Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 26 April 2013

Baggy Top Edges and Pattenmakers

Greetings once more, dear shoe folk of the world. Welcome back to our beacon of craft excellence in the swampy mire of shoe mediocrity - here you will find passion, skill and dedication lighting the path to your own shoemaking goals.

Take a look at this. What I call the shoemaking equivalent of a soggy bottom in cake making. You've lasted the stiffener in and the top line is loose. This is very bad because the shoes will gape and not hold the foot correctly. This usually happens with casuals (shoe with no fastenings, like loafers). And with these, it is particularly important to hold the foot tight and get the top line to take the shape of the last.

Reasons can be a slightly ill fitting pattern; very stretchy leather cut with the grain in the wrong direction; poor measurement of the long and short heel; or big adjustment to this part of the last after a fitting.

There is, however, a solution.

But before explaining how to do it, let me take you on a trip to the medieval world of the ancient trade guilds of the City of London (a square mile of the most ancient part of London, now the financial district). There are a hundred odd of these and they are ranked according to size and importance. These days they are mainly charitable organisations which raise money and do good works. But they also function as trade bodies, have annual events which are a great opportunity for networking

So last Friday I went to the annual Pattenmakers dinner at the Vintners Hall. Having never been to a black tie event, I asked for help from the bespoke boys at Gieves and Hawkes, who very kindly lent me a very sharp dinner jacket. Luckily I had a pair of our Half-cuts in black patent

The Vintners Hall is very grand and impressive, with about 250 of us seated in the main hall, we enjoyed an evening of fine food, wine and conversation. I was seated next to Eric Musgrave, writer and journalist who looked after me very well, guiding me through the finer points of the etiquette. He even let me use some of his (superior photos)

The Main Hall

Mr Richard Paice (past Master), Eric Musgrave and shoemaker Bill Bird

Shoemakers Jim McCormack and  Caroline Groves (and daughter)

The main speech was given by Mr Rory McKenzie, an ex-serviceman who lost a leg in Afghanistan and was helped by the Pattenmakers, specifically Bill Bird with a pair of special shoes. His talk detailed his transatlantic rowing trip with other injured servicemen - very inspiring.

I was particularly pleased to meet JimMcCormack, a legendary shoemaker to me. When I was an apprentice at Lobb, he and McNicholl were the shoemakers to watch. Whenever their work was shopped, I was told to look and learn. So I met one of my shoemaking heroes.

And so to baggy top edges. Here is one way to solve the problem. Fairly simple and effective.

You need to do this when the stiffener is still wet, don't wait till it dries or it won't work. Wherever the top edge is baggy, place lasting nails 2mm above the top line. This space is important.

Now you will need bits of the stiffener belly which you skived when you prepared the stiffener. These should be fairly thick, about 2mm is good. This is important because it will protect the uppers from the nails. You don't want marks on the uppers.

Place the piece of leather (still mellow or wet) hard up against the nails. Thick edge up.

Then knock the nails over, compressing the top edge against the last. Be gentle, you want to protect the upper.

Do as many of the edges as you need to.
It helps if the leather is mellow too because it moistens the uppers a little which helps shrink the top edge onto the last.

Leave the shoes overnight to dry thoroughly and in the morning take out the nails and the bits of belly. The stiffener should have dried into the correct position and shrunk the top edge to fit. It should look snug and tight like this.

And there you are! A very workable solution to a tricky problem. There are other ways to do this with inner tubes and bandaging, but we like this one.

Until next week, happy shoemaking!