Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 19 December 2014

Shoemaking in 2015

As the year draws to a close, it's heads down to make 2015 a success and to build on the highlights of 2014...the new look of No.1 Savile Row and a bespoke presence on the Gieves and Hawkes website, the Crafted exhibition at The Royal Academy, the GREAT Festival Istanbul and the start of our 10th year in business together.... to name but a few.

Something that continues to strike a chord, is just how many people want to learn a trade or craft either to pursue in their spare time, as a change of career or as further education. But there are three hurdles to overcome - Where can you learn? How do you pay for your training? Where can you get funding and advice? 

To help you get started, we've listed a few courses, contacts and grants below which might be of help to those of you in the UK, interested in training as shoemakers or working in shoemaking.

Creative and Cultural Skills The CCS gives young people opportunities to work and learn in the creative industries via a network of industry and education supporters - the National Skills Academy for Creative and Cultural. Since 2008 over 3000 Creative Apprenticeships have been created in the UK.

Funding: Creative and Cultural Skills Creative Employment Programme. This £15 million Arts Council England fund, managed by Creative and Cultural Skills, has created nearly 2000 jobs for unemployed young people aged 16-24. With the fund extended to March 2016 now is the time to see how you could benefit.

The British Footwear Association is a great source of information, contacts and training, so their website should really be your first port of call.

QEST is a great source of support for training in specialist crafts like ours. It was set up by the Royal Warrant Holders Association in 1990 to support traditional and contemporary British crafts at an individual level and so retain the creative skills vitally needed by Royal Warrant holding companies. Since then, it has gone on to fund training for over 354 scholars, with around 93% of them still practising their craft professionally. 

A QEST scholarship is how I was able to follow my passion for shoemaking and, in turn, how Alistair is now able to train with us. The deadline for the next round of funding is January 20th 2015, so if you are thinking about a career change, adding to your expertise or up-skilling then now is the time to take action. 

There is only one place to learn traditional English hand sewn shoemaking and pattern making for bespoke shoes, that is with us at Carreducker. You can either enjoy the dynamics of learning in a small group (maximum seven students) on an intensive course - May in New York or London in August; let us know when you can take a 12-day break and we will run a one-to-one course for you; or if you already know something of shoemaking, then tell us what else you would like to learn and we will put together a Master Class tailored specifically to you.

So plenty of food for thought and something useful to be doing amongst all the festivities.  We've sent the elves off for Christmas, so have a great break and we look forward to welcoming you back in the New Year. Until then, happy shoemaking!

Friday, 12 December 2014

Spain A New Shoe And Prosthetic Legs

Once again, dear readers, we welcome you back to the carréducker blog.

Whilst Madame Shoe was hard at it at the workbench (as she should be), I have been on a well-earned holiday in Madrid. 

It was a fantastic trip and, while there, I saw our good friend and fellow shoemaker Norman Vilalta who was launching his new ready to wear collection in the city. It was great to see him and see what he is doing. I thought the collection was interesting, both in its design and execution. His designs are innovative and playful - they stretch conventions and could only be made by a true shoemaker. I think he has imbued his designs with his personality which is warm, humorous and bit rock 'n roll.

We loved the exaggerated, sturdy soles and grain leather on these Monkstraps Photo Credit: Des Gens en Photo

Norman has spent many months perfecting the construction and working with his chosen factory to achieve the level of quality he wants. He then finishes them by hand from setting the edges onwards. The result is a true bench grade R2W shoe to challenge Gaziano and Girling, John Lobb (Hermes) and the like. Congratulations to him!

I also met Alvaro Arce who runs a shoe blog in Spanish called The Shoemaker World where you can find information and news about all aspects of shoes, in a similar vein to The Shoe Snob. Above is a photo of one of the new Norman Vilalta styles and you can see more images of the collection on Alvaro's blog. Look out for an interview about Carréducker there in the near future!

So you see, even on holiday, a shoemaker can't leave it alone - or so my partner says.

And on my return to work, my first task was to give that talk to eight hundred 16 - 18 year-olds which I mentioned in a previous post. I think it went well - I only saw one person asleep!I got good feedback and they asked lots of questions which is a good sign. A lot of them also continued talking to me after the session so I hope I have inspired at least one future shoemaker!
I shared the stage with Cornelia Parker OBE and Jeremy Deller, so Carréducker was in exalted company. It was interesting for the students to see two opposite ends of the creative process - two imagination/ideas driven artists and a practice driven craftsman. All of us making a living making things, but in completely different ways.

And so to the spectator that we were debating a few weeks ago. Below you can see which last shape won out. We went for narrow and elegant. Our favourite thing about the shoes is the point where the counter meets the wing cap. We don't usually do straight lines on shoes but we think it works here. The result is light and dapper.

A stroll down the pier, dear?

Same last - entirely different look

As part of the new bespoke collection

Today we saw a product designer called Ed Pennington-Ridge who approached us with a design problem with prosthetic feet which he is developing for use in Burundi initially and then other parts of the developing world.

He wants to get the unit cost down from $2000 for a commercial prosthetic to about £8 for one which can be made locally. The issue was how to attach the upper/outer/foot to the prosthetic leg in a simple low cost way, using materials which are cheap and available

After looking in detail at the design and the materials, I think we came up with an elegant, low-cost solution. Time will tell. Ed has to go away now and put our ideas into action

This sort of project is something which we both love getting involved with and we wish Ed the best for the development. He has promised to show us the next prototype and we will keep you up to date with progress.

Ed Pennington-Ridge and his prototype prosthetic leg

And that is about it for this week. We hope have enjoyed the post and we look forward to welcoming you back next week.

Until then, happy shoemaking!"

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Stalking Gaiters

Firstly we want to wish all of our US and Canadian friends and followers a very happy Thanksgiving for yesterday, 27th November; and to our Japanese followers a happy Labour Thanksgiving Day for 23rd November. 

You may be too well ensconced in festivities to actually read this until next week, but we want you to know we're thinking of you and hope that the harvest is good.  

This week we wanted to share how we made a pair of gaiters for a client. They are in Horween Latigo and are designed to be worn with boots for stalking the moorlands. More commonly these days gaiters are made from nylon and elasticated...practical, but we think that these beauties really raise the game! (Do you like the pun?)


The client had a very specific brief and was quickly able to narrow down a design that worked for him from the above sketches: 

- leather to match the boots
- nothing protruding from the gaiters that would catch on brambles
- muted colour palette
- no shiny metal surfaces
- a strap under the boot that could be adjusted and replaced
- durable

With a little tweaking, we were soon ready to turn the sketches into a 3-D design. 

Making a paper pattern in 3-D
We first made a mock up in Kraft paper (which reminded me of making a toile in fashion school). I've always enjoyed working in 3-D rather than flat, and seem to get better results more quickly this way.

Considering the fastenings
Making a harmonious junction between the boot and the gaiter was very important and this is where the paper model was a great help as we tried out various different style lines.  

A canvas mock up for fittings
Then we sewed together a canvas gaiter as a fitter. The canvas had a similar strength and structure to the leather and so was ideal for fittings. We drew adjustments straight onto it and then adjusted the pattern pieces accordingly.

Finally the gaiters were made in the chosen leather.

The finished gaiters have: 

- Adjustable studs on either end of the waist straps
- Buckle straps which tuck into stitched channels to keep the boot surface smooth
- Antiqued hardware 
- Burnished edges for durability and waterproofing
Stitch lines
Sam Browne post for adjustment
That's it from us for November. Until next week, when we'll be in the first week of December, happy shoe making!

Friday, 21 November 2014

Craft in Creative Review

We're keeping it short and sweet this week with some films about craftsmanship, giving food for thought about what it really encompasses in the modern day. 

The films were made by Creative Review, a monthly magazine for the commercial arts and design scene covering contemporary advertising, illustration, photography, new media and typography. But what could its readers want to know about craft? Well, there's the thing, craft is no longer confined to the niche and exalted.

Camilla capturing Espen and Leonard learning shoe making

Along with articles in the magazine itself, the first two films look at us - momentary fanfare! - Carreducker and at Rusby Cycles. And soon to follow are Hiut Denim and The Brilliant Sign Company and of course HTC, who sponsored the features.

We all use different methods, tools and even machinery, but each and every one of us is a craftsman passionate about our product, how it is created and how the story is told.

Discussions on craft can get bogged down in the hand crafted vs machined, the mass produced vs small runs. This series of beautifully shot vignettes puts all of that to one side. It simply shows people with a singular focus, working with the equipment and materials that they need, to make the best product that they can, producing as many as they can whilst maintaining the quality.

I'd like to think that they show that we all "Do one thing well"! 

(A big "thank you" to Espen and Leonard for allowing themselves to be filmed on the shoe making course and who are captured on film!)

Friday, 14 November 2014

Shoe Covers

Onwards and upwards, dear shoefolk of the world. We hope you have had a productive week and we welcome back to our blog.

Have you ever said yes to something and then thought it might not have been such a good idea? We were asked to do a 50 minute presentation on bespoke shoemaking to 800 16 - 18 year old art students. At the time I had just got back from speaking at the GREAT Festival of Creativity in Istanbul and was buzzing from speaking in public. But as the date approaches, I'm beginning to think it may have been a touch foolhardy. How are we going to keep their attention for that long? Fifty seems like a lot of minutes  - ulp! Luckily, one of us is fully competent with Powerpoint, so, at the very least, it will look professional.

Just a little teaser for next week, we have just made a pair of hunting gaitors in Horween Latigo calf in Italian Brown - they are beautiful. And we have a pair of boots just finished on which to model them - watch this space.

Moving on to matters shoemaking, this week we  received an order of shoe covers. They are specially made for shoemaking and are extremely easy to use. Made from medical grade fromocene, they are seethrough which helps during the making process. We don't cover all the shoes we make, only ones which are very pale; have delicate leather; exotics; suede, nubuck, or fabric shoes.
We have them in two sizes, medium (UK sizes from 5 - 9) and large (UK sizes from 10 - ?). They are very stretchy, so it is better to use a smaller one and have it tight on the last.
They are robust enough to withstand the shoemaking process intact.

We are selling these covers, so if you want to buy them, they cost as follows:

£2.25  per pair

Minimum order is 10 pairs

We can ship worldwide

To place an order, please email - - or call +44(0)2078130093

And here they are

They are put on after you have lasted the shoes and before you welt them and the following video shows you what to do. All you need is a hair dryer. Sorry if the focus is a bit off at the beginning - it gets better in a few seconds.
The heat softens the cover so that it can stretch easily over the shoe and then when it cools, it shrinks into place. They are good because once on, they are crease free and won't get in the way of the shoemaking process.

You want to pull the cover down just past the feather edge, about 5 - 7mm. This is how it should look from the bottom. BTW, this shoe is just braced onto an insole in readiness for a customer fitting and was used just for demonstration purposes. We would not usually cover a shoe in black box calf.

It is a bit loose at this point so it is a good idea to get some clear sticky tape and tighten across the waist.

Then run a srtip of tape around the feather edge. This has the effect of tightening the cover so that it doesn't interfere or get in the way later on. It also strengthens the cover that little bit more.

The Outside

The Inside

The Toe

The last thing to do is tape up the spare plastic at the toe, again so that you can see the shoe clearly. Please be aware that if the leather is very delicate, the cover, especially the seams, can leave lines on it, so make sure you do the toe/heel areas carefully avoiding wrinkles.

Once the cover is on, you can proceed to welt or whatever construction method you are using.

At the end of the process, when the shoes are finished, you have to cut very carefully as close to the feather edge as possible with a scalpel or very sharp knife. Obviously, avoid cutting into the leather.

These covers are very handy and will save you time - this will make sense to those of you who have tried other methods - plastic bags, shrink wrap, cotton (that's what we used at Lobb).

And that's it for this week. Until next time, happy shoemaking!

Igniting a passion for shoe making

Even though the course is over, the passion for shoe making is hard to shake off. Three of the students from our New York course are already preparing to make their next pair of shoes...and all three will be making on bespoke lasts as we took the measurements at the end of class/here in London.

Taking Emily's measures watched by Aijaz
Aijaz went straight into work from his flight home wearing his shoes - "the most comfortable shoes he has ever owned!" - sporting some rather chic, string-coloured laces.

Let's hope that their hands stay tough and don't suffer as much as they did during the course (see below).

The great thing is that so many people are being inspired creatively- those students who have come on the course who have decided to keep making, from Adam in the North of England....

Adam's first pair on his own - looking great!

to Nazim in Malaysia;

Nazim's beautiful work  - many pairs along - those heel edges look sharp
our blog followers who are jumping in and teaching themselves to make shoes, like Benjamin in New York and Reynier in South Africa;

Reynier's handsewn work boots - love the seam stitching and rugged soles
and those who are inspired to pursue their own passions from children's shoes and sneakers to fashion plates and patterns.

We'd love to hear from you if you are out there shoe making on your own...because you're not on your own...there are hundreds of people around the world who are following a passion for this highly skilled trade.

Until next week, happy shoe making!

Guest Blog: Blocking / Crimping by Bootmaker, D.W. Frommer

"I was fascinated by the post about the 2014 Independent Shoemakers' Conference in the UK. We have something like it here in the United States, a Trade Guild modelled on, and associated with, the London based Worshipful Company of Cordwainers. Our organization is called the Honourable Cordwainers' Company. Each year we have an Annual General Meeting that hosts lectures and presentations regarding bespoke shoemaking. I think we have been hitting 60-70 plus attendees in recent years, coming from all over the US and Europe.

I was particularly interested in the discussion about blocking. When I made comment on the blog and lamented an inability to post photos, James and Deborah generously invited me to write a "guest" post...and here it is!

My intent is not to gainsay anyone, but to expand upon the whole idea of blocking...perhaps offering some insight into what is possible.

I have been a bootmaker for over 40 years and in the tradition that I work in, blocking is not only common, it is essential. And when I came to try my hand at making high end dress shoes it just seemed natural to incorporate as many blocking techniques as possible. After all, the whole purpose of blocking is to pre-shape the patterns such that they lay on the last easily and without distortion.

This is a kind of blocking:

The mean forme method of creating patterns directly from the last seeks some of the same objectives but struggles to create three dimensional shoe parts from two-dimensional cutting patterns.

In the "school" of bootmaking that I adhere to, mean formes and pattern making such as are described in Golding and Swaysland, etc., are not used much...although I am convinced that most of the methods I was taught have their roots in English or German shoemaking of the 19th century.

With no mean formes we are forced to block our vamps to create pleasant lines and to make lasting and fit easier.

Simple boards are very usable and suffice for most needs, but in our shop we have taken the process a little further, as you will see in the ensuing sequence of photos. The first photo is of the boards we use for a dress Wellington, along with a "crimping" iron that makes the job of blocking easy and predictable.

Using boards such as these (and the patterns that accompany them) we are able to cut the tongues and quarters however we like--narrow, wide, floral. Here is a photo of the vamps being blocked prior to cutting: 

And here is a photo of a blocked alligator vamp used on a pair of boots made for a customer who lives in Brussels: 

This technique can be taken a lot further, however, as the next two photos demonstrate: 

But it doesn't stop there, I block vamps for whole cut Chelseas, Jodhpurs, Chukkas and whole cut Oxfords, as well as Oxford linings.


Ostrich jodhpurs:

Finally, here's a photo of several boards we use in our shop and their usage...from top left: Jodhpur board and Chelsea board; bottom, whole cut Oxford or Oxford lining."

Thanks D.W. for a great insight into blocking from a great bootmaker! Until next week happy shoemaking!