Threads

Dominic Casey In Action

Next up was a demonstration of hand welting techniques by John Cornforth of Yorkshire. We particularly liked his traditional shoemakers bench and lasting post.

Next came lunch where we chatted to a chiropodist from the Isle of Wight who had an affinity with Crocs - obviously not a passion we share.

Mock Croc Crocs Anyone?

We then moved to an area which was a bit of a revelation to us both - how to make shoes for women with problem feet and make them look fabulous. That classic mismatch between how a woman sees her shoes in her mind's eye and the actual shape that her lumpy, painful feet require the shoes to be.
This involves detachable accessories like straps, buckles, clips, bows and flowers. Very clever and creative in fact. The talk was given by Carina Eneroth of Swedish shoemakers Framat, shoemakers to the Swedish Royal Family.

We even had a go at making a bow with varying degrees of success - I think I will stick to the day job.

The penultimate talk of the day was from Bill Bird himself who talked us through the ins and outs of hand carving wooden heels - very interesting and challenging.

And finally, came a technical exploration of the properties of leather, from the raw materials to the finished product. This was by the head of Leather Studies at Northampton University. She went through the structure of leather from different animals and the way they are tanned and coloured. It was very interesting and explained why we use certain leathers for certain jobs - for example, did you know that the reason pig skin is so tear resistant is that the hair follicles and sweat glands go all the way through the thickness of the skin? Whereas in calf, goat and sheep, they are only in the surface layer. Fascinating stuff!

We also had time to chat and catch up with old friends and colleagues and we generally had a great day.

For those of you who live in the UK, this is a thoroughly recommended day out. You will meet other shoemakers who might be able to help and we are a very friendly bunch. So make sure you come next year.

Until next week, happy shoemaking!