Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 21 February 2014

The Problem With Lasting Stretchy Counters

Once more unto the breach, dear readers. My regular Friday morning task of writing our blog post for the week.

Before I start, a quick message to any Londoners or those within commuting range. We have a spot left on our Modular Shoemaking Course starting on April 28th and running for 10 weeks until July 14th with one week half term break. It's on a Monday night from 6pm till 9pm. Email us if you are interested - It costs £475 for the term, first come, first served.

This week I have been left all on my own (Deborah is in Lanzarote escaping our diluvian Winter) and I have been very busy at the shop at Gieves and Hawkes. This means that I have been shoemaking all week which makes me very happy.

First off I finished a pair of ladies' shoes I started last week.

They might not look a very beautiful shape bit they are essentially orthopaedic shoes for a lady with very sore feet, so we made every effort to make them look decent. Considering the width of the joint, I think we have done a pretty good job - we've emphasised the length, they're quite dressy but with a sporty edge. Fingers crossed that they fit. They are welted with a construction called blind welt where the sole is folded up to cover the welt.

Then I started a pair of pretty standard brogue Oxfords with a counter. And here was the problem. Very often, it is quite difficult to last the counter without getting lots of tiny creases at the feather edge which look ugly. This is because you are essentially trying to shrink the leather into a smaller space than it wants to (this applies to the counter, the lining and the stiffener). The pattern will account for this with an allowance for the stiffener in the lining. Also, you can make a little dart in the counter and stitch it so that there is a seam on the centre line of the counter which is visible at the bottom, near the heel - like this

But sometimes you can't because you want a clean counter or there is some decoration on it, like punching, as in this case.

Normally, we would last the lining, stiffener and counter all at once without too much trouble. But this is what you can do in cases where this results in creases.

After lasting the fore part as normal, pull down the backs and secure at the correct heel height - very helpful to leave tabs on the lining at the back, also at the sides for lasting.

Then start by lasting the lining, stiffener and quarter, but not the counter. Pull the lining first to get rid of any creases inside the shoe. Leave quite big gaps between the nails.

Continue till the end of the counter and then last the rest of the quarters too.

Then go between the nails and put more nails in. This is where it helps to have a pair of narrow nosed lasting pliers, but the edge of the normal ones will do the job.

Trim off the excess and knock the nails down. You have to make sure there are no creases in the lining, stiffener or the quarters.

Now you can start lasting the counter on its own. Start with one in the middle.

Unusually, now I like to last the ends of the counter and work back towards the first nail, making sure I last pulling towards the fore part of the shoe to spread the excess leather around the curve of the heel. Again, leave gaps between the nails.

Then go in and stretch the gaps between the nails. This is where it can sometimes be hard because as you stretch, creases appear on the first set of nails. You will have to take them out and do it again.

Poor picture I know but these are the narrow nosed lasting pliers.

All done - lots of nails, but no creases. Just keep taking previous ones out and replacing till the creases disappear - it can be quite time consuming.

Et voila, a lovely smooth counter.

There are some micro creases at the feather edge, but remember that the seat of the heel will sit on top of these and cover them up.

Now this got me thinking. When you click the leather pieces for the uppers, you are taught to put the stretch of the leather vertically up and down at the quarters and across the width of the vamps so that when you pull the backs down the upper does not stretch lengthways. This is excellent advice. But, with these counters which are stitched on top of the quarter I reckon it would help to have the stretch going in the "wrong" direction to help with this creasing issue. The fact that the counter is stitched onto the quarters means that it is not going to stretch lengthways and it would stop the counter stretching and fanning out when you last it. You can get into an endless cycle of micro-lasting with the counter stretching a little more each time. If the stretch went the other way, it would definitely help. I will try it on the next pair and see whether it makes any difference.

And that, as they say, is a wrap.

Tomorrow we are going to the annual Independent Shoemakers Conference in Surrey, organised this year by Marsha Hall which should be fun. We will report back as to what we learn next week. Curiously, the ladies shoes above were inspired by a talk at last years conference about making orthopaedic shoes more beautiful by Carina Eneroth.

Until next week, happy shoemaking!