Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

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!