Friday, March 27, 2009

Shoe Repairs

Yes, it's true. Shoemakers have mothers too.

Last weekend was Mother's Day and, being the loving and dutiful shoemaker that I am, I called Mother Shoemaker. Flushed from a morning in the garden pruning a particularly unruly bush, she was all cheer and delight. We chatted happily about family, holidays, future nuptials, and inevitably, work - specifically my blog. And the the maternal wisdom I received was that, while being interesting, it should be funnier.

So here goes....How many shoemakers does it take to change a light bulb? Only 1, but it takes 6 months. Boom boom. Maybe not. I will stick to what I know.

It has been an interesting week. We shipped the shoemaking course equipment to New York, which is very exciting. Lets hope it gets there safe and without any trouble. The sample bespoke shoes, Winkers and Limited edition Half-cuts will be shipped next week in readiness for the Trunk Shows: at Leffot in Manhattan on the 9th of May and in San Francisco later in May. We are finalising details on that one as we speak.

Last night was a late finish because we were filmed by Small Fry, a London based production company, who make 3 minute movies. I think we got some great material and I will post the results as soon as we get them, either here or on the website.

Speaking of which, we have sent a detailed brief for the new website to our web designer. We are looking for something masculine and luxurious. Not easy for me I know, but we shall try.

On a practical level, we got a couple of pairs of bespoke shoes back for a repair this week. Still reeling from the shock. Just look at the state they are in! It is always good to see shoes that have been worn, to see how they are standing up to wearing. And the lesson I learn is that the shoes are strong, as sturdy as is possible, but that also, people vary hugely in how they walk and how tough they are on their shoes. This guy is slim and light, but he pummels his shoes. This is going to take some serious cobbling. Will post results when I have done them.

Here is an example of why we put a 1/4 rubber on the heel. When it is worn through, it is time to replace the top piece. This is an easy job, and takes very little time.

This is a bigger problem. Many people roll or rock when they walk and this causes the toe area to wear quickly. The answer here is to put on a rubber or metal toe plate. This acts like the 1/4 rubber on the heel. When it wears out, it is time to see the repairer.

And look at the scuff marks on the toe. I have not seen this before. I will disguise it as well as I can, and will try to protect the upper with the toe plate. We shall see.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Heel Building 2

OK people, the time is here. I know that week's wait was torture, but this is it. Part 2 of my photo essay on heel building. Contain that giddiness and read on...

The next stage is putting on the top piece, which must be hard and durable like the sole. However, we put on a 1/4 rubber on the back of the heel where the customer wears out the heel the most. This is usually on the outside edge due to pronating. Occasionally it is on the inside, you must check when you measure the clients feet. You first mark the rubber on the heel, glue with a contact cement and fix securely. The top piece must fit the 1/4 rubber and you must do this by cutting a step into it using the knife. This is one of the few occasions when you must put your hand in front of your knife when you are cutting and it is a bit hazardous. I have cut myself quite badly, mainly when the knife is blunt, so keep sharpening it. Glue the top piece on with contact cement. It is best to leave it overnight and refresh the glue with a hair dryer. This way you get a better fix. The last thing to do is put in some nails to make the top piece extra secure. You can choose a pattern that can become your signature, it is details like these that distinguish bespoke shoes from their manufactured cousins.

Right, the fabric of the heel is now finished, and it remains to make it look beautiful. Firstly, you must rasp the surface to remove all the knife marks and make it true and straight. Spend time here as any blemishes you leave will be visible at the end. I sometimes wet the surface when rasping. I also press quite hard. I think these things compress the surface ans fill in ant cracks. Rasp the 1/4 rubber aswell.

The next stage might seem a bit odd, but you are probably used to that by now. You need to get some offcuts from a framers of some 2mm glass. They usually give it to you free. Then, with the edge of your driver (file) or another piece of glass, you must make a tiny nick on an edge and then break the glass so that you end up with a curved surface. This acts as a tiny knife. Wet the surface and scrape the glass along it in 1 direction at an angle of about 30 degrees. One edge always cuts beter than the other. You should end up with an even, smooth surface.

Next is sanding the heel. I use aluminium oxide paper and a sanding block. Use grit 80 initially. Again press hard and sand thoroughly. Move on to grit 120 and do the same thing. You can sand in both directions at this stage.

Finally, wet the heel, and, with a very fine grade paper or one of those foam blocks you can buy for DIY, sand in one direction. This creates a very tight, smooth glassy finish (and is very satisfying).

Again, some seemingly odd behaviour, but now you must scratch up all that hard work. But with a very light grade paper and very gently. This is so that when you put the ink on, it will soak into the leather. Ink the heel, let it dry and then put on some Astral wax, or any heel/edge wax you can find. I like to put on a layer dry, and then with a hot heel iron, melt it. I repeat this process twice more till I have 3 layers of wax, all melted with the iron. Nearly there now. With a flannel, now rub the wax off. You must rub fast to build up the heat. Most will come off on the cloth and leave you with a thin, shiny layer of wax. Little trick here. Instead of using a fast elbow, use a hair dryer to heat the wax. This way the wax gets hot and smelly rather than you. Voila, the heel is gorgeous and finished. Ready to be wrecked by the client. Ho hum!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Heel Building

Right, something new - a two part photo essay. Subject - heel building.

First of all, you must make and attach a split lift, this is a piece of leather similar to the welt, which acts to lessen the natural curve on the bottom of the last. Heel building is a process of converting this curve to flat surface which can hit the floor and thus not unbalance the wearer.

The split lift is attached using a water based craft glue and nails. You place it onto the heel area, which you have previously glassed, to avoid squeaks. Then you bang in the nails till they just hit the last. If they go too deep you can't get the last out. Then you clip them off and punch in with a nail punch. This is so that you can skive the split lift flat in readiness for the first lift.Make sure that the surface is as flat as you can get it by looking along the top of it towards the front of the shoe.

Next you need to put some of the same water based craft glue onto the prepared surface. Be generous. The heel will be held together using glue and nails, so a stronger glue is not needed at this stage. Also, this kind of glue is easier to pull apart at the time of repairing the sole or heel and the repairer will thank you for not making their life difficult.

Next you must cut out 2 heel lifts from some thick oak bark cow leather, similar to that used in the insole, only slightly less dense. Place the first lift onto the glue and secure it in the middle with 3 nails in a triangle shape. Punch them in as before. Look along the length of the shoe as before and skive off the surface to make it level. Use your knife or a ruler to check flatness. There should be about 1/8" gap at the heel breast.

The next step is to put on more paste and place the second heel lift on and secure with 3 nails as before. Punch them! This time we are going to put in a row of nails around the edge which give the heel its strength. About 1/4 inch from the edge and spaced about 1/2 inch apart. Hammer them in and punch. I use a driver instead of a hammer. This is a big file and its teeth stop it slipping off the nail head and bending it. Again skive flat and check the levels with knife or ruler. When you bang the nails in, angle them into the centre of the heel about 10 degrees off vertical. This way, you won't reveal any nails when you rasp the heel.

At this point you have to trim away all the excess leather with your knife. This must be kept very sharp or else you will cut and nick the upper. Also, the leather must be worked when it is "mellow". This means soaked for at least 1 hour and then dried to between 80 and 90% dryness. Trim until you have straight sides and a slightly pitched under back part of heel, following the curve of the last.

Now you must use the French shape hammer to peen the edges. This closes any small gaps between the lifts and the split lift and creates a solid surface. Make sure the leather is well peened close to the seat because when you come to trim here, it is important that the seat ends up being tight into the upper. You can use the knife at this stage to take off any small lumps, making sure the sides are true.

With an ordinary biro, you now have to mark the heel lines at the end of the heel, lining them up with the silver pen marks you have put on the upper to mark the heel. I like to angle the heel line towards the front of the shoe, just think it looks better. Also, using a ruler or tape measure, mark the line of the seat, making sure it is even and level all the way round. Take your time here and get it right.

With a sharp knife trim off the seat line. It is absolutely essential not to cut the upper at this point. It is also really difficult to avoid it. Practice, practice! Wet the seat and trim it into the upper creating an even thickness of seat all the way round. Peen again as before.

It is important to mention that you must keep checking the flatness and 1/8" gap at the breast with the second lift.

I will stop here and leave the top piece and finishing to the next post. See you next week.

Friday, March 6, 2009

What We Do

What do we do?

I received a question about the level of the craft we use to make our handmade shoes. I also recently saw another shoemaker's blog on which he criticised some shoemaking courses around the world. So maybe this is the occasion to talk a little about what we do in a general sense.

All the bespoke shoes we make are 100% handmade from start to finish. We use a variety of hand held tools and no machines. Our ethos is totally based in the tradition of this trade. The skills we use have not changed for centuries and we learned them by doing an apprenticeship. This is really the only way, not only to gain the skills, but also to reach the speed needed to make a living. It gives you the time your hands need to learn without your head getting too involved. Other craftspeople will understand what I mean.

Here are 3 shots from what I have been doing today to show the nature of what we do. The first is a heel mid build.

Next a welt being sewn.

Last a sole being glassed in preparation for dyeing and finishing.

As for the carr├ęducker shoemaking school, I believe we are the only school offering a complete shoemaking process. With us you get lasts, uppers and all the rough stuff you need for making a pair of hand welted shoes. This is over 200 processes, from hand lasting to welting; stitching the sole to heel building; twisting threads to finishing. It's 90 hours in 3 modules of 1 week each and is very intensive. I think the main thing that the course gives the student is a comprehensive knowledge of the traditional bespoke shoemaking process and the ability to decide if they really want to pursue this path.
We are doing it in New York in April and masy and then again in August in London. Very exciting, and it is the real deal.

Today has been good. We had a photographer in to take some process shots in the studio. They will look great. He has finished the product shots and here is a preview, not the final version though. Nice huh?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Toe Plates

Good morning, what a glorious one it is too. Clear blue skies and sunshine pouring into my workshop. Maybe I will do a giddy flip like a Spring lamb (before I am put into the pot of course)

Friday slipped me by in a whirl of activity, hence the Monday post.

Saturday at Blaqua went very well. Lots of interested clients and a good demo.

Shoemaking. I have currently got 3 pairs on the go because we have photographer coming in on Friday to do some process shots of making for the website, so I need to have things at certain points in the process to shoot.

I have nearly finished a pair of pretty normal loafers, which only stand out because the client wants toe plates.

Do you ever have shoes which wear out on the sole right on the toe end? It is fairly common and is to do with how we walk (technical description there). The solution is toe plates, which can be rubber or metal. The metal ones last longer but you get a click, which I like but annoys some people.
Before stitching the sole, you cut away a small section at the toe and leave it with no channel. Then when the edges have been set, you glue the plate on using ultra strong contact cement. It's a good solution and shows the advantages of getting bespoke shoes made. You can include the solution to any problem you might have with your feet.

The second pair has an example of an occasional problem with hand lasting. Box calf is a marvellous material, extremely hard-wearing, and very supple. This means that at the point of lasting the upper, it usually takes the shape of the last easily. Sometimes, however, for reasons hard to fathom, it is just impossible to get flat and has small creases/wrinkles. These are unsightly and can ruin the attractive smoothness of the vamp.

As ever, though, with bespoke shoes, there is a trick which saves the day. When the shoe is finished, you wet the offending area with water and get it well soaked. Then with a warm, not hot, heel iron you iron the creases. When the leather dries, it shrinks and pulls out the last tiny creases which may be left after ironing. Ingenious!